At a glance

Special Collections & University Archives

Manuscripts division history

Early history

Acquisitions of manuscripts happened nearly entirely by gift during the period 1941 through 1962, including items such as "a beautifully illuminated" Flemish Hours of the Virgin, attributed to the second half of the fifteenth century.

One of the most important manuscript collections donated in this post-World War II era is comprised of the manuscript materials within the Memorial Library of Music, presented to Stanford in 1948 by Mr. and Mrs. George T. Keating. The collection as a whole contains over 1,500 printed and manuscript scores of operas, symphonic works, chamber music, and choral works by major composers from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, including Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Brahms, Mascagni, Debussy, and Stravinsky.

In 1956, the papers of Bernard De Voto, novelist, Pulitzer Prize winning historian, critic, and vigorous exponent of such vital issues as conservation of natural resources and freedom of the press, were acquired through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Edward H. Heller from the Estate of Bernard De Voto. This purchase marked the beginning of a continuing and increasingly robust effort by Stanford University Libraries to acquire the personal papers of contemporary writers.

The pace of these donations began to pick up over the years; during the 1960-1961 academic year alone, some 25,000 manuscript items were donated, mostly gifts of "book-loving friends of the University," including papers relating to the eighteenth-century proposed "State of Franklin", which never materialized.

Between 1980 and 1985, the manuscript collections grew by 2,465 linear ft., or by some 3,697,500 items. Between 1986 and 1990, the manuscript holdings increased again by 1,682 linear ft., or an additional 2,521,500 items. As impressive as these five-year increases were, they were to become the annual rate of increase in collection size during the 1990's.


The 1990's saw a radical transformation of the manuscript holdings, both in size, scope, and depth. A department which had been known as a solid but primarily local repository grew into a world class facility. Based largely on collecting policies and earlier success initiated in the 1980's, Stanford increasingly attracted the papers and records of prominent authors, artists, political figures, scientists, thinkers, dreamers. The manuscript collections grew by 18,949 linear ft. during this decade, an average of nearly 1,900 linear ft. per year.

During this time period, the Special Collections Department enhanced its holdings of John Steinbeck materials, including collateral collections such as the Ed Ricketts Papers; began building holdings documenting the publishers of fine press materials, such as North Point Press, Yolla Bolly Press, Black ; began building comprehensive collection in emerging American authors representing diverse ethnic and cultural communities, such as Arturo Islas, David Hwang, Cherrie Moraga; built up its holdings documenting the various Civil Rights movements that swept through the United States during the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's and which continue today, including the records of the National Council of La Raza, a major addition to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the acquisition of the California Rural Legal Assistance Records, as well as the acquisition of the Dr. Huey P. Newton, Inc. Records, which includes core segments of the records of the Black Panther Party, the acquisition of the papers of Robert and Joseph Starobin, farm labor activist Fred Ross, and a plethora of others.

In 1994, in one of the most publicized acquisitions ever made by Stanford University, the Manuscripts Division acquired the voluminous papers of noted Beat author Allen Ginsberg. This collection augmented Stanford's already strong holdings in post-World War II American authors, represented by such notables as Robert Creeley, Fannie Howe, Denise Levertov, Janet Lewis, Tillie Olsen, and Gilbert Sorrentino. Following quickly on the heels of this acquisition, the Manuscript holdings were enhanced by the acquisition of the papers of William Abrahams, Gregory Corso, Robert Pinsky, Howard and Dorothy Baker, John L'Heureux, and Larry Eigner. Taken together, these collections made Stanford's Manuscript holdings one of the richest in the country for the study of mid-to-late twentieth century American literature.

In 1996, Stanford acquired the papers of Armenian American author William Saroyan. Subsequent to this initial gift, Stanford has sought out and purchased additional William Saroyan papers held privately by his children. Taken together, these closely related collections document all aspects of the life of this California native.

In 1999, due primarily to the generous contributions of the Wells Fargo Foundation, Stanford was able to acquire a major addition to the John Steinbeck holdings. This material, much of which had never been seen by scholars before, had been held by members of the Steinbeck family. Its inclusion in the manuscript holdings of Stanford University, along with previously acquired Steinbeck materials, make Stanford a major center for research into the life and work of this American author.

The year 1999 also saw the acquisition of the R. Buckminster Fuller Papers, some 1,451 linear ft. of correspondence, manuscripts, architectural plans, models, notes, publications, and miscellany documenting the life of this enigmatic American genius. The comprehensiveness of this collection will allow scholars for years to come to evaluate and do critical readings of Fuller, his design concepts, and their impact on the built environment.

During the 1990's, the Manuscripts Division began a major new initiative: the documentation of the High Tech revolution represented by Silicon Valley. The papers of such key figures in the digital revolution as Douglas Engelbart (inventor of the mouse, email, amongst other things), Mark Weiser (XEROX PARC's Chief Technologist), and Jef Raskin (former Apple engineer, designer of the Macintosh Computer) were acquired, as well as the records of Apple Computer, along with a host of auxiliary collections which document Apple Computer Co., user groups, Apple-related publications, etc.; Fairchild Semiconductor; and the Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection in the History of Microcomputing, which contains software, computer hardware, peripheral devices, hand-held games, and computer industry literature documenting the microcomputing gaming industry during its formative years.