The items displayed in the hallways of Widener Library are portals into a collection of close to 650,000 images of archival and manuscript materials from the colonial era, all digitized and freely available. Each is connected to countless stories—of lives lived quietly and extravagantly, of encounters peaceful and volatile, and of places near and far. These documents, illustrations, and letters provide an opportunity to travel back in time, to rethink familiar stories, and to discover new ones.
European exploration and colonialism in North America took place over several centuries and affected the lives of millions of people across multiple continents. The breadth and scope of these materials reflect this long history and its many dimensions. Over 200 years of colonial history are represented in these items, and their diversity in focus, format, and content reflects the complexities of the era in which they were created.
Displayed here are representations of items from the 14 libraries and archives at Harvard that hold significant collections of colonial-era manuscript materials. These reproductions are not to scale, and some have been cropped for emphasis. All are available in high resolution online at the Colonial North America at Harvard Library web page.