Emily Tian

As several Yale library exhibits near their final weeks of public display, visitors at the libraries have just a few more weeks to learn about the University’s history not just from books, but also from curated, museum-style displays.

In the fall semester, five libraries — Sterling Memorial Library, the Center for Science and Social Science Information library, the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, the Lewis Walpole Library and the Haas Family Arts Library — put up exhibits to show various aspects of Yale history. The galleries showcase new research, with topics ranging from plastic surgery at Yale to Yale’s 50/150 anniversary of coeducation.

“Yale is an extremely unique and truly blessed place in terms of the access that Yale has to historical documents and books,” said former School of Medicine plastic surgeon fellow Marc Walker, who curated the medical library exhibit.

Walker worked with Melissa Grafe, who directs the Medical Historical Library, to produce a collection on plastic surgery at Yale in the Cushing Rotunda of the Medical Library. Viewers can learn about the development of plastic surgery technologies and procedures until late February.

According to Walker, public knowledge on plastic surgery is often limited to cosmetic procedures. Through texts sampled from the Medical Historical Library, the exhibit offers insight into the historical import of plastic surgery and the contributions made by plastic surgeons to the medical field at large. The exhibit also comes at a critical moment in the library’s own history.

“It was no coincidence that this exhibit was presented at the same time the library was being renovated,” Walker said. “In a way, the library was getting a face-lift.”

Across campus at the Haas Family Arts Library, an exhibit celebrating the 150th anniversary of the School of Art’s founding will be on display until Saturday. Combining photographs with archival records, the exhibit traces the evolution and expansion of the professional school.

In direct conversation with this year’s 50/150 initiatives, the role of female students is also on prominent display in the Haas exhibit. Coeducational since its founding in 1869, the School of Art welcomed Alice and Susan Silliman, granddaughters of Silliman College’s namesake, in its inaugural class. Miko McGinty ’93 ART ’98 co-curated the show with arts librarian Mar González Palacios.

Student-curated exhibitions are also taking an active part in the 50/150 coeducation conversation. From late winter of last year, Valentina Connell ’20 and Mariana Melin-Corcoran ’20 have been developing exhibits with the aid of library researchers to fill the glass cases of Sterling Library’s exhibition corridor. Melin-Corcoran’s exhibit on the work of female architects at Yale draws on her own background as an architecture major.

“The problem I was finding as I was doing the research is that a lot of the way to understand the School of Architecture and how it was run was through the male gaze,” she said. “Instead of trying to tell this story through men, I wanted to let the work shine.”

Adjacent to Melin-Corcoran’s exhibit, Valentina Connell’s exhibit, “Intimate Spaces and Gender,” narrates the history of housing policy in Yale College from visitation rules before coeducation to mixed-gender bedrooms, a policy approved in 2017. According to Connell, residential colleges were one of the most difficult areas of Yale to gender-integrate, but housing policy offers a valuable glimpse into changing gender perceptions.

“When women first arrived on Yale’s campus, they were an excluded minority. Is that successful coeducation or did it take 40 years to coeducate?” she asked. “Have we successfully coeducated yet when it comes to certain areas of campus?”

Meanwhile, Sterling Library’s Memorabilia Room will continue to showcase the 170-year history of the Chinese collection at Yale until Feb. 21. Contributions and acquisitions of Samuel Wells Williams, Yale’s first professor of Chinese Language and Literature, and Yung Wing, Yale’s first Chinese graduate, are featured prominently.

In a year abundant with anniversaries, Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington, Connecticut, is celebrating 40 years since its endowment. Items on view include personal and scholarly archives from the collections of the 20th-century editor and collector W.S. Lewis.

These exhibits make up a fraction of the scholarship conducted on Yale’s institutional history. The Yale University Library system’s collection exceeds 15 million volumes.


Emily Tian | emily.tian@yale.edu