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The Markham Book Collection: First Steps in a New Project

10/12/2016

Perceptive patrons who regularly use the library’s online catalog will likely notice a new collection designation appearing in their searches—CMLS. The CMLS, or Confederate Memorial Literary Society, collections encompass manuscripts, rare books, pamphlets, broadsides, and other paper materials relating to the Civil War, its coming and its aftermath, from the Museum of the Confederacy’s Eleanor S. Brockenbrough library.

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In 2014, the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) entered into an agreement with the American Civil War Museum (ACWM)—the institution created by the merger in 2013 of the American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy—to store, process, digitize and serve CMLS collections as part of the VHS’s Civil War Research Center. While it will be several years before all the targeted materials are available to researchers, as these collections are actively being transferred to the VHS they are being sequentially processed. Rather than holding back materials for several years until the project has been completed, the VHS is making materials available to researchers as they are processed.

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The George F. Markham, Jr. book collection is the first set of materials that will be available to researchers. George F. Markham, Jr. (1916–2009) was a native of Wisconsin with a keen interest in the Civil War. He attended the University of Virginia and joined the Navy during World War II, where he served as a naval aviator in the Pacific, including at the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. After retiring from the Navy, Markham lived in Wisconsin, where he collected Civil War books and artifacts. He amassed a respected private collection of more than 3,000 items, which he donated to the Museum of the Confederacy in 1992.

When the Markham collection first arrived at the VHS last year, the initial task was to get it on the shelves in the CMLS storage area and cross-check the inventory of contents. After validating the inventory, the volumes were organized using standard library protocols, and staff began the process of accessioning books into the VHS collections.

Over the past few months, staff has begun cataloging the collection, which involves creating a detailed catalog record for each book so that it is easily accessible for researchers. The condition of each book is also assessed and housing is created to store items in the best way possible to ensure that the collection will be maintained properly to be used for years to come.

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The Markham collection is an exciting addition to the VHS’s Civil War Research Center as it expands the current VHS collections on the Civil War—Markham’s scope was not limited to Virginia so there are research materials relating to other states, especially Union states, which will supply researchers with resources for a well-rounded view of the Civil War.  Markham’s collection also includes rare Confederate Imprints, works signed by the actual Civil War veterans who authored them, foreign works on the Civil War, and even some artwork, including a set of original ink drawings Civil War artist Charles W. Reed created for John D. Billings’s best-selling memoir, Hardtack and Coffee.

While cataloging of the Markham collection is still underway, the VHS is adding newly described books from this collection to the library catalog weekly. In addition to the Markham collection, the VHS will eventually receive numerous rare books, broadsides, newspapers, and other published materials, as well as manuscript collections, from the Confederate Memorial Literary Society that will be cataloged and made available to researchers. The VHS is also conducting a digitization project on the images collection belonging to the American Civil War Museum, which will give researchers access to thousands of images of Civil War-related photographs and imagery once completed.

Until these additional materials are transferred to be made available through the VHS online catalog, questions related to the Confederate Memorial Literary Society collections should be directed to Robert Hancock, Director of the Collections Department at the American Civil War Museum, at rhancock@acwm.org.

Amber Jones is the Project Cataloging/Digital Librarian at the Virginia Historical Society.

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