When the General Library Building was built in 1941, space was allocated in the building for storage of the rare books and manuscripts that had been acquired by the Vanderbilt libraries. A Treasure Room was established on the fourth floor to provide access to these materials and was later moved to more spacious quarters on the eighth floor. Funding for this room was provided by Colonel Granville Sevier as a memorial to John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee. This space is now occupied by the W. T. Bandy Center for Baudelaire and Modern French Studies.
Special Collections was formally organized in 1965 and focused on collecting materials on the history of the university, manuscripts, and rare books in order to provide primary source material for graduate research. In 1969, the department moved to the new H. Fort Flowers wing and featured the Jesse E. Wills Fugitive/Agrarian Collection, a collection of books by and about the Fugitive and Agrarian literary movements that started at Vanderbilt University in the 1920s. Jesse Wills, a member of the Fugitive literary group and Chairman of the Board of Trust from 1967 to 1976, was the primary founder of this addition to the department and actively sponsored the acquisition of materials to support it.
Today, Special Collections houses one of the finest 20th-century Southern literature collections and is the center for the study of the Fugitive and Agrarian groups. Other subjects collected include Southern history and culture, the Civil War, women's issues, civil rights, religion, journalism, and the performing arts. The collection has more than 50,000 rare books, 300,000 photographs, and over 650 manuscript collections. It also serves as the primary access point for the University Archives. Open to the general public, the department serves patrons worldwide.
Special Collections and University Archives
The Jean and Alexander Heard Library
419 21st Avenue South
Nashville, Tennessee 37240-0007
(615) 322-2807 (t)