Archives and Manuscripts

Collections at Harvard

Many, but not all, archival and manuscript collections at Harvard have records in HOLLIS. A keyword search limited to manuscripts sometimes retrieves many Harvard theses and dissertations (which are labeled as being both book and manuscript format). These can be eliminated by limiting the results to archival collections using the Command Search in HOLLIS Classic. Use searches of the form: paleontology and wft=mx. More information on searching HOLLIS.

Many HOLLIS records for manuscript and archival collections have links to online inventories (finding aids) in another database called OASIS. Inventories usually consist of a list of folder labels and therefore offer a much more detailed description of collections than do HOLLIS records. All the OASIS entries can be searched globally on the OASIS web site (repository limitation available). Remember that by no means all harvard archival/manuscript collections have OASIS entries; many inventories must be consulted on paper. The new HOLLIS (not Classic) searches the full text of OASIS records, but searching the OASIS website offers more conrtrol.

For an in depth search for manuscripts at Harvard, you should talk with the librarians at the likely Harvard repositories.

Microfilm Copies of Collections at Other Repositories

Many archival and manuscript primary sources held by other repositories have been microfilmed have been purchased by Harvard. Most (other than newspapers) are available in the Government Documents/Microforms Collection in the Lamont Library Level B. Some microfilm is held by other Harvard libraries (e.g., the archives of the ACLU are at the Law School Library). Finding microfilm can be tricky unless your search is very specific. A Keyword anywhere search on “Royal Society Great Britain” yields too many records. An organization name, e.g., “Royal Society Great Britain” can be searched as an Author keyword search.  You can limit to microfilm in three ways (easiest in HOLLIS Classic Expanded Search). For a careful search, try all three: 

  • Limit to Format: Microfilm. But HOLLIS records made before about 1980 did not always receive the Microfilm tag.
  • Limit to Location: Microforms (Lamont). But Countway, Law and other libraries have some microfilm.
  • Limit the search by adding the the Subject terms: Archives or Correspondence or Diaries or Manuscripts or Notebooks or Sources. The word Papers sometimes appears in pertinent titles and may be searched as a Title keyword search, but it often yields too many irrelevant records when searched as Keyword anywhere.

In the HOLLIS record, "INDEX Film" refers to a printed guide kept on bookshelves in Lamont. Many of these guides have been digitized and are available online. Search the collection title in Google. More on microfilm including other methods of finding guides.

To see if other libraries have microform of interest, go to WorldCat. Choose Advanced Search and enter your search. You may set Subtype Limits from Any Format to Microform. Note that although Archival Materials is offered as a “Limit type to:” choice, but microfilms of archival collections are usually tagged as microfilm, not archival. These collections can often be borrowed via Interlibrary Loan.

Collections at Other Repositories

There are four major databases to search for archival and manuscript collections in the US: Archive Finder, ArchiveGrid, WorldCat. These overlap to some extent, but each has material not in the others.

Archive Finder. Archive Finder allows limitation to Massachusetts repositories or to individual repository. It has its own subject term system (different from HOLLIS), so note their terms and search accordingly.

WorldCat does NOT allow limitation to Massachusetts repositories or to individual repository. Thus, limitation of a search, as for “civil rights” to Boston sources, must be via Subject terms (the same ones used in HOLLIS): “Boston Mass” and “Massachusetts Boston”

ArchiveGrid includes many catalog records, but also many online inventories (including OASIS). Thus much more detailed searches are possible. One cannot limit geographically, but can limit by repository by including the repository name, in quotes, in the search.

Not all repositories with online finding aids have them in ArchiveGrid. The Massachusetts Historical Society has their catalog records in WorldCat with links to the online finding aids at their own searchable finding aid database

Social Networks and Archival Context Project (SNAC) extracts, structures and displays information on persons, corporate bodies, subjects, etc., from archival descriptions. Complementary to ArchiveGrid. Does not search the full text of finding aids (inventories) as ArchiveGrid does, but SNAC displays its information in a more organized form. The SNAC Prototype at present holds a relatively small number of records. Includes French as well as American repositories. Chronicle of Higher Education article on SNAC

Digital Librarian: Archives and Manuscripts is a list of online digitized collections.

A research guide on finding manuscripts and archival material at Harvard, elsewhere in the US, and in Europe is available.