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Celebrating the Importance of Walter Havighurst Special Collections and University Archives

The wonders held within the Walter Havighurst Special Collections and University Archives are something Miami University is proud of, but the unique way Special Collections staff have been able to open their doors and implement collections in the classroom reflects Miami’s alignment with the importance of undergraduate teaching and is the culmination of what the Miami University Libraries aim to achieve on campus.

The Libraries had the honor of hosting an event for the fiftieth anniversary of the naming of the Walter Havighurst Special Collections and University Archives. Eight faculty members- past and present- spoke on the important role Special Collections plays in their research and teaching. The breadth of topics covered and collections mentioned was remarkable- Stephen Norris, Walter E. Havighurst Professor of History,  presented on the rich collection of relics from 19th and 20th century Russia; this varied from research on local stories within the collection, such as Jazma Sutton, assistant professor of History, and the projects her class made celebrating the story of Jennie Elder Suel, a pillar of the African American community in Oxford for many years.

Miami University is known as an undergraduate teaching institution- students always receive personalized instruction and attention. Special Collections exemplifies this idea by allowing students, undergraduate and graduate, to interact with the materials in the archives firsthand. That experience is unrivaled- the combination of an emphasis on undergraduate teaching and Special Collections’ demonstration of this sets Miami’s collection apart from others across the educational ecosystem. As Norris put it, “You can sit in a classroom reading and discussing something, but there is something remarkable that happens when students can see something and touch it. It’s hard to convey in words.” Helen Sheumaker, teaching professor of History and Global and Intercultural Studies, used the Miami University Archives to find veterans who had attended Miami and tell their stories. Sheumaker echoed Norris’s sentiment, expressing “On Sunday we saw how Special Collections opens their collection to faculty and students, and this is a consistent approach by the libraries- unusually good access over the course of decades for students.”

Accessibility is not the only thing that makes the Walter Havighurst Special Collections exceptional- Cam Shriver, Senior Research Associate with the Myaamia Center, commented on the “friendly atmosphere of the Special Collections staff”. It is the contributions of these amazing people that have allowed Special Collections to make such a visible impact in classrooms across the University. In addition to the work of the staff to support the use of the collection, Sutton mentioned how much it says that Jennie Elder Suel trusted the people in Special Collections enough to donate her collection to the library. As Jerome Conley, Dean of the Libraries, put it on Sunday- Special Collections is the “Laboratory of the Humanities”, and without the generosity of donors throughout the years- the original endowment by Kenneth Grubb to name the space after Walter Havighurst, countless financial donations, and gifts of rare relics and collections- the staff wouldn’t be able to continue the outstanding work they have done in their commitment to playing an active role in instruction and engaging students.

Hosting wonders like first folio editions of William Shakespeare, or a prayer book handwritten and illustrated on animal skin in Ethiopia more than 500 years ago, or even the extensive collection of over 10,000 children’s literature materials from as early as 1530, The Walter Havighurst Special Collections and University Archives has always been a highlight of the Miami University Libraries. The Libraries’ willingness to open the collection up and use it as a tool for education, alongside the wonderful staff who support that access, are a great representation of what the Libraries strive to be- a place where anyone who walks through our doors can become a scholar and have access to whatever information and resources they require. Walter Havighurst could not have left a better legacy.