Vanderbilt Magazine

Building a University: Buchanan Fellows at the Heard Libraries curate an exhibit that documents Vanderbilt’s beginning

Last fall, five Buchanan Fellows at the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries began a project to research Vanderbilt University’s first decade, from 1875 to 1885, and curate an online exhibit about what they discovered. In the process, the fellows learned how to find supporting materials in the library, interpret historical objects, examine historically significant manuscripts and documents from Special Collections, and place all of them in the context of the university’s—and the nation’s—history.

“The idea for Vanderbilt history topics came about when we were researching materials for the upcoming sesquicentennial” in 2023, says Celia Walker, associate university librarian. “We’re hoping we can use this content to bring a fuller presentation of the university’s history through the eyes of our students.”

Cornelius Vanderbilt’s initial donation was made in 1873, the official date of the university’s founding. An exhibit on Vanderbilt’s second decade will be a Buchanan Fellows project in fall 2021 and will be available to view online by the end of the semester.

The Buchanan Library Fellowship program—endowed in 2015 by Richard D. Buchanan, BA’57, MD’61, and Poppy Buchanan, BSN’61—provides immersive learning experiences that develop career-ready skills and support lifelong learning for undergraduates.

The following is adapted from Taking Root: Vanderbilt University’s First Decade, 1875–1885, curated and written by fall 2020 Buchanan Fellows Tucker Apgar, Donyea James, Joshua Woods, Yisu Yang and Stanley Zhao with help from library staff members Carla Beals, Mary Anne Caton, Teresa Gray and Kathleen Smith.

All images courtesy of Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives