Materials in Special Collections total over 90,000 items. The collections are diverse and range from a substantial rare book collection with material dating to the eighth century to the comic arts collection, focused on underground comics, classic comic strips, and graphic novels. The collections include books, periodicals, manuscripts, maps, posters, printed ephemera, and artifacts. Access a complete alphabetical listing of collections.

How to Use the Collections

Materials in Special Collections are not browsable, and most cannot be checked out. In order to use materials, patrons must come to the Special Collections Reading Room (room 401) during regular operating hours, and staff will retrieve materials from the closed stacks. Librarians can help patrons identify materials of interest.

Patrons may also need to show a photo identification card, which may be either an MU ID card or another official identification card such as a driver’s license. For more information on using the book collections, please see Reading Room Rules.

Collection Strengths

American Social and Political History

Special Collections has many materials related to American social and political history, many of them related to news and journalism. The collection is particularly strong in political pamphlets and alternative press from the 1960s and 1970s.

BS1254-L6-M6-(1)Book Arts and Book History

The area of book arts and history of the book is a particular strength of the collection. Special Collections has hundreds of artists’ books, fine press work, and materials related to typography and graphic design. The collection also includes medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and early printing.

pamphletBritish and American Religion and Politics

Special Collections has a far-reaching collection of English religious and political works of the 17th to 19th centuries. The pamphlets represent a wide variety of subject areas, but are concentrated around Church of England publications, practical theology, and the political history of Great Britain.

Classical Antiquity

Special Collections holds materials related both to classical texts, especially ancient philosophy, and to archaeological antiquities. A highlight is a collection of around 100 editions of Ovid’s works, especially illustrated editions and editions from the 16th century.

alley-oopComic Art and Popular Culture

Comics and comic art are another area of strength for Special Collections: the collection includes newspaper strips and papers related to the careers of newspaper comic artists as well as underground comics and wordless novels.


English and French Literature and Languages

Special Collections has particular strengths in early editions of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fiction, serials, and pamphlets. There are also strengths in materials related to individual authors, especially Rudyard Kipling in first editions and Mark Twain, and in popular literature.

French History, Politics, and Law

Special Collections holds French Revolutionary tracts as well as a large collection centering around the intersection between the history of French political institutions and the development of French law. The majority of the collection dates from the 19th century, but it includes over 200 items from the 13th to 18th centuries.

leeuwenhoekHistory of Science

In support of MU’s recognized strengths in the life sciences, Special Collections contains landmarks of early scientific thought, including early herbals, natural history treatises, and groundbreaking works on medicine, biology, and anatomy. Special Collections also holds numerous 18th-century scientific periodicals.

wilson-smTheater and the Performing Arts

Within the area of theater and the performing arts, Special Collections’ holdings include the personal and professional papers of Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson. The collection also contains hundreds of published plays, librettos, and technical manuals from the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as programs from 20th-century theater productions.

Travel and Exploration

Special Collections has a number of materials related to travel and exploration, especially published accounts of travel throughout Europe; titles related to travel in North and South America; and a collection of maps and atlases dating from the 16th century to the present.

THUMBNAILwarposter001World War I and II

Special Collections’ holdings of over a thousand posters document war and anti-war efforts in the United States, France, and Germany during World Wars I and II. In addition to posters, Special Collections additionally holds bulletins, circulars, general letters, and specialized publications from the Council of National Defense as well as other broadsides, banners, pamphlets, and ephemera.

Guides and Indexes

Published guides to the collections are available in electronic format from the Digital Library.