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The Borowitz True Crime Collection, Department of Special Collections and Archives

Collection Profile

Albert Borowitz started collecting at the age of 12 when he asked his father to buy an edition of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories for him. Later, as a student at Harvard Law School, his experiences in a criminal law course that required readings of case narratives increased his interest in true crime texts. Though Borowitz went on to practice corporate—not criminal—law as a partner in an international firm, he devoted much of his personal life to scholarly exploration of true crime literature. By the time of his retirement from law practice in 1983, he had amassed a library of over 12,000 volumes on the subject. The Borowitz True Crime Collection reflects the multidisciplinary expertise of Borowitz, a Harvard graduate with degrees in classics and Chinese regional studies as well as law, and his wife, Helen Osterman Borowitz, a Radcliffe-educated art historian with literary interests. In addition to collecting, Albert Borowitz is himself a scholar of true crime, having published over 10 books and dozens of articles on the topic, most notably his masterwork, Blood & Ink: An International Guide to Fact-Based Crime Literature (2002).

The Borowitz Collection includes both primary and secondary sources on crime as well as literary works based on true crime incidents. The collection documents the history of crime internationally, with primary emphasis on the United States, England, France, and Germany, from ancient times to the present day. It includes materials on specific criminal cases which have had notable impacts on art, literature, and social attitudes, providing researchers with a wealth of material on those cases and their cultural effects. Special areas of note include an excellent collection of Sherlock Holmes and other Arthur Conan Doyle early editions; nonfiction and fiction works related to Jack the Ripper; 19th- and 20th-century British and American crime pamphlets and broadsides; a Wild West collection; crime-related photographs, playbills, postcards, and other ephemera; a vast collection of popular sheet music that includes a fascinating subset of crime-related and crime-themed music; and artifacts, graphics, and memorabilia related to crime.

Almost as fascinating as the collection itself is the wide array of researchers who utilize its contents in a variety of scholarly endeavors. The collection provides rich sources to users as diverse as crime historians, film documentarians, museum curators, television and radio producers, antiquarian book dealers, and faculty and students in history, American studies, women's studies, and criminal justice. Additionally, materials are routinely loaned for exhibit by other cultural heritage institutions, such as the National Library of Medicine, which recently made use of several items in an exhibition on the history of forensic medicine.

The Department of Special Collections has taken particular care to document the complex and often subtle relationships among items in the collection. Highly detailed catalog records and finding aids are available online through the library catalog and Borowitz Collection Web site. The department has also showcased the collection in multiple exhibitions and publications.

Collection Profile and Overview: Cara Gilgenbach
Illustrations: Hilary Kennedy

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