University of Notre Dame


Hesburgh Libraries

Rare Books & Special Collections

Physical Exhibits in Special Collections

Rare Books and Special Collections regularly displays materials from its holdings in our Exhibit Room (102 Hesburgh Library, at the west end of the 1st floor concourse) and on our Web site.

All exhibits are free and open to the public during our regular hours.

Current Exhibition

Graphic for the exhibit.

Making and Unmaking Emancipation in Cuba and the United States

August - December, 2023

This exhibition explores the fraught, circuitous and unfinished course of emancipation over the nineteenth century in Cuba and the United States. People—enslaved individuals and outside observers, survivors and resistors, and activists and conspirators—made and unmade emancipation, a process that remains unfinished and unrealized.

This exhibition is curated by Rachel Bohlmann (Curator of North Americana and American History Librarian) and Erika Hosselkus (Curator of Latin American Studies and Iberian Studies, and Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Resources and Services at Hesburgh Libraries).

Related Events

Exhibition Tours

Curator-led tours, open to the public, will be held noon–1:00pm on the following Fridays:

September 1, 15 and 22
October 13 and 27 [tour on 10/27 cancelled]
November 17

Tours of the exhibit may also be arranged for classes and other groups by contacting Rachel Bohlmann at (574) 631-1575 or

Making and Unmaking Emancipation in Cuba and the United States: A Panel Discussion

Thursday, November 30, 4:30 - 7 pm
(Curators' exhibition tour 4:30 | Panel program 5:00 | Reception 6:30)
Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries

Emancipation was not a linear, progressive march from slavery to freedom. The course was fraught, circuitous, and unfinished. Enslaved individuals and outside observers, survivors and resisters, activists and conspirators made and unmade emancipation across the course of the nineteenth century in Cuba and the United States. In this panel discussion, moderated by Karen Graubart, historian of the Iberian Atlantic world and colonial Latin America, scholars Adriana Chira, Aisha Finch, and Zachary Sell discuss current work and speak to challenges and opportunities in connecting broad audiences to new scholarly findings in the study of transatlantic slavery.

A tour of Hesburgh Libraries’ Fall 2023 exhibition, Making and Unmaking Emancipation in Cuba and the United States, precedes the panel discussion. A reception will follow in the Hesburgh Libraries Scholar’s Lounge.

Free and open to the public; no tickets required.


Adriana Chira is Associate Professor of Atlantic World History at Emory University. She is a historian of property, law, race, and popular political mobilization within rural worlds of the South Atlantic that were shaped by slavery and its long-lasting legacies: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Spanish Equatorial Guinea. Her first book, Patchwork Freedoms: Law, Slavery, and Race beyond Cuba’s Plantations, explores how enslaved and free people of African descent litigated for freedom, bodily and family integrity, and property in eastern Cuba, where the court system served as a crucible for an anti-slavery popular political consciousness during the nineteenth century. Currently she is working on a project that extends her interest in custom and property chronologically—focusing on how community norms continued to shape ownership practices in post-emancipation societies within the late Spanish Empire and its aftermath (1880s-1960s).

Aisha Finch is Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. A formally trained scholar of the African Diaspora, her research focuses on the study of slavery in Cuba and the Atlantic World, transnational Black feminism, and Black political movements and social life in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the U.S. She is the author of Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-1844, which received the Harriet Tubman Book Prize from the Schomburg Center’s Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery, and was a finalist for the Frederick Douglass Book Prize. Her current research focuses on comparative histories of Black women and the sacred, arguing that Black women in the rural Caribbean and the U.S. South presented an insistent refusal to the violence of the plantation world, during and after slavery, through their knowledge and reimagination of the sacred.

Zachary Sell is Assistant Professor in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is a historian of slavery with an emphasis upon colonialism and capitalism in the nineteenth century. Sell is the author of the award-winning Trouble of the World: Slavery and Empire in the Age of Capital, which examines how U.S. slavery intersected with British colonial projects ranging from Australia, Belize, and India. He is also engaged in collaborative public humanities scholarship and was previously at Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) where he coordinated a collaboration between Firelight Films and CSSJ in support of a PBS documentary film series on the Atlantic slave trade directed by Stanley Nelson.

Karen Graubart (moderator) is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. A historian of colonial Latin America and the Iberian Atlantic, she examines the ways that disenfranchised peoples of all kinds experienced colonialism and enslavement and — using a mixture of tools from their colonized environment — made sense of the world. Graubart's most recent book, Republics of Difference: Religious and Racial Self-Governance in the Spanish Atlantic World, asks why it matters that Muslims, Jews, and non-Muslim West Africans in 15th century Seville, like Indigenous peoples in 16th and 17th century Lima, were granted limited self-governance in their internal affairs; and why it matters that Black subjects in the New World were largely not. Her new project, Making Malambo: A History of Free Black Collectivity in Colonial Latin America, analyzes a collective petition filed by the free people of African descent in late sixteenth-century Panama, requesting an exemption from a new and onerous tax.

This and other exhibits within the library are generously supported by the McBrien Special Collections Endowment.

Spotlight Exhibits

August-December 2023 | Football and Community at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

From its origins on campus in the late nineteenth century, football at Historically Black Colleges and Universities has held a central place in the African American sporting experience, in the landscape of Black higher education, and in the broader African American community.

We are pleased to exhibit a selection of sources from the Joyce Sports Research Collection that preserve the history of HBCU football. The programs, media guides, ephemera, guidebooks, and other printed material on display document the athletic accomplishments, the celebrations, the spectacle, and the community-building that accompany football at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

This exhibit is curated by Greg Bond (Curator of the Joyce Sports Research Collection and Sports Subject Specialist).

Friday, September 1 at 2:00-4:00pm | Spotlight Exhibit Tour and Open House, with curator Greg Bond

Brief remarks by the curator about the exhibit at 2:15pm, but visitors were able to see the exhibit and browse additional historical material on display for the open house at any time between 2:00pm and 4:00pm.



October-November 2023 | Path to Sainthood: Brother Columba O'Neill

2023 marks the centenary of the death of Brother Columba O'Neill (born 1848), who was known as a man of prayer. He was known also for the great many people who were cured of illnesses following his prayers. Brother Philip Smith, CSC, oversees the processing of the vast collection of letters written to Brother Columba attesting to cures. He is also stewarding the cause for beatification.

Items on display in this spotlight are on loan from the Archives of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

This exhibit was curated by Brother Philip Smith, CSC (Archivist, Midwest Province of the Congregation of the Holy Cross) and Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements (Irish Studies Librarian).




For information about previous spotlight exhibits, please refer to the History of Spotlight Exhibits page.

Upcoming Exhibitions

Spring 2024

An exhibtion in conjunction with the Medieval Academy of America's Annual Meeting, which is to be hosted at Notre Dame.

Fall 2024

100th Anniversary of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame

Spring 2025


Suggest an Exhibit

Many of the exhibits presented by the Department of Special Collections are produced in collaboration with members of the Notre Dame teaching and research faculty and are scheduled to coincide with significant academic conferences at the University. If you have a suggestion for a future exhibit and/or would like to assist in producing one, please contact Special Collections at 631-0290 or by e-mail.