Marquette library archivist honored by Society of American Archivists for Tolkien collection curation

William Fliss

Dr. William Fliss, archivist and curator of the J.R.R. Tolkien manuscript collection in the Raynor Memorial Libraries, has received the 2023 Philip M. Hamer–Elizabeth Hamer Kegan Award given by the Society of American Archivists. The honor was presented at the joint annual meeting of the Council of State Archivists and the Society of American Archivists, July 26-29, in Washington, D.C.

The Hamer Kegan Award recognizes an individual, institution or organization that has increased public awareness of archives documents. Fliss is being recognized for his significant work in improving access to and awareness of the J.R.R. Tolkien manuscript collection housed in Marquette’s Special Collections and University Archives.

“The Society of American Archivists’ recognition of Dr. Fliss’ work to preserve and share Marquette’s J.R.R. Tolkien manuscript collection is a well-deserved honor,” said Amy Cooper Cary, head of special collections and university archives. “Over the last 10 years, Bill has increased accessibility to the collection and advanced Tolkien scholarship by envisioning and collaborating to implement on-site digital access to the materials while maintaining their original context. He has also coordinated with libraries and museums worldwide in exhibitions that feature the manuscripts, including the successful ‘J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript’ at the Haggerty Museum of Art, held in fall 2022.”

The J.R.R. Tolkien collection housed at Raynor Libraries contains the original manuscripts and multiple working drafts for three of the author’s most celebrated books, “The Hobbit,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “Farmer Giles of Ham,” as well as the original copy of the children’s book “Mr. Bliss.” The collection includes books by and about Tolkien, periodicals produced by Tolkien enthusiasts, audio and video recordings, and a host of published and unpublished materials relating to Tolkien’s life, fantasy writings and the fandom that sprang up around his legendarium.

The Tolkien manuscript collection, which was established in the 1950s and added to in the 1980s and 1990s, has been very challenging to use for decades, requiring scholars to travel to the institution with limited access to original documents. Beginning in 2013, Fliss digitized the collection and reprocessed the digital surrogates, mapping out how the component pieces fit together. The system he implemented allows onsite researchers to digitally view and sort the collection in multifaceted ways while maintaining decades of scholarly citations.

In collaboration with the Haggerty Museum of Art and the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, Fliss curated the exhibition, “J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript,” in 2022. The exhibition appeared at the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette and received more than 12,000 visitors. The exhibition included 50 Tolkien manuscripts never exhibited before, as well as 28 educational programs.

Fliss used the opportunity to record over 300 submissions to the J.R.R. Tolkien Fandom Oral History Collection, which seeks to document the Tolkien fandom through brief audio testimonials.

The Raynor Memorial Libraries provide access not only to vast collections of recorded knowledge but also to services, expertise, technology, and collaborative spaces in support of the university’s teaching, research and service mission.