Special Collections completes grant-funded processing of Civil Engineering collections

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Project archivist processing slides from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat collection.

Bridge and Building Forensics Grant Project Completed

In 2013, Special Collections was awarded a grant to process six civil engineering archival collections from its prestigious history of technology holdings for the project “Bridge and Building Forensics: Civil Engineering Collections at Lehigh University.” The two- year project was completed in early March 2016 and guides to the processed collections are now being finalized for scholars, students and researchers around the world.

The project was made possible by a $93,700 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources, as part of its Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program. The Mellon Foundation funded the program, which supports the cataloging of special collections of high scholarly value that are difficult to discover and access.

This project helped enhance Special Collections’ mission of serving as a primary source center for collections in the history of technology. Civil engineering technology advanced significantly in the 20th century. This advancement is documented in these collections, which include the personal and corporate papers of prominent civil engineers and influential societies, such as Blair Birdsall, John W. Fisher, Willis A. Slater, Fritz Engineering Laboratory, and the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Both Fisher and Birdsall made significant contributions to bridge engineering and research. Fisher is best known for his work on fatigue and cracking of steel bridges around the world, and Birdsall was an expert in cabling and suspension bridges. Monumental structures documented by these collections include the Tappan Zee, Verrazano, Golden Gate, and Brooklyn Bridges, the Washington Metro, and World Trade Center. The project also includes the papers of Willis Appleford Slater, a pioneering civil engineer hired to manage the activities of the innovative Fritz Engineering Laboratory in the early 1920s. A collection of approximately 200 postcards featuring bridges in the United States and other countries, and more than 5000 negative and print photographs of civil engineering research and tests that took place in Lehigh’s Fritz Engineering Laboratory complete the collection. The archive consists of correspondence, reports, subject files, court records, audio-visual recordings, images, engineering data, technical drawings, and rare publications. More information about the project can be found in the project blog “Bridge and Building Forensics”: https://lehighcivilforensics.wordpress.com/

Created in 2008, the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives awards program supports the identification and cataloging of special collections and archives of high scholarly value that are difficult or impossible to locate. It is administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources in Washington, D.C. Award recipients create descriptive information for their hidden collections that will eventually be linked to and interoperable with all other projects funded by this grant program.

“Bridge and Building Forensics” was Special Collections’ third grant project funded by CLIR. Most recently, work has just begun on another CLIR grant-funded project: “Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis: Toward a Comprehensive Online Library of Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts in PACSCL Libraries in Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware”. With these successful local and national partnerships, Special Collections has been expanding access to the University’s significant collections.

Photo credit Christa Neu