Articles,  Featured Collections

Featured Collection: Marshall University Archives and Special Collections, Huntington WV

This article appeared in the Volume 2, Issue 3 Winter 2021 issue of the Appalachian Curator. Click here to view a PDF of the full issue.

By Elizabeth James

Founded in 1972, Marshall University Archives and Special Collections has collected materials documenting the rich history of Appalachia, especially the West Virginia and the Huntington areas, for nearly fifty years. While the archives considers all of its more than 850 collections important, standout collections include the WSAZ media archives documenting news in the greater Huntington area between 1955 and 1995, oral histories documenting Appalachian traditions and experiences, the Nelson S. Bond Collection of science fiction writings, and the records of numerous local social and civil rights organizations. The Fred B. Lambert Papers, which consists primarily of notebooks documenting Lambert’s family and local history research, are a particular draw for genealogists.

One smaller collection (4 linear feet) that draws interest from researchers, students, archivists, and genealogists alike is the Huntington State Hospital Collection. State hospitals in West Virginia served as psychiatric and long-term care facilities for individuals prior to the existence of scientifically-backed treatments and knowledge of mental health issues. This collection primarily documents the lobotomy experiments conducted by Walter Freeman, including restricted patient files, photographs, and other records, but also includes other materials documenting the running of a state hospital, especially from the 1920s-1940s. These latter materials include letters from mistreated patients, pamphlets from organizations designed to further goals related to eugenics, sterilization orders, and business records.

Additionally, as a University Archives, Marshall holds institutional records created by Marshall University during its existence as Marshall College and as the State Normal School. These materials span in content from prior President’s papers that include letters received after the 1970 plane crash which killed 75 players, coaches, staff, supporters, and flight crew to 19th century financial ledgers to film props from the 2008 movie We Are Marshall.

Marshall University Archives and Special Collections prioritizes access to its collections. As such, all finding aids, exhibits, and some digitized materials can now be accessed on Marshall’s institutional repository, Marshall Digital Scholar. The remainder of the more than 10,000 item digital collection is being added to Marshall Digital Scholar throughout summer and fall of 2021. All items with textual information are full text searchable, making it even easier for users to find what they are looking for.

More than a research collection sitting in wait for scholarly use, Marshall University Archives and Special Collections is used like a laboratory for the humanities, both digital and traditional. Currently, the archive partners with faculty and community groups to delivered tailored instruction both in-person and remotely, providing access to these materials for students and community members of all ages. Archivists use the collection to work with students on critical thinking and primary source literacy skills, telling stories and providing historical context that is critical for understanding contemporary events and inspiring ambitious futures.

Do you have questions about this feature or want to learn more about Marshall University Special Collections? Contact the archivists at or learn more about how to access and use our collections on our website.

Huntington State Hospital Records Finding Aid Screenshot
Huntington State Hospital Records Finding Aid Screenshot

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