Finding Manuscripts and Archival Collections

ArchiveGrid is a freely available database of library collections records and archival finding aids that can tell you which institution(s) may have the records you're looking for. ArchiveGrid pulls from information stored in WorldCat (a free, online platform that allows users to locate books and other materials in various libraries around the world). NOTE: Microfilmed and digitized collections are not generally included. 

Using both platforms together can be helpful because ArchiveGrid offers a finer grained search than WorldCat, while the catalog record searches in WorldCat yield a more focused set of collections. Searching a major topic, person or organization, say the NAACP, will yield many records with relatively unrelated occurrences of the name. To narrow down more specific collections that contain a person or subject of interest, use WorldCat. 

TIP: To limit your searches to repositories in a particular state or city using the following example format: slave location:massachusetts; slave location:boston. Note that location:massachusetts and location:boston must be lower case.  

  • archive:Boston  (archives in Boston)
  • archive:Massachusetts Archives  (a particular archive)
  •  (archival collections about Cambridge)

For additional information on these and other tools for locating archival sources, visit Harvard Library's Research Guide for Finding Manuscripts and Archival Collections

Visiting Archives

If the collections you need are not digitized, you'll need to plan a visit to the archives. Very important! Visiting archives within or outside Harvard requires planning ahead. Read the Society of American Archivists very helpful, time-saving tips:

African American Women Collection at Schlesinger

The Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America has a large collection focused on African American Women, including the:

  • Black Women's Oral History Project (1976-1977) Collection consists of tapes and transcripts of the oral histories. The interviews discuss family background, childhood, education, significant influences affecting their choice of primary career or activity, professional and voluntary accomplishments, the ways in which being black and a woman had affected their options and the choices made.
  • Ruth Batson Papers (1921-2003) From 1963 to 1966 Batson was the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Batson was the first woman to serve as president of the New England Regional Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and was the founder and director (1966-1970) of Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), a voluntary desegregation program involving students from urban and suburban schools.
  • Charlotte Hawkins Brown Papers (1883-1961) Educator and founder of the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina, Charlotte Eugenia Hawkins Brown was active in the National Council of Negro Women, the North Carolina Teachers Association, etc., and was the first black woman to serve on the national board of the YWCA. She lectured and wrote about black women, education, and race relations.
  • Papers of Gwendolyn C. Baker (1942-2015) Baker began her career as an elementary school teacher. Known by some as the "mother of multiculturism," Baker championed its benefits in her 1982 book, Planning and Organizing for Multicultural Instruction. A professor of education at the University of Michigan, Baker also served as its affirmative action director. In 1978 she joined the Carter administration as chief of minorities and women's programs at the National Institute of Education. 

The Black Teacher Archive

With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the Black Teacher Archive (BTA) provides access to collections of journals published by “Colored Teacher Associations” (CTA). The BTA's ultimate goal is to create a freely accessible online portal for centralizing and preserving the legacy of Black teachers and CTAs from 1861 - 1970, when they were merged with white professional organizations as part of desegregation efforts. 

Gutman Library Special Collections

Gutman Library's Special Collections include a wide range of historical sources for the study of African American education, including textbooks and school reports. Archival materials include:

  • The papers of Anne F. Shephard (1962, scrapbook) The scrapbook was assembled by Sheppard as a teaching portfolio to document her experience as a student teacher at Pearl High School in Nashville, TN during the Fall of 1962. The volume contains her lesson plans for typewriting courses, school publications, examples of student work, photographs and articles related to typing and secretarial work.
  • The Harvard Journal of Negro Affairs Produced by the Association of African and Afro-American Students at Harvard and Radcliffe, 1965-1968.
History of Education and Teacher Training Schools

The History of Education and Teacher Training Schools collection contains nearly 21,000 volumes of primary source materials on elementary and secondary education and teacher training in the United States. The bulk of the collection dates from 1830 to 1940.

A portion of the collection is focused on Black education. See HOLLIS Search Tips to find these titles in the library catalog.

Historical Textbooks

The Historical Textbooks collection contains nearly 45,000 elementary and secondary textbooks covers subject areas from agriculture to zoology. The collection contains materials published in the United States in English from 1776 through 1985. Several thousand of these titles have been digitized.

A portion of the collection contains textbooks, readers and materials intended for Black children and freed slaves. See HOLLIS Search Tips to find these titles in the library catalog.

Non-Harvard Archives and Resources

The following is a sampling of institutions with accessible archival collections related to African American education.

The Amistad Research Center

The Amistad Research Center, located at Tulane University, it is the oldest independent archive specializing in the history of African Americans and other Ethnic Minorities in the U.S. The holdings include the papers of artists, educators, authors, business leaders, clergy, lawyers, factory workers, farmers and musicians. The collection contains approximately 250,000 photographs dating from 1859. You can browse its collections here.

The HBCU Library Alliance 

The HBCU Library Alliance is a database of photographs, books, and other printed and digitized materials held by a consortium of Historically Black College and University libraries. You can browse its collections here.

Northeastern University Special Collections

The Northeastern University Special Collections preserves the records of Boston-area social justice organizations that serve under-represented communities. You can views its collection on Education organizations and individuals here. Note: includes the finding aid for the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, Inc. (METCO) records. 

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

The Schomburg Center  holds and provides access to books, serials, and microforms containing information by and about people of African descent throughout the world, concentrating on the humanities, social sciences, and the arts. Geographically, the collection emphasizes the Americas, the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa. View some of its collections here.