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

Archive of World Music Collection at Harvard 

The Archive of World Music at Harvard's Loeb Music Library collects archival field recordings of musics worldwide, as well as commercial audiovisual recordings and streaming resources of ethnomusicological interest. The Archive has developed important collections from Asia and the Middle East. It holds diverse archival material, such as wide-ranging Chinese songs acquired by Harvard Professor Emeritus Rulan Pian; extensive field recordings made by Martha Forsyth in 1980s of traditional Bulgarian songs; field recordings of Tvisöngur (male polyphony in Iceland); and !Kung field recordings. Numerous recordings of Indonesian music have also been acquired, primarily on commercial sound cassettes.

Francis James Child collection of ballads in Child Memorial Library

Books and scores documenting British and Scottish ballads collected by Harvard's first professor of English, Francis James Child, as well as ballads he collected from North America, most prominently in New England. You may listen to recordings of some of these via Smithsonian Global Sound

Harvard Celtic Folklore Collection

Harvard Library holds a significant number of original and unpublished Celtic folklore materials. Perhaps the most notable collection is the Harvard Celtic Folklore Collection, which includes Scottish Gaelic recordings, Irish manuscript and sound recordings, and fieldwork collected in Welsh Patagonia in the 1960s. The recordings in Harvard Library have been digitized and can be accessed from the page linked here.

Harvard Library's Americas, Europe and Oceania Division: Distinctive Collections

The Americas, Europe and Oceania Division is home to many distinctive collections that offer researchers unique materials of historical, scholarly or simply curiosity value. Among those one can find colonial African trade cards and Russian food ration cards from the 1990s, multicultural comics and political posters from various countries, Czech and Slovak samizdat brochures and Danish LGBT scrapbooks, German theater posters and one of four surviving copies of the Album comique pour les Affaires étrangères by Joseph Gabriel-Hippolyte Mollard (Paris, 1869) to name a few. Find something you'd like to examine? Search HOLLIS or ask Ramona.

Historic Cookbooks at Schlesinger Library

Start your research on historic cookbooks with this guide. The Schlesinger Library holds more than 100,000 volumes, ranging from rare 16th-century texts to 21st-century titles. Approximately 20,000 of these volumes are cookbooks or food-related. Many of the titles highlighted in this guide were included in an exhibition at the Schlesinger Library, Cookbooks to Treasure: Culinary Rarities from the Schlesinger Library, from December 2015 to February 2016.

Historical Textbooks Collection at Gutman Library

This collection of 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. A small number of European imprints in foreign languages are also included.

History of Food and Dining at Harvard 

Here you’ll find almost everything you ever wanted to know about the history of food and dining at the University. From the Early records of the Steward, 1649-1812 to Harvard's Web Archive Collection Service, the University Archives collections serve up an extensive and diverse collection of material related to eating, drinking, and being merry across centuries and dining rooms.

Indigenous Knowledge Collection

The Indigenous Knowledge Collection at Tozzer Library highlights diverse voices across Native American and Global Indigenous communities as a way to engage with contemporary issues and topics as created by Indigenous voices. This collection strives to incorporate not just diverse Native voices within academic texts but diverse materials themselves, such as board games, comics, zines, and more.

Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature

The Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature at Harvard University (Widener Library Room C) is one of the largest and best of its kind in the world. It contains unpublished epics, ballads, songs, tales, and other kinds of lore from Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America in the original languages. 

selected illustrationsPeter J. Solomon Collection of Children's Literature

The collection includes original drawings for book illustrations, manuscripts and letters by Beatrix Potter, Edward Lear, John Tenniel, Lewis Carroll, Jean de Brunhoff, Garth Williams, Maurice Sendak, and Nancy Ekholm Burkert, as well as the the suppressed 1865 edition of Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll's pocket watch that evokes the one consulted by the March Hare. It also includes contemporary children's books by Ashley Bryan, Brenda Child, Lulu Delacre, Julie Flett, Jessica Love, Jerry Pinkney, and Dan Santat, among other materials.



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

HOLLIS for Archival Discovery

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

Repositories of Folklore Materials

National libraries, and most institutions, hold archive collections which contain a wide range of primary materials in many different genres, formats, and media, and are rich, direct sources of primary folklore material. In addition, a number of institutions have special collections of folklore materials collected during folklore studies and research. 


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.

The National Archives (US)

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is a governmental department which is responsible for the preservation and documentation of government and historical records.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress and National Science Foundation Digital Libraries Initiative sponsor The American Memory Project, which consists of searchable collections (either by keyword or directory) of manuscripts, images, histories, audio and video clips, and socio-cultural data from projects conducted by the American Folklife Center and the Library of Congress and others solicited from universities, archives, libraries, and historical societies.

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Part of the Smithsonian Center for Folklore and Cultural Heritage, the Ralph Rinzler Archives contains two major collections. One collection is the Moses and Frances Asch collection, which consists of original recordings, business records, correspondence and photographic material which came to the Smithsonian with the purchase of Folkways Records in 1987. The recordings on the Paredon, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, and Monitor labels have since been acquired by the Center. The Archives also has a strong collection of world ethnic music traditions, early country music and bluegrass, blues, and the Folk Revival on other labels available for in-house listening and research. The other major archival collection in the Rinzler Archives consists of the written, audio, and visual records of projects and exhibits sponsored by the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, most notably the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, formerly known as the Festival of American Folklife. The subject material of the various collections is global in perspective, and covers such topics as world ethnic performance traditions, historical and spoken word recordings, sounds of science and nature, occupational folklore, and family folklore.  The collections are also strong in American, and more specifically Euro-American, African-American, Caribbean, and Native American musical and performance traditions.

NBC Archive

NBCUniversal Archives offers access to years worth of footage from NBCUniversal and its owned-and-operated stations.

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History Collection

The Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky is recognized around the world as a leader and innovator in the collection and preservation of oral histories.  The more than 14,000 oral history interviews in their collection provide a unique look into Kentucky, American, and global histories and represent a valuable resource for researchers.  The Nunn Center recorded its first interview in 1973, and the collection focuses on 20th century Kentucky history; Appalachia; agriculture; African American history; the history of education, politics, and public policy; the arts; Kentucky writers; gender; diversity; the Civil Rights Movement; veterans; the University of Kentucky; healthcare; and industries such as the coal, equine, and bourbon industries.

Alan Lomax Archive

The Alan Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center contains approximately 650 linear feet of manuscripts, 6400 sound recordings, 5500 graphic images, and 6000 moving images of ethnographic material created and collected by Alan Lomax and others in their work documenting song, music, dance, and body movement from many cultures. The collection includes field recordings and photographs Lomax made in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, England, France, Georgia, Haiti, Ireland, Italy, Morocco, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Spain, the United States, and Wales, from the 1930s to 2004.

German Folklore and Popular Culture: Das Kloster

Das Kloster is a collection of magical and occult texts, chapbooks, folklore, popular superstition and fairy tales of the German Renaissance compiled by Stuttgart antiquarian Johann Scheible, between 1845 and 1849. In addition to the Das Kloster volumes, this collection provides additional volumes of unique perspectives on Central European culture and tradition. Included are texts essential for the study of German folk traditions, the Reformation, wit and humor, and 19th-century literature.

Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection

Indiana University holds a collection of photographs by photographer and newspaperman Frank Hohenberger, who spent forty-seven years recording the life, customs, and scenes of the hills of Brown County, Indiana, with side trips and hired assignments in other areas of Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Mexico. The collection has thousands of images taken from 1904-1948 of landscapes, buildings, and people.

Indigenous Histories and Cultures in North America

A wide-ranging digital resource presenting a unique insight into interactions between American Indians and Europeans from their earliest contact, continuing through the turbulence of the American Civil War, the on-going repercussions of government legislation, right up to the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century. This resource contains material from the Newberry Library's extensive Edward E. Ayer Collection. Includes manuscripts, artwork and rare printed books, photographs and newspapers. Browse through a wide range of rare and original documents from treaties, speeches and diaries, to historic maps and travel journals.