Samuel W. Thomas: Tribute to a researcher

Today’s guest blogger is Delinda Stephens Buie, Head of Special Collections at Ekstrom Library.



Samuel W. Thomas, researching in the Photographic Archives, 1992. Photograph by Bill Carner.

In a career spanning decades Samuel W. Thomas has traveled Kentucky and Southern Indiana, looked into every file, talked to every person, and pursued every lead, to produce more than twenty meticulously researched volumes on Louisville’s communities and institutions.  Samuel W. Thomas – Dr. Thomas – Sam — was the Photo Archives’ first serious researcher in the late 1960s when he traced the sources of photographs in the R.G. Potter Collection and produced his first book: Views of Louisville Since 1766, in 1971.  He since has begun research for each of his books at the Photographic Archives, sifting through thousands of prints and negatives.

This year the Photographic Archives celebrates its 50th anniversary, and Samuel W. Thomas has given us the best ever gift:  his research archive. With over 200 linear feet of archives, the collection comprises box after box: brimming with photographs, drafts, audio tapes, architectural plans, maps, and more.  An exhibition in the Photographic Archives gallery runs through October 25 but the books and 60 photographs displayed provide only a glimpse of the rich resources in the Samuel W. Thomas Research Collection.  Photographic Archives staff will prepare a finding aid before opening the collection to the public next year.

It has been nearly 40 years since I first met Samuel W. Thomas in the upstairs manuscripts room of the old Filson club on Breckinridge Street.  I gulped to realize that the author of Views of Louisville was sitting just on the other side of the table,  but Sam even then took his accomplishments lightly – and shared his sources generously. He showed me a letter written by George Rogers Clark just after the Revolutionary War. We marveled together at how the General seemed to be looking for words to express his new sense of identity as an American, and, for the first time, I heard Samuel W. Thomas say, “Isn’t that something?”  In the years since, many of us have heard him say those words often, and we have shared his gifts of wonder and discovery on each page of each of his books.

Delinda Stephens Buie
Head, Special Collections

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