It is ironic that the Great Depression, which brought hardship and long-lasting poverty to Louisiana, also provided opportunities that led to the creation of the state's greatest collection of research materials devoted to its history and culture. The Works Progress Administration's Louisiana Historical Records Survey employed more than 300 workers, including LSU history instructor Edwin Adams Davis. A tenacious and persuasive advocate for archives, Davis convinced the LSU Department of History that it should establish and support a separate Department of Manuscripts and Archives at the university. Davis headed the new department from 1935 until 1946, systematically collecting historical records and family papers in the lower Mississippi Valley. While Davis built the archives, librarians followed a parallel track within LSU's library, amassing published materials about the state. Five decades later, the two collections were united in 1985 to form the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections (LLMVC).
Recognized as one of the nation's premier collections of regional history materials, LLMVC includes not only personal and family papers but also records of plantations, merchants, financial institutions, and political, social, and labor organizations. The collections cover the lower Mississippi Valley, from Memphis to New Orleans, with special strength in the Natchez, St. Francisville, and Baton Rouge areas. LLMVC continues to acquire 18th- and 19th-century manuscripts, as well as substantial collections of 20th-century materials and oral histories relating to the region.
In addition to its manuscript collections, LLMVC includes more than 120,000 volumes of books and periodicals, as well as maps and other published material, and a comprehensive collection of Louisiana newspapers on microfilm. There are also more than 200,000 historic photographs, offering fascinating glimpses of the past.
On a typical day, users might include genealogists, a lawyer, a marine biologist, a Civil War re-enactor, and students. Scholars have used LLMVC to produce award-winning books, such as Richard Follett's The Sugar Masters: Planters and Slaves in Louisiana's Cane World, 1820–1860 (a 2005 Choice Outstanding Academic Title, winner of the Gulf South History Book Award and the Louisiana Literary Award) and Craig Colten's Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature (2006 winner of the Association of American Geographers' John Brinkerhoff Jackson Prize).
LLMVC staff provide presentations, exhibitions, online subject guides, finding aids, and one-on-one help. Special Collections microfilms 90 Louisiana newspapers, supplying film to parish (Louisiana's equivalent of county) libraries and individuals. The digital collection The Louisiana Purchase: A Heritage Explored, partially funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, presents some 20,000 pages of materials from LLMVC. Digital exhibitions include the bilingual "Creole Echoes / Résonances Créoles," a collaboration of LSU's Center for French and Francophone Studies and the LSU Libraries, which won a Certificate of Commendation from the American Association of State and Local History. LLMVC looks forward to a rich future of collaboration with its users as it strengthens its collections and adds digital access.
Collection Profile and Overview: Elaine B. Smyth
Illustrations: Gina Costello, Adam Hess