Fairfield Museum to house treasure trove of state history
Updated 11:46 am, Monday, May 9, 2016
FAIRFIELD — A comprehensive compendium of materials about state history, compiled over decades by an award-winning author, professor and archivist, now rests on the shelves and in the vault of the Fairfield Museum and History Center’s research library.
The Collier Collection was assembled throughout the distinguished academic career of former Connecticut State Historian Christopher Collier, comprising about 2,000 volumes and other materials that researchers and students can access. Among the books are Acts and Laws of His Majesty’s English Colony of Connecticut in New England in America published in 1750.
The once-private collection was opened to the public at a recent reception where Fairfield Museum Executive Director Michael Jehle said the acquisition of the Collier Collection distinguishes its already well-respected research library as one of the best repositories of Connecticut history in the state. “This collection propels this library to one of the top two libraries in the state. It’s a great acquisition for scholars all over the country and for Fairfield students to have this in their own backyard,” Jehle said.
That was Collier’s intention. The Branford man said he chose the Fairfield Museum and History Center for several reasons. He did not want the collection disassembled and the location suited his vision.
“There are ample research facilities in the Hartford area, but not in southern Connecticut. The idea was to establish it as a competing research source, a place where a scholar could do all their research in one place,” said Collier, professor emeritus of history at the University of Connecticut, author of several historical novels for young adult readers, and Connecticut state historian from 1985 to 2004.
Collier and his brother James Collier wrote the Newbery Award-winning historical novel, “My Brother Sam is Dead.” Christopher Collier also penned “All Politics is Local” and the Pulitzer-nominated “Roger Sherman's Connecticut: Yankee Politics and the American Revolution.”
The collection includes major monographs in Connecticut history — hundreds of local histories and biographies of Connecticut figures, scholarly articles, rare and out of print books, popular works published over the past two centuries, journals, periodicals and more than 200 doctoral dissertations on Connecticut history. The latter is the only collection of its kind in existence and the current Connecticut State Historian, Walter Woodward, called it “a miraculous find.”
Woodward said the Collier Collection as a whole will be a godsend for people researching Connecticut history. “I’m glad to know the Collier Collection is intact and will be used for centuries,” he said.
Books on the material culture of early Fairfield and beyond, previously kept in the main room of the Fairfield Museum’s research library, were moved to an adjoining public space to accommodate the Collier Collection, which covers every part of state history. Elizabeth Rose, the museum’s library director, said the collection is organized in sections, including by county and town.
Rose said the new collection deepens coverage of Connecticut and adds groups and topics previously not covered in the museum’s existing collection. “It goes into greater depth and scholarship … When people come in now they can see we are a library that’s focused on local and regional history,” she said.
With support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the contents of the Collier Collection have been added to the Fairfield Museum’s catalogue, which is available to the public online through the Fairfield Public Library’s website, www.fairfieldpubliclibrary.org.