The University of South Carolina, then South Carolina College, started building its library collections in 1803. In 1840, it opened the first purpose-built freestanding college library building in the nation, and by 1850, with 25,000 volumes, it had the largest library collection south of Washington, DC. Many of the books acquired then survive, either in Thomas Cooper Library's Special Collections or in the South Caroliniana Library: incunbula, Theodor de Bry's Greater Voyages, Stuart's Antiquities, the complete Piranesi, the Description de l'Égypte, Kingsborough's Mexican Antiquities, Karl Bodmer's Travels in North America, and even South Carolina College Book 1.
The focus for acquisition in the earlier 20th century was on South Carolina, on earlier British fiction, and on such high points as the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), the King James Bible, and the Blaeu Atlas. Over the past 25 years, Thomas Cooper's Special Collections have grown six-fold, to over 120,000 volumes and several modern literary archives. Areas of significant growth include: philosophy (Hume, Russell); history (Garibaldi), exploration (Renaissance city maps), military history (Civil War, World War I), and military aviation (World War II); natural history (garden books, 18th-century watercolors, Abbot) and the history of science (Darwin, Babbage); English literature (Milton), Scottish literature (Burns, Carlyle, Stevenson), and American literature (Emerson, Fuller, Whitman, Johnson, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Rawlings, Heller, Dickey, Jakes, Ellroy, Higgins); children's literature (particularly African-American); and the history of the book.
Over the same period, the department has added new initiatives in the areas of teaching, exhibits, digitization, and scholarly and public programs. An extensive series of Web exhibits and Web projects based on the collections has been attracting over 25 million hits a year.
University of South Carolina
Rare Books & Special Collections
Thomas Cooper Library
Columbia, South Carolina 29208
(803) 777-8154 (t)
(803) 777-4661 (f)