A substantial gift of Union Springs, Alabama, native Dr. Wade Hall, the collection is a sweeping portrayal of Southern History and American culture in word, song, and picture. A guide to his collection, Miracle and Mystery, is forthcoming from New South Press in 2016. 

Dr. Hall was author of twenty four books relating to Kentucky, Alabama, and Southern history, as well as hundreds of articles, poems, essays, and reviews published in scholarly and popular publications. A graduate of Troy University (B.S.), The University of Alabama (M.A.) and the University of Illinois (Ph.D.), he taught English and served as an administrator at Bellarmine College in Louisville for many years, where he also hosted a weekly interview program on Louisville public television. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors. His celebrated work Conecuh People has been adapted for the stage and is performed annually in his hometown of Union Springs, Alabama.
The collections which make up the Wade Hall Collection of Southern History and Culture include:


Wade Hall’s book collection includes nearly 17,300 titles related to Southern literature, the history of the United States, and American popular culture, and book history. However, Wade Hall’s library is not significant only for the many important texts it contains; it also is consequential for its ability to represent the history of print culture. While Hall gathered a few Confederate Imprints alongside a much larger number of volumes published in the North during the Civil War, he also compiled extensive holdings in publishers’ bindings and pulps. Publishers’ bindings are cloth-bound books without duct jackets that were popular with middle-class readers from the middle of the nineteenth through the first few decades of the twentieth century. Working-class readers during the middle of the twentieth century primarily chose to read pulps, books that were made with low-quality paper. Hall’s large number of publishers’ bindings and pulps show that Hall invested his resources into portraying the preferences of lower and middle-class Americans: the people and places that preoccupied them; their tastes in travel destinations, religion, and cuisine; and what types of books they read. For this reason, Hall’s book collection reflects the history of the United States differently than a library of pristine first editions. The books Hall found interesting were copies of texts that were read, treasured, and widely circulated. 


Through his collection of sheet music, sound recordings, and recording technology, Wade Hall found another avenue by which to pursue his passion for the material culture of American mass society during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Hall wrote two books on American music during his time as a professor of English at Bellarmine College in Louisville, Kentucky, Hell-Bent for Music: The Life of Pee Wee King (1996) and A Song in Native Pastures: Randy Atcher’s Life in Country Music (2002), but his interest in music extends beyond the work of these two performers. His library of sheet music includes 5,800 titles that date between 1831 and 1987. 357 pieces are from the nineteenth century, while the remainder belongs to the twentieth. Hall’s collection of sound recordings encompasses 2,809 catalogued titles, including almost 2,500 12” long play records (LPs) as well as 314 7” singles (also known as small LPs), 33 ½ rpm microgroove vinyl records, 3 cassette tapes, and 132 CDs, all of which were published between 1945 and 2006. Hall’s recording technology holdings are comprised of eighty cylinders produced from 1888 through the 1920s; 192 piano rolls that range in date from the 1910s through the 1950s, although most are from the 1910s and 1920s; and 613 8 track tapes created from 1965 through the 1980s. Through these collections, researchers can outline the history of recording technology, watch the development of lyrical themes, trace the origins of musical genres, understand the evolution of the entertainment industry, and find the works of noted composers and artists.


The Wade Hall Collection of Manuscripts gathers together papers and items from the middle of the nineteenth through the end of the twentieth century. Manuscripts, which are unpublished, may either be handwritten or typed. As manuscripts only can reside in one location, they are especially valuable to researchers because they are unique. While English poet Philip Larkin was writing about literary manuscripts when he said that “manuscripts have two kinds of value: what might be called the magical value and the meaningful value,” Larkin’s observation nevertheless holds true for the non-literary papers found in Hall’s collection. Hall’s manuscripts allow users to learn about the lives of everyday Americans by reading their own words, which demonstrates the value of ordinary people’s perspectives to visitors interested in American history, literature, and culture. But these papers are not only significant for their utilitarian value. Although they are primary sources that can inform a wide variety of projects, they also are documents with the power to surprise readers with their intimacy. Each item is imprinted with the author’s personality and emotional state; reading these papers can feel like having a good conversation with a close friend. Alternatively dry, sad, and hilarious, these documents instruct those who view them on the joys and sorrows of middle-class life. Additionally, as any items found in these collections supplement Hall’s holdings of books, music, photographs, and quilts, users should be careful to consider what companion materials from other portions of Hall’s collections might inform their queries.


The critic Susan Sontag stated in her now-classic volume of essays, On Photography (1977), that “to collect photographs is to collect the world." Wade Hall would appreciate Sontag’s sentiment, for he believed collecting was a way to access the experiences and insights of those whose materials are acquired and preserved. While Hall also collected books, music, manuscripts, and quilts, photography became another outlet for his interest in the everyday lives of Americans from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Hall recognized that what ordinary Americans thought should be photographed demonstrated how they saw themselves, or how they wished to see themselves. In turn, these individuals highlighted the collective process by which Americans began to communicate and portray their sense of the nation. Studio photographers, who took the majority of the images in Hall’s collection between the 1850s and the early twentieth century, captured portraits. By the middle and latter half of the twentieth century, amateur photographers became more prevalent. These photographers were more likely to portray their social environment – the events, people, and places that had personal meaning to themselves or to others – than they were to follow artistic or documentary objectives. Often, these photographs were taken to share and thus reflect how the photographer desired to portray him or herself. Therefore, users should consider what is pictured, and what is not, for photography depicts a reality that fits the desires and motives of the photographer.


Quilts, which are made by placing batting between two layers of fabric and then stitching together the sandwich in a pattern, adorn many homes in the United States. On the frontier, quilts gave women “the courage to endure their isolation” by giving beauty and comfort to homes constructed in harsh and unfamiliar environments. Quilting also served social functions: by working together, quilters generated communities that could sustain them in times of mourning and celebration. Since 1971, when the exhibition “Abstract Design in American Quilts” held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, was the first exhibition to recognize and legitimize quilt making, and quilt makers, as a legitimate feature of American art, scholarly respect for and interest in quilts increased. Quilts ascendency in critical estimation also coincided with the rise of the fields of material culture and feminist theory. In the following decades since the 1970s, quilts have become, in the eyes of writers like Alice Walker, “the central metaphor of American cultural identity,” which now has broadened to include women as well as men, racial minorities alongside whites, the regional beside the cosmopolitan, and craft equivalent to fine art.