Welcoming our first Rare Books Faculty Liaison, Dr. Antonio Barrenechea

This semester, Special Collections & University Archives is excited to welcome our first Rare Books Faculty Liaison, Dr. Antonio Barrenechea. Dr. Barrenechea is a professor of English at the University of Mary Washington. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale University. Upon arriving at Mary Washington in 2005, he developed two primary research tracks in literature and cinema studies. In both cases, his work ranges over the territories of North, Central, and South America from the pre-Columbian era to the present. His 2016 book, America Unbound: Encyclopedic Literature and Hemispheric Studies (University of New Mexico Press) is a study of how big novels reimagine early European and Native American cultural encounters in the New World. Dr. Barrenechea is currently working on an intellectual history of Literature of the Americas with the support of a Reese Fellowship from the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. In summer 2023, he will begin an M.C. Lang Fellowship at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School.  

Dr. Antonio Barrenechea standing in the Special Collections Reading Room.
Dr. Antonio Barrenechea is a professor of English at the University of Mary Washington and the Rare Books Faculty Liaison with Special Collections & University Archives in Spring 2023.

Dr. Barrenechea is working with Special Collections & University Archives this spring to enhance the visibility of Simpson Library’s rare book collection, which includes over 2,000 volumes of unique books and serials. The collection holdings include many first editions, signed volumes, and historic books published as early as 1496. As part of his work, Dr. Barrenechea will research the history of the rare book collection, survey the collection for strengths and potential future development, and work with interested faculty in incorporating rare books into their courses. One project also includes the creation of a series of videos highlighting distinctive books from the collection. You can check out the first video discussing the Library’s first edition copy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four here:

UMW Rare Books Spotlight Series #1: Nineteen Eighty-Four

In 1965, Dr. Sidney Mitchell, Professor of English and member of the first rare books committee, was quoted in an alumni newsletter stating the collection’s purpose: “It is important that the Rare Book Room not be confused with a museum or repository for peculiar objects protected behind glass barriers. It is not. The Rare Book Room is an integral part of the library, and its contents are purchased and cared for solely in order that they may be available to students and faculty for examination, study, and research.” Since the formal beginnings of the rare book collection around 60 years ago, the primary purpose of the collection has been to be available for faculty, staff, and student research, and our hope is to continue to increase usage and engagement with the materials across the community.

Special Collections & University Archives has open hours on Tuesday & Wednesday afternoons, 1:30pm-4:00pm; available for anyone to stop by and work with our collections! We’re also available by appointment throughout the week – email archives@umw.edu to schedule an appointment.


Terrell, Joseph. “Rare Book Room Open for Students.” Mary Washington College at the University of Virginia Alumnae News, Spring 1965. Accessed March 13, 2023. https://umw.access.preservica.com/IO_83e6963d-3e78-4821-aa76-22031eefcc8d/

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