Established in 1927 at the University of Oklahoma (OU), the Western History Collections (WHC) holds diverse research materials on the history and culture of the American West, with special emphasis on Oklahoma, the Southwest, and the American Indian. A special collection within the University of Oklahoma Libraries, WHC is located in historic Monnet Hall on the Norman campus of the university. WHC's primary mission is to support the research and teaching programs of the University of Oklahoma.
The collections originated in a collaboration between several Oklahoma leaders. University of Oklahoma history professor Edward E. Dale began a quest in the 1920s for a collection of western historical materials to serve as a library resource for history graduate students. He enlisted the help of his friend and Oklahoma attorney Patrick J. Hurley, who later served as U.S. ambassador to China during World War II. Hurley, in turn, gained the support of oilman Frank Phillips, founder of Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. He provided the initial funding for the collection, which was established as the Frank Phillips Collection on April 5, 1927, in a contract with University of Oklahoma Pres. William B. Bizzell. Dale acquired thousands of items for the Phillips Collection from 1927 until his retirement in 1952.
Although the Phillips Collection contained historical manuscripts, the University Libraries also gathered materials for its own Manuscripts Division, which operated independently of the Phillips Collection. This separate division began in 1948 with a grant from the Humanities Division of the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1957 OU history professor Arrell M. Gibson accepted an appointment as curator of both the Frank Phillips Collection and the Manuscripts Division. This dual appointment allowed both collections to be managed by a single director and led to their eventual consolidation. In 1967 the University Libraries merged the two programs into the now-familiar Western History Collections.
At the beginning of the twentieth century three divisions comprised the WHC: the Library Division, the Manuscripts and University Archives Division, and the Photographic Archives. With more than seventy-five thousand volumes, the Library Division comprises a central collection still carrying the name of the Frank Phillips Collection and a dozen family-named library collections focusing on such diverse topics as military history, Abraham Lincoln, and the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The Library Division also has extensive holdings of scholarly journals in the field of western history, as well as a collection of contemporary American Indian newspapers.
The Manuscripts Division holds approximately eleven thousand linear feet of textual primary materials on Oklahoma and the West. Among the types of original materials are diaries and journals of pioneers, correspondence and papers of tribal governments, literary manuscripts by Oklahoma authors, and business records of early Oklahoma industry leaders. Other types of materials include maps, sound recordings, posters, microforms, and the archives of the University of Oklahoma.
The Photographic Archives Division holds over eight hundred thousand images of the West. An extensive collection of glass plate negatives and original prints represent a variety of photographic processes and subjects. Collection strengths include images of lawmen and outlaws, cowboys and ranching scenes, Wild West shows, and Indians of Oklahoma and the Southwest. Prominent are works by professional photographers such as William S. Prettyman and Andrew A. Forbes, who captured the development of the frontier as they traveled through it.
All of these divisions have given the Western History Collections international recognition as one of the finest existing research centers of Western Americana. The collections are open to students, faculty, and the general public.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Donald L. DeWitt, American Indian Resource Materials in the Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990). H. Glenn Jordan, "Western History Collections at the University of Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 54 (Fall 1976).
Kristina L. Southwell
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