Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Collection
So you want to write a paper on Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain? Lucky for you, Bowdoin College has an extensive collection of primary sources relating to and created by Chamberlain. It is one of the perks of Chamberlain being a Bowdoin College graduate, professor, president, trustee and overseer. A researcher intending to find information of Chamberlain would be well advised to visit the third floor of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, home of the George J. Mithchell Department of Special Collections and Archives and keeper of the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Collection.
An extensive and extremely helpful research guide on the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Collection (source guide, so to speak) has been created to organize the collection and assist the researcher. However, finding the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collection and Archives Website, let alone the JLC research guide can be tricky. After logging on to the Bowdoin College Library gateway, click on the link "Branches" which is located under the heading "About the Library." Located at the bottom of the page is a link to the "George J. Mithchell Department of Special Collections and Archives" - from this site click "Collections" then "Manuscript Collections" and then select the letter "C," or scroll down until you find "Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Collection, 1817- (bulk 1855-1914). At last, you have reached the source guide for the JLC collection. There are alternative ways of locating the JLC collection through the Special Collections and Archives website. Its website is: http://library.bowdoin.edu/arch/mss/jlcg.shtml.
The collection is 8.75 linear feet, which describes its size in relation to how much shelving space it takes up. The collection has been assembled over time. Much of it has been donated, some of it bought. It is referred to as "a collection" instead of simply as "papers" because it contains manuscripts and paper documents, but it also has things like medals and other objects relating to Chamberlain. The catalogue number for the collection is M27. Because the collection is large, and varies a great deal on topic, it is broken down into 15 different categories, or series, as they are referred to. Each series is a different type of source and has its own call number. The series are broken down into 15 categories, and are represented in the call number as the decimal after 27. For example, the third series (personal material) is represented as M27.3. The series are: Correspondence, Biographical and Autobiographical essay and records, Personal material, Articles and addresses, Lecture notes, Civil War, Family material, Family material: Thomas D. Chamberlain, Associations and societies, Manuscripts, printed and typescript materials, Commemorative materials, Clippings, Images, Realia, Research materials, and In the Hands of Providence manuscript. Each series gives the dates for which it contains materials. By clicking on any of the series, or by scrolling down, you can find more detail about the holdings of each series. If you find a series that you want to check out, click on the button "Container List" to get an exact description of the manuscripts in that series. If you decide that there is something in one of the boxes that you would be interested in pursuing, record the number of the box. Building on the earlier example, if you want to see something from Chamberlain's personal materials, specify which box from the series you would like to examine. Within each box, the series is further broken down into numbered folders, each one containing a different manuscript, but since the librarian will bring out the whole box, regardless of what number manuscript you are interested in, it is not necessary to write down the manuscript number.
Once you are ready to manually search and examine the contents of the JLC collection, you must visit the Special Collections and Archives room up on the third floor of H&L. The contents of this collection are behind locked doors, and for good reason. Not because the library does not want people to look at them, but rather because it is valuable, rare, delicate and irreplaceable collection of materials. The librarians simply want to ensure that the collection in viewed in a responsible way. There is a strict set of guidelines for viewing the contents of the JLC Collection. First, the collection can only be viewed under the supervision of the staff in the designated Special Collections and Archives reading room. Special Collection is open Monday - Friday, 9:00am - 5:00pm, so plan accordingly. After letting the Special Collections librarian know the series number, box number and folder numbers that you are interested in looking at, you will be asked to leave all personal belongings in the provided storage area and meet the librarian in the reading room. Neither notebooks nor ink pens are allowed in the reading room. The library will provide loose paper and pencils for taking notes if you do not have these things. Lab top computers are allowed in the reading room, but not the carrying case. Prior to visiting the reading room, everyone should carefully review the list of rules and regulations posted at: http://library/arch/staffservices.shtml. It is difficult to imagine how terrible one would feel if they were responsible for destroying or harming a one of a kind document. For sake of preservation, most of the documents in the collection are photocopies of the original, and some are typescript. However, if you have a compelling reason (as deemed by the librarian) it is possible that you may be granted permission to view the original manuscript. Examining these documents is a privilege and should be treated as such.
Obviously, the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Collection revolves around the life and times of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. However, a good deal of the manuscripts in this collection are personal correspondence JLC had with others. There is a fairly complete list of people with whom JLC corresponded with located in a red binder located above the computers in the Special collections room - the binders are organized alphabetically so it is in the "C" volume.
If you are conducting research on the Civil War, but not specifically on Chamberlain, this is not necessarily the best source for you to use. If you are curious if JLC has any information related to your topic, it might be best simply to ask one of the Special Collections librarians. They are fairly familiar with the collection, and might be able to save you the time of searching through the collection.
One thing that makes this resource especially valuable to Chamberlain researchers is that within the collection is a box that contains research materials related to Chamberlain. M27.14, box 13 has a number of bibliographies as well as other resources intended to help the Chamberlain researcher. It also seems necessary to point out the that the Maine State archives and the Pejopscot Historical society maintain archives on Chamberlain as well.
The Special Collections and Archives librarians have experience and knowledge working this the resource, and helping others who have used this research. In addition to the JLC Collection itself, the librarians are great assets to the Bowdoin College library. Do not be afraid to use them. Ask questions, they are here to help. And most of all, enjoy using this unique and exciting source. People from all over the world have visited Bowdoin to get a glimpse into the interesting life of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.