In the autumn of 2004 the University of Southampton welcomed visitors to the first exhibition to be held in the new Special Collections Gallery. The Gallery was created with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a major investment by the University in the remodelling and extension of the Hartley Library. Since then there have been three or four exhibitions on display each year based on manuscript and printed materials housed by the Special Collection Division.
The first exhibition, titled The Special Collections, sampled some of the main collections, to convey their range, importance and flavour. It was divided into five sections, reflecting the growth of the holdings and some of the principal themes that are to be found in them. These included materials relating to Hampshire; Prime Ministers’ papers of the first Duke of Wellington and the third Viscount Palmerston; Anglo-Jewish materials; materials relating to Lord Mountbatten and the transfer of power in India; as well as early materials from the Parkes Library.
Subsequent exhibitions have expanded on these themes. The exhibition Cecil Roth and Anglo-Jewish intellectuals in 2005 drew from the significant range of materials for Jewish individuals held by the Division. Focusing on the papers of five Anglo-Jewish intellectuals, the exhibition provided a snapshot of the overall holdings. The following year, to mark the 350th anniversary of the re-admission of the Jewish population into Britain, ‘In a style fitting to us Jewes’: Anglo-Jewish life from the Resettlement reflected more broadly on the Anglo-Jewish community and aspects of Jewish life in the UK.
A number of exhibitions have drawn on the official, diplomatic, military and political papers of the Duke of Wellington. Wellington and his papers in 2008 celebrated twenty-five years since the archive was allocated to the University under national heritage legislation in 1983. Showcasing the scale of the collection, the exhibition reflected the entire span of Wellington’s career from his first military commission to his political career. Meanwhile, exhibitions held in conjunction with the Wellington Congress have included The War against Napoleon in 2006, examining the impact of the Napoleonic War across Europe; and ‘Victory searches for her son’: defending Spain and Portugal against Napoleon, 1810 in 2010, focusing on two of the key moments in the Peninsular War – the Lines of Torres Vedras and the Battle of Buçaco – as well as Britain’s relationship with Spain and Portugal.
The Broadlands Archives in 2010 offered a look at the extensive range of materials in the Broadlands collection. Centred on the Temple (Palmerston), Ashley, Cassel and Mountbatten families, the documents in the collection cover major political, diplomatic, social and economic events of the 19th and 20th centuries. One such event was the focus of the exhibition The Independence of India and Pakistan, 1947 in 2007 which offered a fascinating perspective on the transfer of power from the British Raj to the newly-created states of India and Pakistan in 1947. Drawing largely on the Papers of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the exhibition marked the sixtieth anniversary of this historic event.
In 2012 the University of Southampton celebrated its diamond jubilee as the first university to be created in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, receiving its royal charter on 29 April 1952. It also celebrated the foundation of the Hartley Institution, the University’s predecessor, which was opened on 15 October 1862. To mark the occasion the exhibition ‘To constitute and found a university …’: from Hartley Institution to the University of Southampton’s diamond jubilee set out to reflect development over 150 years, both in terms of the experience of students, from the nineteenth century onwards, and in the physical changes to the institution. The same year saw The Poetry of F.T.Prince (1912-2003) examining the life and work of one of the University’s first Professors of English and a significant poet of the twentieth century.
Other exhibitions have focused on a wide range of topics, including ‘Irreconcileable with the principles of humanity and justice’: the trade in slaves and its abolition in 2007; ‘A Most Laborious Undertaking’: The Art of Maps and Map-Making in 2008; Unreliable memories: documenting personal and official experience in 2009; Britain and South Asia, 1760–1960 in 2011; Here, look after him’: los niños, refugee children from the Spanish Civil War in 2012; and ‘When a traveller is in a strange place …’: perspectives on romanticism and revolution, 1790–1840 in 2013. Exhibitions offering perspectives on artistic subjects have included In the Loop: Highlights of the Montse Stanley Knitting Collection in 2008; Print Matters: A visual journey through the artist’s book in 2011; and The early modern image: patronage, kings and peoples in 2014.
As well as drawing on material held by the Special Collections Division, exhibitions have included materials from the Hampshire Records Office, the Southampton City Archives, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Knitting Reference Library, and the University of Southampton School of Ocean and Earth Science.
Upcoming exhibitions in 2015 will focus on the role of music at the University, the Battle of Waterloo, and the Parkes library on Jewish/non-Jewish relations. The current exhibition ‘When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare’ will run until 12 December 2014.