This guide is intended to help Harvard students and faculty find archival and manuscript collections held at Harvard and elsewhere.

The databases involved in searching for archives and manuscripts are by no means self-explanatory, and success often depends on using very particular search methods.  Therefore there is much more explanation in this guide than is usual in a research guide.

--"Catalog record” refers to the kind of record found in library online catalogs, similar to those for books, although often a bit longer. Example.
--“Finding aid” (sometimes called an inventory) generally refers to a list of the folder labels for the collection, accompanied by a brief collection overview (scope and contents note) and a biographical (or institutional) note on the creator of the collection.  Finding aids may be as long as needed given the size of the collection.  They vary considerably according to the practices of individual repositories. Example.

Interlibrary Loan

Request materials from other libraries via InterLibrary Loan:

  • Some non-Harvard special collections may be willing and able to scan material (usually for a fee). Our Interlibrary Loan department will place the request and help with the cost (there is a cap).
  • Contact the other repository to see if they're able to scan what you need. Get a price estimate for the material and the exact details (such as: Box 77 folder 4. This information is often available in Finding Aids).
  • Log in to ILL.  On the left side it says "Make a Request."  Open that and choose "Request Article." 
    • Fill in what you can (put in N/A if the field is inapplicable) with the price and other information in the Comments box.
    • This will get the process going and ILL will get back to you if they need more information or to discuss the price.

 Useful overviews of archival procedures:

Please feel free to email us with questions. We can make an appointment for you to come in, and we can talk at length about your project.

  • Anna Assogba (assogba@fas.harvard.edu) Research Librarian and Liaison to the Department of History, Lamont Library.
  • Fred Burchsted, (burchst@fas.harvard.edu) Research Librarian and Liaison to the Department of History, Widener Library.

Brief Overview

There are four main databases containing AM collection records: WorldCat, ArchiveGrid, and Social Networks and Archival Context Project (SNAC), Archive Finder.  These overlap but each contains unique material.

While these four sources probably contain the bulk of AM records, many are not included.  We discuss several additional sources, including:

  • Numerous regional and state-level databases include archival descriptions. Where you have a geographical focus (approach) for your search
  • Some repositories post records only on their own websites.  Unless you know of likely repositories, there are a variety of techniques for searching Google.
  • There are numerous subject-based guides compiled by specialists.

Directories and Guides

Archive Finder (Harvard Key required) offers a Repository Search. Repositories can be searched by name, city, or state, and keywords. Other directories of archival repositories include:

Library Resources outside the U.S. (Brown University) includes information on archives and manuscript collections.

Archives Made Easy offers practical advice on access to archives worldwide.

Fresh from the Archives offers graduate students' reports on using archives worldwide.

Find an archive in the UK and beyond

List of Archives (Wikipedia)

World Wide Diplomatic Archives Index (U.S. Dept. of State) is a guide to the accessibility of diplomatic archives around the world

US State Archives