Head of the Special Collections and Archives
Auburn University Libraries
Dwayne Cox is the head of Special Collections and Archives for the Auburn University Libraries. A Lexington, Ky., native, Cox holds a bachelor's degree in history from Kentucky Wesleyan College, a master's in history from the University of Louisville and a doctorate in history from the University of Kentucky. After working as the University of Louisville's associate archivist, he came to Auburn in 1986 to be the university's archivist. Cox is the co-author of "A History of the University of Louisville," published by the University Press of Kentucky and is currently writing "A History of Auburn University" under contract with the University of Alabama Press.
1. What brought you to Auburn and what keeps you here?
Ghosts. The ghosts of the people who've haunted the college grounds since the earliest days. Another way of saying this is, I'm interested in history, particularly Southern history and the history of higher learning, and Auburn is a quintessentially Southern university, with all that implies. Another factor is the people I work with in Special Collections and Archives, the University Libraries and at Auburn University.
2. How many Auburn University historical items are housed in Special Collections and Archives, how far back do they go, and how did they come to be here?
How many? It's impractical if not impossible to say, for Special Collections and Archives holds approximately 10,000 linear feet of archives and manuscripts alone, which translates into approximately 10 million items. This does not include printed material, still pictures, motion pictures, sound recordings and artifacts.
How far back? That's easier. The state legislature incorporated the East Alabama Male College, Auburn's earliest predecessor, in 1856. The board of trustees held its first meeting later that year. Special Collections and Archives houses the original minutes of that meeting. The school opened in 1859, in which year the catalog reported that the faculty could try students guilty of such offenses as "drinking intoxicating liquors, being concerned in any riot, [and] making disturbances at night around the college."
How did they come to be here? Many of them came from Auburn University officials whose offices created them to begin with. This would include presidents, academic departments, athletics, student government and a host of others. Alumni and other friends of Auburn University also donate materials related to the school's history, including letters, photographs and oral histories. (Anyone interested in adding to the collection - or who has other questions regarding the department and its holdings - can contact me on the ground floor of the Ralph Brown Draughon Library, at 334-844-1707, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
3. Is there much that modern students can learn about student life in years past from the collection?
The short answer is "yes." The longer answer is that historical records of colleges and universities reveal more than anyone could imagine regarding the youth culture of the past.
The earliest students at Auburn faced issues similar if not identical to those today: fulfilling academic requirements, locating and paying for room and board, and the cost of tuition. During wars past, many students enlisted or were drafted into the military and some tried to avoid overseas conflicts. Auburn admitted women in 1892, but not many enrolled until after World War I. Even then, they confronted difficulties not encountered by men. Auburn admitted its first African-American student, Harold A. Franklin, in 1964, but black enrollment remained relatively low for decades. Auburn inaugurated intercollege football in the same year that the school first admitted women and the sport has dominated extracurricular student culture ever since. Many believe that the rivalry between Auburn and the University of Alabama began on the football field, but it actually began - and often took its most intense form - in the statehouse as the two schools competed for appropriations.
4. Aside from Auburn University history, what else can visitors study at Special Collections and Archives and how can they gain access to the department's resources?
In addition to the history of Auburn University, our collecting areas include the Civil War; natural history, particularly "the art of science" as portrayed by 18th and 19th century naturalists; the history of aviation; historic English translations of the Bible, currently on display; the history of agriculture and rural life in Alabama; 20th century Alabama politics; Alabama architecture; and Alabama history and literature, generally.
We prepare exhibits based upon our holdings and rotate them regularly. Current ones, in addition to the historic English translations of the Bible, include records of Local 753 of the United Rubber Workers, material related to a 1969 campus visit by anti-war activist and Yale University chaplain, William Sloane Coffin, and photographs of rural Alabama taken by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System during the 1920s. Our most popular past exhibit may have been the one that included various artifacts left at the Toomer's Corner oaks after the discovery of their poisoning.
We host the Discover Auburn Lecture Series, cosponsored by the University Libraries, the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts, and the University Bookstore. Generally, this features Auburn University faculty members discussing their research.
Library patrons can visit the department on the ground floor of the Ralph Brown Draughon Library; visit the department's website at http://www.lib.auburn.edu/specialcollections/; search the libraries' online catalog at http://www.lib.auburn.edu/; or visit the Digital Library at http://diglib.auburn.edu.
5. When you are not keeping Auburn University's history, what do you like to do with your time?
When not keeping Auburn University's history, I like to write about Auburn University's history. I currently have drafts of 12 chapters covering this topic from incorporation of the East Alabama Male College in 1856 through Auburn University's 150th anniversary in 2006. I plan to complete this project before I retire, hopefully at age 66, barring death, debilitation or financial disaster. I'll be 62 later this year, so this will occupy my spare time for now. I'd be glad to discuss the history of Auburn University with any person or group interested in the topic.
Last Updated: May 14, 2012