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Cowles Library exhibit spotlights detective Sherlock Holmes


From Sept. 1 until Dec. 6, Cowles Library will have an ongoing display that features Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. The pieces were donated to the exhibit by former Dean of Cowles Library Rod Henshaw.

Henshaw started reading Sherlock stories when he was young and has collected Sherlock Holmes memorabilia for many years including books, magazines, artifacts and posters. Henshaw has also been active in Sherlock Holmes fan clubs and societies. 

 “So I collected all these things through the years and several years ago I just got to a point where I didn’t have any more room for them,” Henshaw said. “I wanted to make a gift of a pretty big chunk of my collection to our library. So, it’s housed in the library archives special collections.” 

 The reason Henshaw did the exhibit this year is that he is co-teaching a first-year seminar on Sherlock Holmes alongside colleague Michael Couvillon from the Department of Education. Later this semester, Henshaw will be doing a Ray Society lecture on Sherlock Holmes. They both felt this was an excellent time to take some of the items from special collections and put them into an exhibit. 

 “Rod and Michael both [came to us] because they co-teach that class. And [Rod’s] the one that really handled a lot of parts to the collection because it’s his passion. So he had books, and he had film posters,” said Cathy Lincoln, University Archive Associate. “So I kind of just helped him get things reproduced and printed larger in some cases. And then when everything was ready, Rod put it in the way he really felt it should look. He had a kind of a theme to how it should go in, like different parts of Conan Doyle’s writings.”

Lincoln and Hope Grebner Biens, Political Papers Archivist and Assistant Professor of Librarianship, often talk about ideas for exhibits in the library. They consider things like if there is an anniversary coming up, or if there is something else special happening on campus that could be highlighted. 

“Sometimes it’s taking some of our primary resources and highlighting them in some way,” Lincoln said. “And sometimes students who work in the archives or someone from faculty or elsewhere come to them with ideas.”

Henshaw said his favorite Sherlock Holmes story is The Hound of the Baskervilles because it’s one of the cornerstones of English literature. It brings so much together: The characters of Sherlock and Watson, the mysterious countryside of Devonshire, England, the moors and the great legend of the hound, which was an existing legend Conan Doyle had learned about and wove into this story. According to Henshaw, it’s a very compelling, intriguing and very well written story. 

“We know that Sherlock Holmes continues to be very popular, and [the exhibit] kind of traces the history and popularity of the character of Sherlock Holmes,” Henshaw said. “The exhibit starts with early images of Sherlock; actors who have portrayed Holmes over the years, from actors in the early part of the 19th century up through Benedict Cumberbatch in the current Sherlock series. I think the fact of the visual impact of the exhibit is the image and presence of Sherlock Holmes in popular culture.” 

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