Exploring Relevant Special Collections at Harvard

Disciplinary collections within various libraries at Harvard

June 2021 update: these collections remain closed due to COVID-19 protocols.  They may be able to digitize content for Harvard faculty, staff and students, and in some cases they may have limited reading room access as the semester evolves. Contact the collection for the latest information.

For further information on the history and resources of the libraries on this page and for more Harvard collections by subject, see the expanded "Harvard Collections" tab in our Library Research Guide for the History of Science.

Peabody Museum of Ethnology

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology is steward to one of the oldest and largest collections of cultural objects in the Western Hemisphere. Today, the Peabody houses more than 1.2 million individual objects, 500,000 photographic images, and substantial archival records.

You can browse a portion of the collections online or you can contact Lainie Schultz (lschultz@fas.harvard.edu) to learn more about the objects in the collection.

Houghton Library

The Houghton Library is Harvard's largest repository of rare books and manuscripts. Although best-known for literary collections, many sources for the history of science are held. Most books and many manuscripts are represented in the HOLLIS Catalog, but especially for manuscripts, a visit to Houghton to use their on-site catalogs and talk to staff is essential.

Finding aids for collections in the Houghton Library (Harvard for Archival Discovery)

Houghton's collections include:

Andrei Sakharov Archives at Harvard University. As well as nuclear physics and the development of the hydrogen bomb, Sakharov (1921–1989), was involved in nuclear weapons control, human rights, and the development of perestroika.

Science Fiction Collection

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

The Schlesinger Library has one of the leading collections of books, journals, and manuscripts on women's history. They have the personal papers of numerous women activists.

Schlesinger subject research guides highlight Schlesinger collections in several areas, including:

Finding aids for collections in the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America (HOLLIS for Archival Discovery)

Harvard University Archives

University Archives is the repository of the records of the University administration and of many, especially Harvard College, departments. The personal papers of Harvard College faculty are also collected here. There are vertical files of biographical material and portraits. Harvard dissertations and Senior Theses are housed here. The Harvard Business, Law and Medical Schools have their own archival collections.

Sources for the History of Science in the Harvard University Archives, by Clark A. Elliott, Harvard Library bulletin, vol. XXII, no 1 (Jan. 1974), pp. 49 – 71.
Online version

Finding aids for collections in the Harvard University Archives (HOLLIS for Archival Discovery)

Environmental Collections

Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives collects primary source materials, personal papers, report literature, media, etc., documenting the environmental movement from the mid1960s to the present.

Finding aids for collections in the Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives (HOLLIS for Archival Discovery)

Countway Library

The Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine includes the Center for the History of Medicine which holds extensive collections of European, and especially American, medical literature with especially rich collections in anatomy and surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, and materia medica. Most 18th and 19th century manuscript collections have been processed, but access is through a card file in the reading room. Records for these collections are gradually being added to HOLLIS. Call ahead to make an appointment before visiting CHM, the Countway Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

How to get there.

List of major collections

Finding aids for collections in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine (HOLLIS for Archival Discovery)

Warren Anatomical Museum
Harvard Medical School, Francis A. Countway Library Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine, 10 Shattuck Street, Boston, MA 02115
Tel: (617) 432-6196

The Warren Anatomical Museum is Harvard Medical School's legacy anatomical teaching collection, beginning with the donation of John Collins Warren's personal anatomy collection in 1847. The collection contains osteological and anatomical preparations; medical and dental instrumentation; wet tissue preparations; anatomical models and plaster casts; lantern slides; water colors and photographs. At present, there is no way to remotely search the Warren Museum collection. Research inquiries should be sent to chm@hms.harvard.edu.

A portion of the Warren Anatomical Museum is on display in Warren Museum Gallery on the 5th floor of the Countway Library.

Warren Anatomical Museum records (HOLLIS for Archival Discovery)

Baker Library Historical Collections

If you're willing to take a short walk across the river, you should check out the Baker Library Historical Collections (located in the Baker Library|Bloomberg Center at HBS). Though particularly strong in early American business history, this collection contains international elements as well, including letters and other materials that give insight to the political and social culture of the times. True to the interdisciplinary nature of history, this collection holds materials for researchers interested in more than business records and has ties to several other collections across Harvard.

The current focus in collecting is on 20th and 21st century business and technological innovation. One of their most-used collections is the 19th-century R.G. Dun & Co. (a predecessor to Dun & Bradstreet) credit reports on local businesses, created by lawyers reporting on local companies and individuals, running to more than 2,500 volumes arranged geographically. They also have thousands of company annual reports (1820-date). Individual reports are not in HOLLIS, but are included in an onsite database. They are starting to acquire sustainability and other types of reports.. Baker Library Historical Collections also boasts a sizeable trade catalog collection (19th-early 20th century) on machinery, textiles, locomotives, etc. All of the catalogs are in HOLLIS and can be searched for under the form/genre term “trade catalogs.”

Researchers engaged in academic work are welcome to use their collections. Appointments are not required, but they do have many materials stored off-site, so it may be best to contact them ahead of time in case they need to request materials for you. See more information about planning a visit there and contact them at histcollref@hbs.harvard.edu or 617.495.6411.

A small selection of major collections includes:

A vast accumulation of local business records bulking in late 18th-early 20th with strengths in: labor, records of merchants (e.g., Hancock family), farmer’s account books, early financiers (often with Harvard background). Lots on the China trade.

Polaroid Corporation records: administrative and patent/legal material now open. Polaroid was progressive with respect to hiring women and African-Americans.

Kress Collection of Business and Economics contains rare books, pamphlets, broadsides, manuscripts, and prints, from the 15th to the early 20th centuries with traditional strengths in economic philosophy, political economy, commerce, and business history. Many, but not all, of the titles in the Kress Collection may be found in Making of the Modern World (MOMW) (Harvard login). HOLLIS includes all recently cataloged titles, plus those in MOMW. The most complete point of access to the collection is via a card catalog in the reading room. There is much material on the environment of economics and business: social conditions, politics, public health, transport, etc

For further information on the history and resources of the libraries above and for more Harvard collections by subject, see the expanded "Harvard Collections" tab in our Library Research Guide for the History of Science.

For information on Harvard's museums, see the  "Harvard Museums" page in our Library Research Guide for History.