Researchers from around the world come to the Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane University to find one-of-a-kind books, documents and manuscripts. Yet every day, students on the uptown campus walk by Jones Hall without even knowing it’s there. That’s something Leon Miller, head of the collection, is hoping to change.
"It’s a very important part of the undergraduate experience," says Leon Miller, head of the Louisiana Research Collection. "It’s one of the things that makes Tulane unique." (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)
“I don’t want to use the cliché and say we’re a hidden gem,” says Miller. “We’ve always been well-known off campus. If you’re a Civil War historian living in Rotterdam or Rome or Rawalpindi, you know you probably can’t write a new book about the Civil War without coming to Tulane to do some of your research.”
While archival collections exist at many other universities, the Louisiana Research Collection is different and offers an unmatched opportunity for students.
“One of the things that makes us kind of unusual is that we make this available to undergraduate students,” Miller says. “At many institutions, undergraduates are not even allowed in departments like ours and even if they’re allowed, they’re intimidated or made to feel uncomfortable when they go there.”
Miller says researchers in almost any field, from civil engineering to sociology to linguistics to environmental sciences, can benefit from the department’s almost four linear miles of holdings about Louisiana. Students have access to the impressive reserve of original documents including a letter from Thomas Jefferson, the collection’s first acquisition in 1889. There are also the Stonewall Jackson papers, the Jefferson Davis papers and now the first cache of Huey Long papers uncovered in 40 years.
Miller says manuscripts like these make the history come alive in a way that a textbook cannot.
“It makes it real in a way that it wasn’t before,” Miller says. “They’re not just reading that letter, they’re able to read how Stonewall Jackson wrote, how he related to other people; they can get a sense of his personality. That’s something that is really unique.”