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Pieces of history: A look inside the literary collection of the Louisiana Tech library

February 6, 2014

 

Peggy Carter is the head of special collections at Tech.

Peggy Carter is the head of special collections at Tech. – All photos by Derek J. Amaya

Ian Edwards
Staff Reporter

 

English majors at other universities who want to read an original Charles Dickens letter would have to spend time and money to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to find an exhibit.

 

All Tech students have to do is make a simple trip to the fourth floor of Wyly Tower to visit Prescott Library’s Special Collections Manuscript Archives.

 

“I have been told the collection is the envy of many universities in the South,” said Rick Simmons, an English professor. “I tell all my English students, ‘why not spend a few minutes and walk up to the fourth floor of the library? Most of you will never have an opportunity like this again.’”

 

The biography of Queen Elizabeth I is the crown jewel of the archives. – All photos by Derek J. Amaya

The biography of Queen Elizabeth I is the crown jewel of the archives.

Peggy Carter, head of special collections, said the collection consists of some of the most celebrated American and British authors and poets.

 

Carter said since 2009, the Tech Archives has been building a collection of literary history with the Frellsen Fletcher Smith Collection.

 

“We have an original, unpublished letter from Charles Dickens that places him in Boston at the time of writing,” Carter said. “We also have original documents belonging to Carl Sandburg, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain and fourth president James Madison, as well as King Louis XVI of France.”

 

Carter said the archives has one manuscript they consider to be the centerpiece.

 

“We have a biography of Queen Elizabeth I written by William Camden,” she said. “We have the original book in both English and Latin. Without these books, our collection is already notable, but these put us instantly on top.”

 

The archives have selections from many famous authors and political figures from throughout history.

The archives have selections from many famous authors and political figures from throughout history.

Carter said the pieces are worth quite a large sum of money.

 

“Imagine, having in your possession the signatures of prominent literary leaders, presidents and kings,” Carter said. “That prospect in itself makes these documents worth an untold amount of money. While we haven’t had any trouble, just like any museum, the appropriate anti-theft measures have been taken.”

 

Simmons, who is also the director of the honors program, said the acquisition of the documents was a fortunate privilege for the university.

 

“The archives were lent the documents by Lorna Kardatkze and her husband Jon who own a museum in Wichita, Kansas,” Simmons said. “Lorna’s father was Frellsen Fletcher Smith, who taught technical writing here at Tech from 1938 to 1972. A colleague, Dr. Pat Garrett, is a friend of the Kardatkzes, and through their correspondence, Tech received the first few manuscripts.”

Simmons said his role was to translate the content of the documents.

 

One of the archive’s documents is a handwritten letter from famed Victorian era novelist Charles Dickens.

One of the archive’s documents is a handwritten letter from famed Victorian era novelist Charles Dickens.

“I became involved with the project through the promise of being able to get closer to original works by 19th century British writers, which is my area of expertise,” Simmons said. “I made the collections website in cooperation with Peggy Carter and Tanya Arant (who works as a library specialist), and I’ve stayed on to trace the origins of any new material the archives may receive.”

 

 

Simmons said the collection has earned Tech much prestige in the literary community.

 

“The draft of the William Wordsworth poem is a variation not known to exist anywhere else in the world,” he said. “We were also asked for permission to reference several of the Dickens letters in a volume to supplement the original pilgrim editions of his correspondence.

 

This was monumental.”

 

Carter said she is thrilled to be able to oversee the collection, and she is looking forward to future acquisitions.

 

“Thanks to people like Frellsen Fletcher Smith, who had such an evident love for Tech, this collection is possible,” she said. “This is what I want to be showcased, the spirit of our alumni and our early professors so people can see who built the university as it is today.”

 

Email comments to ije001@latech.edu.

 

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