What is an archive?

An archive is a collection of records. Archival materials are primary materials and are a direct source of information about life and society. They are raw information created in the course of daily life, which can be analyzed and interpreted to help us understand the past. Most institutions, and, in fact, most individuals have an archive of materials which they have created through their day to day activities.

The different between materials in a library and materials in an archive or special collection is that materials in an archive or special collection are unique; they were created at one time for one purpose, and are usually the only copy of something. 

What is a record?

record is any information created in the daily course of life. Records can be administrative paperwork, notes, reports, financial statements, legal paperwork, policies, plans, correspondence, advertisements, drawings, photographs, recordings, ephemera, etc.

Ephemera are objects which were created and intended to be used for a short time, but which have been preserved as part of a collection of records.

What can you find in an archive?

Archives contain a wide variety of materials, such as manuscripts, rare books, diaries, letters, notes, tickets, documents, reports, minutes, registers, maps, photographs, films, digital files, sound recordings, documentaries, etc. 

Each institution is different in how it separates its materials in order to best preserve and manage them. Many institutions have a combined archives and special collections or a combined archives and manuscript collection. Some contain rare book collections or photograph collections. Some have a separate sound archive or moving image archive. Primary materials may be located in different places depending on the institution, but a good place to start looking for them is in the archive.

What is a finding aid?

finding aid is a resource which helps locate materials in an archive collection. Archival materials are not organized by author or topic, but are kept in the order in which they were used. In this way, we can understand how they functioned when they were being used and how the different records relate to one another. Unfortunately, this can make it very difficult to locate relevant records. To help with this, archivists create finding aids which list what is in each archival box. Finding aids give researchers an idea about what kinds of records are in an archive collection, how many records there are, and if they might potentially be relevant. 

Resources at Harvard


Archival materials can be searched for in the library catalog.

How to find?

How to find archival materials in the library catalog:

  • Open HOLLIS, Harvard's library catalog.
  • Above the search bar, there are options for different types of searches. Select Advanced Search
  • An expanded search box will appear. At the top of the search box is the text Search for and options to search the entire system or to limit the search to only materials which Harvard holds. There are also the options to search for reserves or by barcode. Select Library Catalog. This will limit the search to only materials which Harvard holds.
  • In the expanded search box is the text Search Filters. On the right side of the expanded search box is the text Resource Type. This filter limits the search to a specific type of resource, such as books, articles, databases, or archival materials. Click the downward arrow in the box below the text Resource Type and select Archives / Manuscripts
  • Enter a search term for what you are looking for into the search box with the text Enter a search term
  • Select the Search button in the bottom right corner of the expanded search box. 

This search will retrieve materials held in the Harvard University Archives.

HOLLIS for Archival Discovery

HOLLIS for Archival Discovery contains collection guides, finding aids, and inventories to help locate archival materials at Harvard.


HOLLIS Images is the Harvard Library's dedicated image catalog. It includes content from archives, museums, libraries, and other collections throughout Harvard University. 

Bangladesh Information Center Archives, 1971-1976

The Bangladesh Information Center (BIC) was created to provide accurate information on the Bangladesh independence movement and to lobby the US Congress on behalf of Bangladesh independence, with a particular focus on supporting the U.S. Congressional effort to ban arms supply by the US to the Pakistan government. The bulk of the archives consist of material collected, monitored and generated by the BIC during its period of activity, 1971-1972. A few documents date slightly earlier or later.

Rabindranath Tagore papers, ca. 1910-1918 and undated

Chiefly literary manuscripts including poetical works Gitanjali and The Crescent Moon and the plays Chitra and The King [of the Dark Chamber]. Some include revisions by Sir William Rothenstein and William Butler Yeats as well as Tagore. Also includes translations and compositions by Snehalata Sen and others. Some of Tagore's poems are in both Bengali and English.

Partition of British India: Research at Harvard

For the past several years, individual faculty members from Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Business Schoool have been investigating different aspects of the Partition from their various disciplinary vantage points. In 2014, research threads were brought together under the aegis of the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI). In crisis settings, data systems are disrupted and others, not usually sought out by traditional demographers, may provide critical substantiating insights. The circumstances and impacts are diverse, ranging from social relationships, political systems and governance structures, economic networks, and impacts on the growth of cities. The effort to quantify and understand this major event of the 20th century requires research across three countries and across several disciplines of demography, history, political science, statistics, urbanism, public health and more.  Resources available thus far include podcasts, videos, essays and news.

Repositories & Collections of South Asian Materials

National libraries, and most institutions, hold archive collections which contain a wide range of primary materials in many different genres, formats, and media. In addition, many institutions have special collections of materials related to specific organizations, events, or individuals. 

1947 Partition Archive

The 1947 Partition Archive, "The Archive" has been preserving oral histories of Partition witnesses since 2010 through a combined program that includes an innovative technique for crowdsourcing by Citizen Historians, as well as collection by trained scholars. Nearly 10,000 oral histories have been preserved on digital video, making The Archive the largest documentation effort focused on Partition.  Oral histories have been recorded from 500+ cities in 15 countries across the world. See information about accessing the archive materials.

List of Archives in South Asia

A list of archives and archival collections in South Asia.


Archive Finder is a current directory which describes over 200,000 collections of primary source material housed in thousands of repositories across the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland. ArchiveFinder combines ArchivesUSA, a directory of archives including the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (1959 to 2006), searchable indexing of the National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United States and the National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and descriptions of additional collections and online finding aids.

Archives of Empire: Volume I. From The East India Company to the Suez Canal

Provides a documentary history of nineteenth-century British imperialism in India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma, Nepal and Afghanistan through a diverse range of texts that track the debates over imperialism in the ranks of the military, the corridors of political power, the lobbies of missionary organizations, the halls of royal geographic and ethnographic societies, the boardrooms of trading companies, the editorial offices of major newspapers, and far-flung parts of the empire itself. Each volume focuses on a particular region and historical period. Includes mercantile company charters, parliamentary records, explorers’ accounts, political cartoons, timelines, maps, and bibliographies. Also available in print.

The National Archives (UK)

The National Archives is a non-ministerial department, and the official archive and publisher for the UK Government, and for England and Wales. It manages over 1,000 years of national documents.

South Asia Open Archives (SAOA)

A rich and growing curated collection of key historical and contemporary sources in arts, humanities and social sciences, from and about South Asia, in English and other languages of the region. SAOA's collection contains hundreds of thousands of pages of books, journals, newspapers, census data, magazines, and documents, with particular focus on social & economic history, literature, women & gender, and caste & social structure.

Cambridge South Asian Archive

Covering a period of over 200 years, this unusual collection includes private papers, books, maps, photographs and drawings, ciné film, and tape recordings that paint a rich picture of the Raj and the early decades of post-colonial South Asia. Some portions of the collection are available online via this link; contact the archive directly to view on-site materials. Full details of the collection are provided in the bibliography titled Cambridge South Asian Archive.

Balochistan Archives

The main repository for official records and documents of historical significance to the Pakistani Province of Balochistan. The archives contain more than 20,000 files, printed papers, books, and manuscripts pertaining to the colonial and post-independence period in Balochistan.

British Library Archives

The British Library holds a vast collection of ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary manuscript and archive material from around the world. 

Buddhist Digital Resource Center

This database offers keyword searching and full text in TIFF or PDF format of Tibetan texts, especially Buddhist works. Transliteration and searching is in Wylie. Texts are browsable by tradition or category; they may be searched via the Knowledge Base. Some works also have searchable detailed outlines. Please note that not all texts discoverable through the Knowledge Base are available online. For texts not available online in the Core Collections, please contact BDRC directly.

BBC Archive

The BBC has a vast archive of records, recordings, music, photographs, and artifacts.

British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries, From 1500-1950

The British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries database currently includes the full text of 60,000 pages of letters and diaries of 430 women from Colonial times to 1950. Ultimately over 1000 women's writings will be represented in over 150,000 pages of full text. Biographical information on the writers is also included, as is a bibliography of sources in the database.

The Indian Princely States Online Legal History Archive

The Indian Princely States Online Legal History Archive (IPSOLHA) project emerged from a desire to make legal-historical documents and published resources related to the princely states of British India accessible to scholars, students, and researchers around the world. Led by a team of researchers at Dartmouth College, the Indian Princely States Online Legal History Archive (IPSOLHA) will address the problem of inaccessibility (1) by providing a central database for identifying and locating archival materials (published and unpublished) that are connected to the legal history of the Indian princely states, and (2) by bringing new materials online by digitizing, tagging, and cataloging them.