The Harvard University Archives is the oldest and largest academic archives in the United States. It collects, preserves, and provides access to a comprehensive record of academic, administrative, student, and social life at Harvard. From 17th century deeds to 21st century web sites, the collections in the Archives comprise over 51,000 feet of University records and publications, personal and faculty archives, and related historical materials that include paper correspondence, minutes and reports, photographs, film, audio and video recordings, and electronic files. The collections support research by scholars of social, intellectual, and academic history; by historians of Harvard, including University academic and administrative departments requiring information from their own early records; by students learning the methodology of historical research and writing; and by the general public.
The University Archives collects materials in the categories noted below.
Harvard University Records
The Harvard University Archives holds records and publications produced by more than 800 administrative, academic, and research units at the University over the course of nearly four centuries. The records of the governing boards (the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers) are the oldest continuing series of records, extending from the seventeenth century to the present. Other collections include records such as those of Harvard’s presidents, deans, department heads, and librarians.
University records document Harvard’s evolution from a small college to a modern research university of international scope. They encompass all facets of University life, from teaching and learning to dining services, residential life, building construction, and fundraising. In addition to providing a comprehensive record of Harvard’s internal operations, these collections record the University’s involvement in national and world events. On a broader scale, University records reflect the emergence of higher education in the United States, including the development of academic disciplines, pedagogical trends, institutional finances, and the history of intellectual life and social and political change at and beyond Harvard.
Examples of University records include a comprehensive report on the status of the College written by President Henry Dunster in 1653; correspondence between Harvard Treasurer John Hancock and President Samuel Langdon at the start of the American Revolution; 18th and 19th century library charging records that document the reading habits of faculty, students, and members of the local community; correspondence and notebooks documenting the Harvard College Observatory’s station in Arequipa, Peru; and faculty debates on academic freedom in the 1950s.
University records are cataloged in HOLLIS. University policy restricts access to records for a minimum of 50 years. Access to student and personnel records is restricted for 80 years.
University records can also be found in other repositories at Harvard. Please consult the Archives reference staff for further information.
Harvard University Publications
Since the 19th century, the University Archives has collected record copies of University publications issued by the various departments, research institutes, museums, and the Harvard University Press. These materials range from annual reports, catalogs, and handbooks to periodicals, books, and web sites.
University publications are cataloged in HOLLIS. For a list of publications available on line, see Harvard University Archives Collections Online and The Harvard-Radcliffe Online Historical Reference Shelf.
Personal and Faculty Archives
The Harvard University Archives holds the archives of more than 1,500 faculty, staff, students, and alumni active in the Harvard community from the 17th century to the present.
These collections document the professional and personal lives of Harvard faculty and administrators representing a wide range of academic disciplines and research interests. Most of these collections include scholarly writings, research files, teaching materials, and correspondence with colleagues.
Faculty archives provide rich sources for the study of the educational, political, scientific, and social landscape over the last four centuries within and beyond Harvard. The range of collections held by the Archives includes the papers of 18th century scientist Samuel Williams, philosophers Josiah Royce and John Rawls, and astronomer Annie Jump Cannon.
Personal archives of students and alumni provide a close-up look at their scholastic and extracurricular activities, as well as family and social life. The collections include correspondence, diaries, course papers and notes, scrapbooks, photographs, and memorabilia.
Both personal and faculty archives are subject to restrictions on access established by donors. In addition, University policy restricts access to University records that may be included within these collections. Some collections are unavailable until cataloging has been completed. Please consult reference staff for details on the availability of specific collections.
Personal and faculty archives are cataloged in HOLLIS. Search by name and/or terms such as faculty, students, correspondence, diaries, and scrapbooks.
Theses, Dissertations, Prize Papers
The Harvard University Archives holds thousands of Harvard and Radcliffe doctoral dissertations (PhD, EdD, and ThD), undergraduate honors theses, prize papers, and master's theses.
Theses, dissertations, and prize papers in the Archives date from the late 18th century to the present, and reflect educational trends, scientific research, and developments in many fields of study.
Works include The Present State of Ethical Philosophy, an 1821 Bowdoin Prize paper by Ralph Waldo Emerson; The Heat of the Sun, Harvard’s first PhD dissertation written in 1873 by William Byerly; Suppression of the African Slave Trade in the United States, W. E. B. Du Bois's 1895 PhD dissertation; The Meaning of History, Henry Kissinger's PhD dissertation from 1950; and An Integrated Model for Energy Policy, Ben Bernanke's 1975 undergraduate thesis and prize paper.
All theses, dissertations, and prize papers held by the Harvard University Archives are cataloged in HOLLIS.
Most PhD dissertations submitted from March 2012 forward are available online in DASH, Harvard’s central open-access repository.
Student, Alumni/ae, and Associated Organizations Records
The Harvard University Archives holds records and publications of over 200 Harvard College graduating classes and nearly 800 other student, alumni/ae, faculty, and employee organizations dating from the early 18th century to the present. These organizations reflect a wide range of interests and concerns, including athletics, music, drama, literature, politics, religion, science, and cultural identity.
Among the organizations represented in these collections are the Telltale, which produced the earliest student periodical at Harvard in 1721; the Lawrence Base Ball Club, founded in 1858 as the first Harvard baseball team; the Harvard Union, organized in 1899 as an alternative to private social clubs; the Harvard Menorah Society, established in 1906 to foster interest in Jewish culture and thought; the Harvard Aeronautical Society, whose members built the biplane Harvard I in 1910; the American Defense, Harvard Group, established by Harvard faculty to support educational and relief efforts during World War II; and the numerous Harvard Clubs, organized by and for alumni/ae around the world to encourage fellowship and support for the University.
Most of these collections are cataloged in HOLLIS, and most are open for research use. Organizational records less than 50 years old are subject to restrictions on access.
Click here for a partial listing of Associated Organizations
Photographs and Other Visual Materials
Visual materials in the Harvard University Archives include drawings, prints, and an extensive collection of photographs. These materials, dating from the 18th century to the present, can also be found among the administrative records of the University, personal archives of faculty, students, and alumni, and the records of associated organizations.
Photographs date from the 1850s to the present and provide a rich source of information about University life and its environs, as well as illustrating the history of photography. The images depict students, faculty, visitors to campus, and events, and document changes to the landscape and built environment of Cambridge, Boston, and beyond.
The largest collections of the Archives' photographs are described in the following inventories.
Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Portraits and Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Portraits, oversize list portraits of Harvard students, faculty, administrators, and visitors.
Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Subjects and Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Subjects, oversize list photographs of student life and organizations, dormitory rooms, athletics, military training, and commencement exercises.
Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Views lists photographs of campus scenes, buildings, and Cambridge.
Harvard University. Records of the Office of News and Public Affairs : Photographs, 1913-1995 lists portraits, views, and photographs of University events.
Harvard History: Additional Collections
In addition to University records and publications, personal papers, and records of associated organizations, the Harvard University Archives maintains a vast array of primary and secondary sources documenting Harvard people, places, events, and activities. This material includes biographical files on people associated with the University, subject files on Harvard buildings, athletics, music, drama, and other aspects of student life, and artifacts such as Harvard souvenir china. The Archives also maintains a non-circulating reference collection of books relating to Harvard history, which patrons may consult in the Archives reading room.
Most of these sources are cataloged in HOLLIS.
See Harvard History: A Selected Bibliography for links to online publications.
Local History Resources
Many items in the collections of the Harvard University Archives document the history of Cambridge, Boston, and the New England region.
University records, such as those of the College Steward, the Butler, and the Harvard Dining Association, reveal Harvard’s role as a customer of local businesses. Records of the Treasurer and records of land and property owned by Harvard document the University’s role in local communities as a property owner and employer. Personal archives, such as the papers of the Bordman family, of John and Hannah Winthrop, and of Edward Waldo Forbes document the daily lives of faculty, students, and their families, many of whom lived in New England.
Visual materials, such as maps, drawings, and photographs, record the local landscape and built environment through time.
Search HOLLIS by place names, personal names, and keywords to discover collections of local interest. Use the following links to browse examples of collections relating to specific locations.