Prof. Peter A. Shulman
Updated August 24, 2020
Sources for Digitized Archival Manuscript Collections:
Below is a necessarily incomplete annotated list of archival collections available digitally. Many are publicly accessible; others require an institutional or personal subscription. All titles here requiring an institutional subscription are available through CWRU’s Kelvin Smith Library database collection (and are noted by an asterisk).
The vast majority of archival collections remain undigitized and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. However, a vast quantity of collections have already been made available on the web. So much is out there, in fact, that there is no possible way to compile a complete list of all available digitized archival collections.
Below is a list of sites, compiled with the help of colleagues and scholars suggesting collections on Twitter, that is aimed at advanced undergraduates (particularly my students in HSTY 398, our senior capstone research course) and accessible during this time when so many archives are not easily available.
The list is heavy on U.S. sources, which reflects both my own expertise but also the predominant research focuses of our students. It does contain, however, a fair number of collections from other countries and continents for students interested in pursuing research in those areas.
Some of these titles are discrete, individual collections; others are vast archives comprising many collections; still others offer a portal to a range of different archives and collections.
The list is divided into broad topics for ease of use.
Research Guides and Portals to Even More Collections
* Digital Public Library of America: This is a vast super-collection that incorporates a wide range of digitized library and archival content from institutions across the United States.
o Worth searching regardless of your topic, but you can find curated sub-collections of related materials from various institutions, on topics like baseball, immigration, and women in science.
o There are tens of millions of items available through this site, from manuscript sources to books and other print materials, to photographs and fine art.
* Europeana: Another super-collection sponsored by the European Union that provides a single gateway to digitized content from libraries, archives, and museums across the continent. Find newspapers, manuscripts, art, maps, and much more.
* Archives Portal Europe: Access and info on collections throughout Europe.
* Canadiana Héritage: Canada has history too! Dig into 60+ million pages of records here.
* CUNY Graduate Center’s guide to online archival research: Basic principles and links to major collections.
* CalPolyPomona Research Guide: Big research guide to a range of digital databases of historical materials.
Major, Multi-Collection, Multi-Subject Archives
* U.S. National Archives: The official repository for the U.S. federal government, divided into hundreds of record groups by agency.
o Digitized by NARA: The NARA catalog allows searching and browsing of the ever-growing number of digitized records of the National Archives and its Presidential Libraries.
o Digitized by others: NARA has produced thousands of reels of microfilmed records over the past several decades. These are available for all researchers to use in reading rooms (or for duplication if you’re willing to pay for it). Commercial partners have digitized a large number of these collections, plus other manuscript records, and made them available either publicly or through subscription services (which allow free trial periods with complete access). This site notes the specific collections that are now available through Familysearch.org, Fold3.com, and Ancestry.com.
* Library of Congress: Unlike NARA, the Library of Congress is first a vast book collection (if you want your book to get a copyright in the U.S., you have to send it a copy!) But they also collect a huge volume of other sources. Among its vast holdings, the institution has so far made available a fair amount of fully digitized manuscript and mixed-format collections (over 150). These include the papers of prominent figures like Abraham Lincoln (and nearly two dozen other presidents), Frederick Douglass, and Rosa Parks as well as a range of lesser known subjects, from arts and culture to international affairs to political activism.
o Some topics have specific research guides with links to both digitized collections and print ones.
o You can also find a range of other non-manuscript sources, from hundreds of thousands of photographs, prints, and drawings to maps to sheet music and recordings and film and recordings to a range of digitized historical newspapers.
* * ProQuest Congressional: Massive database of U.S. Congressional reports, hearing transcripts, legislation, treaties, and other documents. Essential for the study of anything related to politics and policy history.
* Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives: Site for browsing and searching the digitized archival collections of the U.S. Smithsonian Institution. Rich in the history of culture, science, and technology.
* William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan: Particularly rich in images and 18th and 19th century American manuscript collections.
* Library Company of Philadelphia: Huge collection of manuscripts, art and music, photographs, and other sources on mostly 19th and early 20th century U.S. history.
* Boston Public Library: Over 100 digitized collections of manuscripts, maps, photographs and prints, and other sources.
* Digital Collections at Brown’s John Carter Brown Library: Images, maps, political cartoons, and books.
* Digital Rare And Distinctive Collections at Cornell: Another large repository on a range of topics, from African history to hip hop to Judaica to the history of sexuality.
* American Philosophical Society: The digitized set of the APS’s vast archival collections. Includes manuscripts of prominent figures like Benjamin Franklin and Franz Boas and subjects like Native American history and philology, audio material in indigenous languages and cultures, and a large print collection documenting the history of human and natural sciences, among other things.
* Rockefeller Center Archive: digitized collections of this major philanthropy and archive include papers of the American International Association for Economic and Social Development, the Foundation for Child Development, the General Education Board, international philanthropies, Rockefeller-funded museums and other projects, and some personal family papers.
* FRASER: The repository at the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank of publications, data, and archival sources related to the history of economics, economic policy, and the economy itself.
* Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America: Awesome interactive map overlaying HOLC redlining maps over the country.
* Women Working, 1800-1930: Collection at Harvard on women and labor history.
* Ad*Access: Duke University’s fascinating collection of 7,000 magazine and newspaper advertisements from 1911-1955.
* Media History Digital Library: Huge collection documenting the history of publishing, radio, film, and other media.
* American Archive of Public Broadcasting: Vast archive of public radio and public television.
* Texas Archive of the Moving Image: “includes home movies, amateur films, advertisements, local television, and industrial and corporate productions, as well as Hollywood and internationally produced moving images of Texas”
Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, Citizenship, and Social Movements
* Antislavery, Abolitionism, and Emancipation
* Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection: Vast collection of 10,000 anti-slavery pamphlets.
* Freedom on the Move: Cornell database of runaway slave advertisements.
* Anti-Slavery Manuscripts at the Boston Public Library: Over 12,000 letters transcribed by volunteers.
* Race & Slavery Petitions Project: Database of info on thousands of petitions related to slavery.
* Black Abolitionist Archive: Over 800 speeches and 1,000 editorials by black antebellum abolitionists.
* Slavery and the Law, 1775-1867: another Proquest database of documents related to the legal construct of slavery through the Civil War.
* Freedmen's Bureau Digital Collection: Massive collection digitized from the US National Archives on the most important, but short-lived, effort to assist the formerly enslaved people of the American south.
* Le marronnage dans le monde atlantique: 20,000 documents on the resistance to slavery.
* Japanese Internment
* Densho Digital Repository: archive for sources and oral histories of WWII Japanese-American internment.
* Civil Rights Movement
* Civil Rights Digital Library (University of Georgia): Vast repository of collections related to documenting the history of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, from manuscript collections to audio-visual resources.
* Freedom Summer Digital Collection: Over 40,000 pages of diverse documents related to the pivotal 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer.
* * NAACP Papers: multi-series collection of papers from the preeminent civil and legal rights organization of much of the twentieth century.
* Women’s Rights
* Struggle for Women's Rights, Organizational Records, 1880-1990 (Proquest): Rich, digitized papers of three organizations: the National Woman's Party, the League of Women Voters, and the Women's Action Alliance
* In Her Own Right: Women Asserting their Civil Rights, 1820-1920: Large collection on women’s rights and activism.
* Civil Liberties and Social Movements
* American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Papers: Large assembly of three separate manuscript collections touching on everything from the Red Scare(s) to immigration restriction, the Civil Rights Movemen