Civil War Era Readers and their Books in Virginia Libraries

History; American Studies; American Material Culture; Literature in English, North America (other than ethnic and minority); Literature in English, North America, ethnic and minority

Discovery of and research upon previously-unnoticed marginalia in 19th-century books on academic library shelves in Virginia; emphasis on reading and memory in the Civil War era.

Research Interests
  • Library and Information Science
  • Book history, history of readership
  • Civil War
Nineteenth-century books often contain inscriptions, marginalia, and annotations that illuminate the reading cultures of the era. Based on the Book Traces project (, this Civil War Era Readers project will focus on the discovery and elucidation of books held in the circulating collections of academic libraries in Virginia, with an eye towards expanding into the mid-Atlantic region. Many of there books were donated by local families. Focusing on books related to American history and literature, we will travel with groups of student researches to conduct site visits at various local and regional academic libraries, searching for copies with marks made by their original owners. The goal will be to uncover and document previously-unknown archival material and artifacts relevant to the history and cultural memory of the Civil War in Virginia and the region. Ultimately, this project will lay the groundwork for a larger grant application to conduct systematic surveys of collection-rich libraries in the region, cataloguing this hidden archive and making it available for scholarly research.

Desired outcomes

1. Discover uniquely-modified nineteenth-century volumes on library shelves, with relevance to the mid-nineteenth-century experiences of local residents.

2. Research the provenance and contexts of particularly interesting finds to illuminate their histories.

3. Learn more about how books were read and used by different reading communities in the Civil War era.

4. Get students involved with original research in the print collections of academic libraries.

5. Help make the case for the continued relevance of the circulating book collections in libraries.

6. Develop a grant application for a larger, regional and/or national project to discover and catalog unique copies in academic libraries.