Researching in Princeton’s Special Collections

If you want to take your research in the humanities to the next level while here at Princeton, one of the best ways you can do that is by availing yourself of Princeton’s Special Collections. Home to vast stockpiles of manuscripts, rare books, coins, and other materials, Special Collections is a great place for students who want to pursue rigorous and impressive humanities research while making use of the excellent resources that Princeton has to offer. Many of these articles were donated by benefactors or acquired by the university specifically so that they could be researched by professors, students, and other researchers. In this article, I’ll present some reasons why you might consider checking out Special Collections, and then follow that up with a basic “how to” for when you visit.

Image shows an Ethiopic book, opened to pages featuring pictures of saints and text in Ge'ez (Classical Ethiopic)

A manuscript of an Ethiopic Synaxarion in Special Collections

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How to use a Reference Room

Most people probably know Trustee Reading Room as that large room with big glass windows on the first floor of Firestone, where you go when you want a really quiet study space. Perhaps you’ve recently studied for midterms or worked on a paper in its sacred silence. Maybe you’ve wondered if there’s more to Trustee than simply providing a quiet atmosphere for study. The answer to that question is: yes, there is. It is the primary reference room of Firestone library– and if you read to the end of this article you will learn how to make the most of this tremendous resource.

Students work in Trustee Reading Room.

Trustee Reading Room in Firestone Library has many reference works

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How and Why to Use Firestone Special Collections

Hand turning page of a book of 13th century poems in Firestone special collections.
Hand turning page of a book of 13th century poems in Firestone special collections.

Where can you find trinkets Albert Einstein collected in Japan, diaries and manuscripts by Toni Morrison, and an autographed manuscript of The Great Gatsby? None other than our very own Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library of course! Welcome to the wonderful world of one of Princeton’s coolest resources: Firestone special collections. Basically, it contains anything in the University’s possession that is rare, valuable, and/or too old and fragile to be removed from the library. I learned about special collections recently through my AAS 244 class on Pre-20th Century Black Diaspora Art in which we often check out art and related manuscripts in the special collections.

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