Past Exhibits


On Various Subjects: 250 Years of Phillis Wheatley (2023)

In September 1773, Phillis Wheatley published Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral in London, becoming the first African American writer to publish a book of poetry, and only the third colonial American woman of any race to publish a book. It included a copperplate engraved portrait of her seated at a writing desk with pen, paper, and book, the first individual portrait of an African American woman. This exhibit, highlighted by the first edition of Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral, celebrated the semiquincentennial of Poems on Various Subjects and traces how Wheatley’s poetry, image, and name have been reprinted, recirculated, and remixed by and for educators, activists, artists, and readers of all ages in every era over the last 250 years.

On Various Subjects: 250 Years of Phillis Wheatley is curated by UW-Madison professors Brigitte Fielder and Jonathan Senchyne in collaboration with the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture and the Department of Special Collections in UW-Madison Libraries. 

New and Notable at UW-Madison Libraries (2023)

This exhibit afforded a glimpse into the wide and colorful variety of collections in various campus libraries, with an emphasis on new and notable acquisitions. Exhibit cases were filled with books of many shapes and sizes, manuscripts, postcards, photographs, pamphlets, records and tapes, games, and other objects (even a softball!).

Drawing on materials from American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, Ebling Library (including its Rare Books & Special Collections), Kohler Art Library, Mills Music Library, Special Collections, and University Archives.

Press Play: Recorded Music from Groove to Stream (2022)

The confluence of music, art, and technology over the past 150 years has dramatically changed how we record and listen to music, from grooves to tape to digital disc to streaming services and beyond. Drawing from Mills Music Library and Wisconsin Music Archives collections, Press Play highlighted the revolution evolution and the unique cultures inspired by each format. Visitors were encouraged to listen to historic recordings and to ponder the future of recorded sound and how it might be preserved.

Exhibit curated by Nathan D. Gibson and Mills Music Library staff.

Gibson and Mills Music Library staff have also created a playlist of 53 recordings accompanying Press Play that you may access by clicking on this link.

Given to Remember: The Holocene Extinction in Print (2022)

This exhibit featured printed works by scientists, fine press and artist’s books, and artistic and literary treatments of extinct species of animals and plants.

Science at UW-Madison: Sources for its History (2021)

This exhibit focused on the variety of sources, from University Archives and elsewhere, that can illuminate the history of teaching and research across the sciences at UW-Madison over some 170 years.

Plants Plantations Labor Trade (2020)

Installed in conjunction with the Sawyer Seminar “Interrogating the Plantationocene,” Center for the Humanities, UW-Madison, this exhibit highlighted books, manuscripts, archives, music, and pictorial materials exploring the long history and global reach of plantations, including crops and land use, racialized and forced labor, means of production and markets.

Telling 100 Stories: Italian History and Culture in Special Collections (2019)

Framed by Boccaccio’s Decameron, a collection of tales set during the Plague, this exhibit highlighted our strong holdings pertaining to Italy, its history, language, and culture, in conjunction with the fourth triennial conference of the American Boccaccio Association, held in Madison in October 2019.

Pollinators: A History of Understanding (2019)

This exploration of the variety (and critical role) of pollinators drew on our strong natural history collections, including lavishly illustrated natural history works in the Thordarson Collection and the Charles C. Miller Memorial Apicultural Library of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also known as the Miller Bee Collection.

Aldo Leopold: Life, Land, Legacy (2019)

The first-ever large scale exhibit of Aldo Leopold’s papers, drawing on the holdings of University Archives and Special Collections. It also included items generously lent by the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

The Sixties: Remembering Who Was T/here (2018)

An exhibit linking events in Madison to the larger national scene through books, record albums, photographs, and other documentary sources. Along the way, the exhibit highlighted some of the individuals who enacted or stimulated change through their writing, music, or activism. It featured collection items from the Department of Special Collections, Mills Music Library, and University Archives.

Preserving the Word: World Religions in our Libraries (2018)

This exhibit, comprised of items from many different libraries on campus, had as its objective to help visitors understand the complexity and uniqueness of identity and religion in the world.

Print in Color, Color in Print (2017-2018)

The exhibit featured printing in color over nearly five centuries, and was designed to complement the Burdick-Vary symposium on “Color: Pixels, Palettes, and Perception” (March 2018).

Iceland: An Exhibit in Special Collections (2017)

This exhibit, the work of guest exhibit curators Peter Gorman and Todd Michelson-Ambelang drew on the Thordarson Collection, as well as other holdings of Special Collections, Memorial Library, Mills Music Library, and the Wisconsin Historical Society, to illustrate Iceland’s natural history, folklore, literature, print culture, and religion

Natural History : Natural Philosophy (2017)

This exhibit, designed to complement the exhibition “Martha Glowacki’s Natural History, Observations and Reflections” in the Chazen Museum in spring 2017, included titles that have informed or inspired Glowacki’s work, both from Special Collections and the Historical Collections of Ebling Health Sciences Library, along with other illustrated works from the Thordarson Collection and other collections in history of science.

The Globe/Global in Shakespeare’s Time (2016-2017)

This exhibit, part of Shakespeare in Wisconsin 2016, situated Shakespeare’s work in the context of the globe and the global in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Staff Picks (2016)

Following the lead of many brick-and-mortar bookstores, this exhibit featured titles from Special Collections as highlighted by our student library employees (and the rest of us).

Shapes in Books: Triangles, Squares, Circles (2015-2016)

This exhibit showcased works of geometry as well as the geometry of the page more generally, and explored the use and depiction of triangles, squares, and circles in type, ornament, illustration, and metaphor.

Green, Green — It’s Green, They Say: A Selection of Books from Special Collections (2015)

In celebration of the lush landscape of summer, this exhibit drew upon the holdings of Special Collections to explore the color green — from matters botanical to dye samples, book bindings to frogs.

Mapmaking: Sources from the Geography Library, Map Library, and Special Collections (2015)

This exhibit, which drew on the resources of the Geography Library, Map Library, and Special Collections, honored the path-breaking accomplishments of the History of Cartography Project and the publication of volume six, Cartography in the Twentieth Century.

Chapter & Verse: Bibles from the Holdings of Special Collections (2015)

“Chapter and Verse” explored the close association of the Bible and related texts with print culture (and, more broadly, book culture).

1914: Then Came Armageddon (2014)

A documentary exhibit about World War I, especially on the Western Front, commemorated the centennial of its outbreak.

Books of Nature: An Exhibit of Science and Natural History Books from Special Collections (2014)

A large exhibit on history of science, highlighting the rich holdings of Special Collections.

Woodland Pattern Broadsides: Thirty Years of Poets Reading (2013)

An exhibit in conjunction with the acquisition by the Department of Special Collections of the Woodland Pattern Book Center archives from its founding in 1979 through 2012.

On the Sunny Side: An Exhibit from Special Collections & University Archives (2013)

The long, warm days of summer, and the shorter but still sunny days of early fall, afforded a good opportunity to display works on the sun from Special Collections and University Archives.

Text Support: A Library Exhibit About Paper (2013)

This exhibit, co-curated by Tracy Honn and Lyn Korenic, illustrated the history, production, and use of paper.

Parts and Wholes (2012)

What is a part? What is a whole? How are issues of hierarchy, time, and relationship conveyed or at issue in print? This exhibit — presented in conjunction with the workshop, “What is an Individual? Where Philosophy, History, and Biology Coincide” — explored part/whole relationships in the sciences and print culture, drawing upon a wide variety of collections around campus.

Reflections of Anglo-Saxon England (2011)

This exhibit explored the history, artifacts, and myths of Anglo-Saxon England and their many political and cultural uses.

Jesuits and the Construction of Knowledge, 1540–1773 (2011)

This exhibit, drawing on extensive holdings in Special Collections of illustrated works by Jesuit authors, explored their role in the construction of knowledge from the establishment of the Society of Jesus in 1540 through its papal suppression in 1773. The books on display featured intriguing illustrations ranging from scientific diagrams and maps to natural history illustrations and ethnographic representations.

By Design: Text, Ornament, & Illustration in 16th-Century Books (2010-2011)

This exhibit explored both the stability and vitality of book design after the first half-century of printing with movable type in the Latin West, displaying examples from alchemy and armory to theology and travel, from biblical scholarship and birds to prognostication and physicke.