Library Resources for Historical Research

The Learning Commons
Preservation and Special Collections
Journals and databases
Government Publications
Interlibrary loan
Study carrels

The chief repository of library resources at The University of Memphis is the Ned R. McWherter Library. The four branch libraries that are also part of University Libraries (Communication Sciences, Mathematics, Music, and the Lambuth campus branch) have few resources for historians.

The home page of University Libraries gives access to all the collections and departments.

There are several areas in which we have exceptional primary resources for research. In many other areas — and often for secondary materials as well in these areas — scholars must rely extensively on interlibrary loan. You should also be mindful of the many library resources that are available on the World Wide Web.

The Learning Commons

The Reference Department no longer exists as such. Its operations have been merged into the new Learning Commons. Printed reference works are generally found in the first-floor Learning Commons in McWherter Library along with computers which give access to electronic reference works. This area is open during the regular hours of McWherter Library. Reference assistance is available by telephone at 901.678.2208.

There are online help guides on various aspects of library research. Topics include database training (with handouts attached), tips for using RefWorks (Web-based citation-management software package), and news about databases.

PRESERVATION AND Special Collections

The Preservation and Special Collections Department (McWherter Library, room 404; telephone 901.678.2210) is a major resource for students doing research in African-American history and Southern Mid-South regional history.

Special Collections contains some 50,000 books on all aspects of regional history, natural history, and culture, as well as rare books on other subjects. All Special Collections books are cataloged and searchable by author, title, and subject in the online catalog.

Special Collections is the location for the archival set of all theses and dissertations done at The University of Memphis. These items are organized by year and author’s name, and there are inventories available for searching by department. Copies of most theses and dissertations will eventually be cataloged as circulating books, though there is often a time lag between receipt of the item and cataloging. Such items from recent years will be available in Special Collections well before then.

Special Collections holds some 1,000 maps, mostly originals and mostly concentrated on the lower Mississippi Valley region. Only a portion of these maps have been fully cataloged, but the department has an easy-to-use card file for locating them.

Special Collections has one of the largest general oral history collections of any university in the South. More than 2,000 oral history memoirs have been collected on many topics of local and regional interest, almost all produced by the Oral History Research Office of the Department of History at The University of Memphis. Some of the transcripts have been bound and cataloged as books, but most of them are locatable only through an inventory in the department. Interviews include: Tennessee political history, African-American history in the Mid-South area, women leaders of Memphis, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), life during the Great Depression and World War II, the history of Memphis State University/The University of Memphis, Memphis during the Crump Era, the Sanitation Strikes of 1968 and the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., the history of the Jewish community in Memphis, the development of organized labor in Memphis, early 20th-century development of aviation, the history of the arts in Memphis, the history of the hardwood lumber industry in Memphis, the organization and operation of the Tennessee prison system, Edward Meeman’s Ecology Project, and the history of public education in Memphis.

Special Collections contains thousands of postcards and tens of thousands of photographs. Most photos are from the two major Memphis daily papers, the Commercial Appeal and the now-defunct Press-Scimitar. In almost all cases, these are original black-and-white glossy photographs and not clippings. Very few predate 1930, but coverage of the period 1930-1985 is very good. There are other photos in the Icon Lots, and in some manuscript collections. Box lists and inventories are available in the department.

When the Memphis Press-Scimitar closed in 1984, Special Collections received its “morgue file” (“clipping library”) along with the index files. These files consist of clippings from the Press-Scimitar (and sometimes from other papers), associated photographs, and sometimes ephemeral materials such as programs, flyers, and brochures produced by people or organizations covered. The Morgue File Index is available in the departmental reading room, and consists of hundreds of thousands of cards organized alphabetically by personal or corporate (i.e., organization) name, and sometimes by broad topic or category (e.g., “Desegregation.”)

There are over 500 separately named collections of manuscript materials — letters, diaries and journals, and personal, family, and organizational records — in Special Collections. The main focus is local and regional history, politics, and culture. Collections can vary in size from just one or two letters up to fifty and more boxes covering several decades or generations. Guides and finding aids to these collections are cataloged as books and searchable in the Library’s computer catalog, but there are gaps and interested persons are urged to consult with the Curator or other departmental staff before concluding that something does not exist.


The McWherter Library holds many excellent collections in microform. The microforms themselves are housed on the second floor of McWherter Library, but they are currently a part of Collection Management (McWherter Library, room 303; telephone 901.678.2205) . There are approximately 100,000 reels of microfilm and perhaps 2,000,000 pieces of microfiche, microcard, microbooks, and other forms.

Holdings in early American history are particularly strong. Among these are included Early American Imprints (Evans, Shaw-Shoemaker), American Periodical Series, American Cultural Series, American Fiction Series, Early American Newspaper Series, Early State Records (of all thirteen original states, and many others), Papers of the Continental Congress, Adams Family Papers, Papers of the Presidents (all presidents for the years preceding the Civil War with the exception of Thomas Jefferson), Draper Manuscripts, assorted papers of prominent Americans during the early Republic (e.g., Aaron Burr, Albert Gallatin, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and approximately three dozen more), National Archive records (several thousand reels covering documents from the Departments of State, War, Navy and the Bureau of Indian Affairs), Bexar Archives, Sol Feinstone Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Library of American Civilization Series (microbook format), Jeffersonian Americana Collection.

Special collections relating to African-American studies include Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations, Black Abolitionist Papers, Tuskegee Institute News Clippings file, Papers of W. E. B. DuBois, Papers of Horace Mann Bond, Papers of Booker T. Washington, Papers of A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr. FBI Files, Black Culture Series, Papers of the NAACP, Papers of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), 1941-1967 and addendum for the years 1944-1968, New Deal Agencies and Black America in the 1930s, Committee on Civil Rights (President Harry Truman), Fair Employment Practice Committee, Civil Rights During the Kennedy Administration, Civil Rights During the Johnson Administration, A. Philip Randolph FBI Files, Malcolm X FBI Files, Atlanta Child Murders FBI Files, Records of the National Negro Business League, Records of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (Parts 1-3 for 1925-1969), Black Workers in the Era of the Great Migration, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1869, and many others. Additionally, the Library houses a Black Newspaper Collection and subscribes to approximately fifty African-American magazines (microfilm).

Women’s history has several significant microfilm collections including: Herstory: Women’s History Collection, American Women’s Diaries (Segments I and II), Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, Papers of the League of Women Voters, 1918-1974, Women and Law Series.

Twentieth-century United States history is also well covered in the microforms collections. Included are the Socialist Party of America Papers, materials from the Military Intelligence Division, Surveillance of Radicals in the United States, 1917-9141, Earl Browder Papers, Southern Tenant Farmers Union Papers, Henry Wallace papers and Diary, John L. Lewis Papers, Diaries of Henry Morganthau, Jr., Fair Employment Practices Committee files, Administrative Histories of Civilian Agencies: WW II, Manhattan Project records, Diaries of Dwight D. Eisenhower, New York Times Oral History Project (Columbia University), Kennedy Administration FBI files, Oral Histories of the Johnson Administration, Nixon White House Papers, United States Armed Forces in Vietnam records, Westmoreland v. CBS trial papers, National Security Council files on the war in Vietnam, National Security Council files on crises in Panama and the Dominican Republic.

In medieval history, McWherter Library has a complete Patrologia Latina and Graecae. There are several major primary sources in early modern French and English history: Goldsmith-Kress’ Library of Economic Literature, Library of English Literature, Early English Books (Series I and II), Early British Periodicals Series, British Literary Periodicals, French Political Pamphlets (1560-1653). Periodicals collections include: Gentleman’s Magazine, Le Moniteur universel. Ami du people ou le Publicist Parisien, Journal des scavans, Journal encyclopedique, Annual Register, and Mercure françois. In addition, several important newspapers are available: The Times (London), London Gazette, London Chronicle, and Gazette de France. There is access to some basic collections of scarce materials in the history of Spain which includes Navarrette et al. (editors), Colección de documentos inéditos para la historia de España, and Colección de documentos inéditos de Indias.

Other works include: materials from the Public Records Office, Calendars of State Papers, Publications of the Camden Society, Publications of the Hakluyt Society, Publications of the Parker Society, English Reports [located in the library in the Humphreys School of Law, on campus], a translation of the works of Martin Luther, State Papers of Queen Anne, selected volumes of Collection des document inédits rélatifs à l’histoire de France (Petitot et al., editors).

Journals and databases

The periodicals collection, which is physically housed on the second floor of McWherter Library,is currently a part of Collection Management (McWherter Library, room 303; telephone 901.678.2203). It is not as useful as it once was to historians. In recent years soaring subscription costs have forced the cancellation of numerous smaller historical journals and even some major ones. In partial compensation, the McWherter Library is increasingly making electronic journals and databases available online. The list changes rapidly; to see what the library has, go to Catalog Classic: Journal Titles (Online, Print and Microform), which integrates print and microform journal title information with online journal title information, and Catalog Classic: Databases. In addition to many current journals, the library also subscribes to project MUSE, which has many journals, and JSTOR, which consists of electronic archives of past issues of many journals.

Government publications

The Government Publications Department of The University Libraries (McWherter Library, room 107; telephone 901.678.4455 (office) and 901.678.2208 (reference questions)) is the Federal Regional Depository Library for Tennessee. The Department receives 100% of the publications, maps and electronic data distributed by the Government Printing Office.

Most of the resources are therefore current documents. But the Department has an extensive collection of historical records as well. These include the Serial Setfrom 1789 onward (which includes the American State Papers series); Journal of the House and Journal of the Senate, from the First Congress onward; the various records of debates in Congress, including Annals of CongressRegister of Debates,Congressional Globe, and Congressional RecordLetters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789; Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789; Statutes at Largefrom 1789 onward; Messages and Papers of the Presidents, George Washington-Warren G. Harding; Public Papers of the Presidents, from Herbert Hoover onward;U.S. Reports, from 1754 onward; and Foreign Relations of the United States.

Interlibrary loan

Students may request books, journal articles, microforms, conference proceedings, and other research materials not owned by the University of Memphis Libraries through the Interlibrary Loan Service (McWherter Library, room 212; telephone 901.678.2262). To request an interlibrary loan, log in to the service’s secure server using your UUID and password. (If you are not familiar with these terms, read an explanation on our page about computing resources.)

Study carrels

The following are eligible for assignment of research or study carrels in McWherter Library (read the policy for these carrels):

  • Faculty engaged in research
  • Students in the writing stage of their doctoral dissertation or master's thesis
  • Retired faculty engaged in a specific research project
  • Visiting scholars who are engaged in research or teaching, on a space-available basis
  • Others with special needs or unique circumstances