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Stony Brook University

Special Collections & University Archives: Research Guide

A Subject Guide for Special Collections & University Archives, Stony Brook University Libraries

Welcome to Special Collections & University Archives

Spy letters written by George Washington during the American Revolution. A history of the world published in 1493. One of the first maps depicting Long Island as an island. Photographs of Stony Brook’s original train station. These are just a few examples of the one-of-a-kind, library collections awaiting you in Special Collections and University Archives.

Special Collections are library and archival materials in any format (rare books, manuscripts, photographs, institutional archives) that are generally characterized by their artifactual or monetary value, physical format, uniqueness or rarity, and/or an institutional commitment to long-term preservation and access (Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives, OCLC, 2010). 

Stony Brook University's special collections comprise the largest repository of archival materials on Long Island. The University Archives preserve and provide access to collections of research or historical significance that document Stony Brook University dating from the founding of the university in 1957 to the present. 

Special Collections and University Archives is the steward of these distinctive primary source materials. All are welcome to consult the collections. Access is by appointment in the department reading room.

Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection: Detailed pencil drawings of Long Island Rail Road tracks, with explanatory notes by Emery; over 5,000 identified photographs and postcards of construction, wrecks, engines, trains, depots, conductors, and other railroad scenes; 262 timetables; and other material relating to the railroad. Image: Stony Brook, station, 1905 (credit: Special Collections and University Archives, Stony Brook University).  placeholder  Illuminated manuscript leaf with full page miniature painting, 1450 (credit: Special Collections and University Archives, Stony Brook University).     Senator Jacob K. Javits Collection: "It is my hope and expectation that this collection of my official papers will be a stimulus for enterprising minds and a source of creativity in human and governmental endeavors. The lessons of both experience and moderation may be made to serve effectively for the solution of problems already crystallized or indicated in my time" (credit: Special Collections and University Archives, Stony Brook University).  Washington, George. Letter, 1780 September 16 : Head Quarters, Bergen County, to Major Benjamin Tallmadge. n.p.: 1780 (Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries-note: prior to conservation)  


The Senator Jacob K. Javits Collection contains nearly two million separate items that document modern United States history and the career of New York’s longest serving state senator. The W.B. Yeats Collection is the most extensive collection of the famed Irish poet and author’s manuscripts housed outside of Ireland. In 2002, the department became the official repository for Environmental Defense Fund, whose efforts in 1967 led to the nationwide ban on DDT and the birth of modern environmental law.

In 2006 and 2009, two exciting American Revolutionary War-era letters authored by George Washington, documenting spy activities in Setauket, NY during 1779 and 1780, were acquired. The purchase of these letters was made possible with a generous gift from Dr. Henry and Marsha Laufer, and laid the foundation for the establishment of a Long Island Historic Documents Collection. The collection includes primary and secondary source material on the history of Long Island from the earliest settlers through the present, with a strong emphasis on the period of the American Revolution through the War of 1812 (1764-1812).

Special Collections was honored in 2009 by the New York Board of Regents and New York State Archives, when it was awarded the “Annual Archives Award for Program Excellence in a Historical Records Repository.” In August 2012, the department’s guide to digital Long Island documents and books was lauded by The Scout Report, a division of the National Science Foundation’s National Science Digital Library (NSDL) Project.

 Frederik de Wit. Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula, circa 1668 (credit: Special Collections and University Archives, Stony Brook University). Robert Cushman Murphy Collection: papers, circa. 1895-1965. 3.35 cubic ft.  Naturalist, scientist and environmentalist.  Correspondence, typescripts, photographs, negatives, notebooks, journals, book reviews and slides concerning the worldwide travels and natural history studies of the Long Island (N.Y.) naturalist (credit: Special Collections and University Archives, Stony Brook University).Long Island  Jacqueline M. Newman Chinese Cookbook Collection: more than 7,000 books and items relating to Chinese food history and herbal medicine, including the largest English-language Chinese cookbook collection in existence (over 3,000), journals and magazines, videos, and filmstrips (credit: Special Collections and University Archives, Stony Brook University).