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2504340Literary Research Guide — Guides to Manuscripts and Archives2017James L. Harner
Guides to Manuscripts and Archives

Guides to manuscripts and archives are essential sources for identifying collections of manuscripts and locating specific manuscripts.

This section includes general works on manuscripts and archives, as well as guides, catalogs, and other finding aids that cover two or more national literatures. Works limited to a single national literature appear under the “Manuscripts” heading in appropriate sections in this Guide.

For additional works see Marcuse, Reference Guide for English Studies (B90), pp. 119–35.

Research Methods[edit]


Thorpe, James. The Use of Manuscripts in Literary Research: Problems of Access and Literary Property Rights. 2nd ed. New York: MLA, 1979. 40 pp. Z692.M28 T47 026′.091.

An introduction to locating, gaining access to, and obtaining permission to publish manuscripts. Beginning with the essential but frequently unheeded dictum that “much work should precede any effort to use manuscript materials,” Thorpe offers practical advice on locating manuscripts, corresponding with libraries, preparing to visit a collection, approaching a private collector, gaining admittance to a collection (with a survey of common regulations and courtesies), obtaining photocopies (with notes on typical and atypical restrictions), acquiring permission to publish, and understanding literary property rights (principally in the United States). Although it cites some outdated sources, the work is essential preliminary reading for anyone who needs to consult manuscripts in public or private hands.

Handbooks, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias[edit]


Beal, Peter. A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology, 1450–2000. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. 457 pp. Z106.5.Z7 091.094203. Online through Oxford Reference (I530).

A guide to the terminology associated with the study and documentation of manuscripts in the English-speaking world from 1450 to 2000 (but with an emphasis on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). Some 600 cross-references cover physical features of manuscripts (including size, decorations, physical condition, and scripts); materials; types (e.g., commonplace book, indenture, promptbook); persons engaged in producing or collecting manuscripts; repositories; writing instruments; paleographical features; and the editing of manuscripts. The approximately 900 separate entries offer an etymology (where appropriate) and a definition that usually cites examples but not, unfortunately, related scholarship (which is relegated to a highly selective bibliography at the end of the volume); many entries are accompanied by an illustration (but without documentation of the location of the original). Although the volume will occasion debate about the need for some entries (e.g., Filofax and several related to mailed letters) and the exclusion of others, the Dictionary—written by one of the leading scholars in the field—offers clear guidance to the novice and enjoyment to the expert. Review: Andrew Zurcher, TLS: Times Literary Supplement 18 Aug. 2008: 29.

Guides to Repositories and Archives[edit]


Archive Finder. ProQuest, 1997– . 9 Oct. 2012. <>. Updated regularly. Formerly ArchivesUSA. (Selected records can be searched through C19: The Nineteenth Century Index [M2466].)

Consists of

  • a guide to more than 5,600 archives, repositories, and some private collections in the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland that hold manuscripts (including microfilms of originals in foreign or private collections), photographs, sound recordings, films, drawings, and other materials. (Entries for repositories include address and telephone number; e-mail address and URL; information on access; statistics on holdings; a brief general description of the collection and links to entries for named collections; and references to catalogs, guides, or descriptions. Entries for collections include collection name, repository, type and amount of documents, and description of contents.)
  • records from NUCMC (F295) and the Index to Personal Names (F295a) and Index to Subjects and Corporate Names (F295a)
  • records from National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United States (NIDS; Ann Arbor: UMI, 1982– ) and National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United Kingdom and Ireland (NIDS UK/Ireland; Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1985– )
  • records submitted directly by repositories
  • links to online finding aids

Repositories can be searched by name, location (city or state; county for the United Kingdom), country, and holdings keyword; results can be sorted by repository name or location. Collections can be searched by keyword, collection name, repository name, repository location (city or state; county for the United Kingdom), country, NIDS or NIDS UK/Ireland number, NUCMC number, index terms, and date; searches can be limited to NIDS UK records, NIDS US records, NUCMC records, or submitted records. Results can be sorted by collection or repository name or by date (ascending).

Since this is a guide to repositories and archives, holdings are described in general terms; however, researchers will find the work an essential source for identifying institutions that might own manuscripts related to an author or a subject. Reviews: (ArchivesUSA) James Watson, Charleston Advisor 8.4 (2007): 13–16 (; Sarah Spurgin Witte, College and Research Libraries 59.2 (1998): 179–81 (

ArchiveGrid ( is an important complement to Archive Finder because it includes collections from around the world.

Although now largely superseded by Archive Finder, Directory of Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the United States, 2nd ed. (Phoenix: Oryx, 1988; 853 pp.) and Philip M. Hamer, ed., A Guide to Archives and Manuscripts in the United States (New Haven: Yale UP, 1961; 775 pp.)—the original version of the Directory containing fuller descriptions of holdings—remain useful for institutions that did not contribute information to Archive Finder.


Foster, Janet, and Julia Sheppard, eds. British Archives: A Guide to Archive Resources in the United Kingdom. 4th ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002. 815 pp. CD1040.F67 027.541.

A guide to the archival holdings, as of late 2001, of British record offices, libraries, public and private institutions, associations, businesses, and societies. Organized alphabetically by town, then by repository name, entries typically provide address, phone and fax numbers, e-mail addresses, Web site, and contact person; hours of operation and details of any restrictions on access; a brief history of the organization or repository; an overview of acquisitions policies, archival holdings, major collections, and important nonmanuscript holdings; a list of finding aids and publications about the repository or holdings; and information on available facilities (e.g., photocopying). Since entries are based on responses to a questionnaire, descriptions, especially of holdings and collections, inevitably vary in thoroughness and specificity. Concludes with three appendixes: organizations whose archives are deposited elsewhere; organizations without archives; and organizations on whose archives the editors could supply no information. Two indexes: repository names, organizations, and collections; subjects (derived from a checklist sent to repositories). Although reflecting the shortcomings attendant upon any guide necessarily dependent on questionnaires, British Archives offers a wealth of information and is the essential starting place for identifying repositories and archival collections in the British Isles.

More current information about hours, contact information (including e-mail address and Web site URL), access policy, and location (some entries link to a digital streetmap)—as well as links to National Register of Archives (F285a) resources for an archive—can be found at the Historical Manuscripts Commission ARCHON Directory (


The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey. <>.

A repository of government, legal, institutional, and family records and manuscripts associated with the United Kingdom or relating to British history from the eleventh century to the present. The National Archives was formed in April 2003 by amalgamating the Public Record Office (PRO) and the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office and the Office of Public Sector Information were added later.

With its extensive holdings of governmental, political, civil, legal, and ecclesiastical records, the National Archives is an essential and sometimes lengthy stop for many literary biographers. In advance of any visit, researchers can save valuable time by consulting the institution’s informative Web site, where they can do the following:

  1. find current information for readers (click on the Visit Us tab on the About Us page for valuable advice on planning a visit and instructions on registering for the required reader’s ticket)
  2. receive valuable guidance for the researcher new to the National Archives (click on the Records tab)
  3. learn about the nature and organization of the classes of records they need to consult (an essential prelude to searching the catalog effectively) and identify any published or digital transcripts and finding aids (path: About Us/Records/Catalogues and Online Records/Discovery/Research Guides)
  4. search the online catalog and request documents in advance
  5. search other catalogs (especially the National Register of Archives and ARCHON [F283a])

For an illuminating discussion of the public records as a source of literary texts and biographical information, see A. D. Harvey, “The Public Record Office in London as a Source for English Literary Studies,” Etudes anglaises 43.3 (1990): 303–16. For an introduction to the investigation of suits in the Court of Exchequer (and their heretofore-unrecognized value to literary researchers and biographers), see Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume, “Eighteenth-Century Equity Lawsuits in the Court of Exchequer as a Source for Historical Research,” Historical Research 70.172 (1997): 231–46.

Although now subsumed in the National Archives, the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (Historical Manuscripts Commission; HMC) has published (since 1870) an important but bewildering array of reports, appendixes, calendars, and editions of collections that are not available in electronic form. The best conspectus of these publications is offered by Mullins, Texts and Calendars (M1370), and Mortimer, Texts and Calendars (M1370). In addition, four guides broadly index places and persons mentioned in documents described or calendared in published volumes:

  • A Guide to Reports on Collections of Manuscripts of Private Families, Corporations, and Institutions in Great Britain and Ireland. Pt. 1: Topographical. London: HMSO, 1914. 233 pp.
  • Guide to the Reports of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, 1870–1911. Pt. 2: Index of Persons. Ed. Francis Bickley. 2 vols. 1935–38.
  • Guide to the Reports of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, 1911–1957. Pt. 1: Index of Places. Ed. A. C. S. Hall. 1973. 536 pp.
  • Guide to the Reports of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, 1911–1957. Pt. 2: Index of Persons. Ed. Hall. 3 vols. 1966.

Users must remember that these works are only general indexes and not cumulations of indexes in individual volumes. The reports on collections range from hastily prepared brief descriptions in haphazard order to full calendars that carefully transcribe entire documents or generous extracts. Although varying widely in accuracy and thoroughness, the guides and reports provide the best access to important private collections (some of which are now in public repositories), and many preserve the only record of documents subsequently destroyed, lost, or inaccessible to researchers. For current locations, researchers should consult Guide to the Location of Collections Described in the Reports and Calendars Series, 1870–1980, Guides to Sources for British History 3 (London: HMSO, 1982, 69 pp.).

In 1945 the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts established the National Register of Archives (NRA; to collect and index lists and reports of private collections. These finding aids, which vary considerably in detail and sophistication, can be identified through the NRA catalog at the National Archives Web site (users should note that the catalog includes only the finding aids and not the collections’ contents). For a description of the National Register of Archives and accessibility to its holdings, see Dick Sargent, ed., “The National Register of Archives,” The National Register of Archives: An International Perspective (London: U of London, Inst. of Historical Research, 1995), 1–43.


Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. National Archives. Natl. Archives and Records Administration, n.d. 9 Oct. 2012. <>. Regularly updated. An online, updated version of Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Comp. Robert B. Matchette. 3 vols. Washington: Natl. Archives and Records Administration, 1995.

A descriptive guide to governmental and other records under the jurisdiction of the National Archives. This excludes material held in presidential libraries. Organized by record group (i.e., government agency), the brief entry for each group or class of records typically includes a descriptive title, inclusive dates, quantity, location, notes (on content, type or purpose of documents, completeness, or organization), and finding aids. Each agency or department is prefaced by a description of the history, administration, organization, or other details necessary to understanding the nature of its records. Indexed by names, organizations, and subjects. The text can be searched by keyword or record group number, or browsed by the index or record group. Accessions and the opening of records are reported in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration (1969– , quarterly;, which also prints articles on holdings; in the Record: News from the National Archives and Records Administration (1994–98, 5/yr.); and at The bulk of this massive accumulation of documents relates to administrative matters, but there is considerable material on individuals that is too rarely explored by literary biographers. Although lacking the tradition of important discoveries made in the Public Record Office and thus not as well known to literary researchers, the National Archives repositories are an obligatory stop for biographers of writers associated with the federal government, whether by election, through employment, or under surveillance.

The Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States is gradually being replaced by Archival Research Catalog (ARC) (, which frequently provides fuller descriptions and covers presidential libraries. Results for many searches of Guide to Federal Records include a link to ARC.

Prucha, Handbook for Research in American History (Q3185a), has a useful overview of the National Archives, and Sears, Using Government Information Sources, Electronic and Print (Q3190), outlines strategies for searching National Archives materials.

See also[edit]

Sec. E: Libraries and Library Catalogs/Research Libraries/Guides to Libraries.

Albinski, “Guide to the Archives of Publishers, Journals, and Literary Agents in North American Libraries” (U5242).

Brodersen et al., A Guide to Book Publishers’ Archives (U5242a).

Canadian Publishers’ Records database (U5242a).

Fraser, Children’s Authors and Illustrators (U5465).

Schatz, Directory of Afro-American Resources (Q3730).

Weedon, British Book Trade Archives, 1830–1939 (U5243).

Guides to Collections[edit]

Bibliographies and Guides[edit]


Guides to Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States. Comp. Donald L. DeWitt. Westport: Greenwood, 1994. 478 pp. Bibliogs. and Indexes in Lib. and Information Science 8. CD3022.A2 D48 016.973.

An annotated bibliography of separately published finding aids (through c. 1990) to collections of unpublished materials (including archives and collections of maps, photographs, oral histories, and films) held in repositories in the United States. Unfortunately, coverage excludes journal articles, exhibition catalogs, accession reports, discussions of individual documents, dissertations, dictionary catalogs (except those incorporating unpublished materials), and “indexes to large collections or bodies of records.” Guides to foreign repositories are included if they “describe records or papers relating specifically to United States history.” Entries are listed alphabetically by author, editor, or compiler in classified divisions for general collections, business collections, collections on ethnic minorities and women, federal archives, fine arts collections (with a section for drama, theater, and motion pictures), literary collections, military collections, political collections, collections of professional groups and organizations, regional collections, collections of religious groups, foreign repositories holding records related to the United States, and United States repositories of foreign records and manuscripts. The literary collections division records bibliographies, indexes, calendars, catalogs, checklists, and other guides to the papers of authors (United States and foreign). The brief annotations typically describe content and organization and indicate whether the work is indexed. Indexed by persons and subjects. Because of the unfortunate exclusion of journal articles, exhibition catalogs, electronic resources, and unpublished finding aids (frequently the most valuable guides to archival material), Guides to Archives is merely a preliminary resource for identifying frequently elusive and locally produced finding aids to collections of an author’s papers or to collections on literary subjects. Review: Carole Elizabeth Nowicke, Library Quarterly 65.1 (1995): 134–35.

The exclusion of periodical articles is remedied by DeWitt, comp., Articles Describing Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography (Westport: Greenwood, 1997; 458 pp.; Bibliogs. and Indexes in Lib. and Information Science 11), with coverage extending to the mid-1990s.

Union Catalogs[edit]


National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). Library of Congress. Lib. of Congress, 2013. 22 Aug. 2013. <>. Updated daily.

Library of Congress National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). 29 vols. Washington: Lib. of Congress, 1962–94. Former title: National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (1962–85). Z6620.U5 N3.

A union catalog of collections of manuscripts held in public or quasi-public libraries, archives, historical societies, museums, and other institutions in the United States and its territories. NUCMC records created between 1959 and 2009 can be searched through Archive Finder (F280), and records created since 1986 can be found in WorldCat (E225); the NUCMC Web site provides a gateway for searching NUCMC records in the latter. Users must remember that NUCMC is not a catalog of individual manuscripts (although a few exceptions are made for important items) but of collections of papers formed about an individual, subject, or organization or by an individual, group, or institution. Although the collections encompass many periods and countries, the bulk of them are of English-language materials. Along with original manuscripts, transcripts, photocopies, microforms, facsimiles, and transcripts of sound recordings are included. A typical entry includes person, family, organization, or collector who formed the collection or is its focus; collection title; physical description in linear feet or number of items; repository; location of original manuscripts if the collection consists of copies; description of scope and content, mentioning principal subjects and individuals (including sometimes the writers and recipients of letters); and notes on restrictions, provenance, and available descriptions, catalogs, indexes, or calendars. Entries for some extensive collections merely refer users to published finding aids.

Those who must consult the printed NUCMC for records created between 1959 and 1985 should note that it is indexed by persons, places, and subjects in each volume; there are cumulative indexes for volumes covering 1959–62, 1963–66, 1967–69, 1970–74, 1975–79, 1980–84, 1986–90, and 1991–93 (the volume for 1985 is not included in the cumulative indexes). Scholars searching for manuscripts by or about individuals should begin with Index to Personal Names in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, 1959–1984, 2 vols. (Alexandria: Chadwyck-Healey, 1988); subject access is offered by Index to Subjects and Corporate Names in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, 1959–1984, 3 vols. (1994); both incorporate numerous corrections and additions to the interim indexes.

Prepared from reports, indexes, and other sources, the entries vary considerably in detail, sophistication, and accuracy. Inevitably, the length of many descriptions is disproportionate to their content. Although collections at numerous major repositories are either omitted or incompletely reported, the breadth of coverage—especially of little-known or uncataloged collections—makes NUCMC one of the indispensable sources for locating manuscripts and letters by (and sometimes about) authors and literary-related subjects.

See also[edit]

Archives Canada (R4590).

Union List of Manuscripts in Canadian Repositories (R4590a).

Catalogs of Major Collections[edit]


Search Our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts. British Library. British Lib., 2012. 22 Aug. 2013. <>.

A catalog of accessions in Western languages since 1753 in the Department of Manuscripts and elsewhere in the British Library, the single most important collection of literary manuscripts. Search Our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts includes records for manuscripts cataloged since August 2009, along with earlier records migrated from the defunct British Library Manuscripts Catalogue, which was created by scanning print indexes and incorporating recent cataloging entries (although edited for consistency and corrected as much as possible, the records reflect the variations in accuracy, thoroughness, and cataloging practices of their sources and include errors introduced during scanning of catalogs with poor print quality). Catalogs not yet incorporated can be identified by clicking the Archive and Manuscripts Catalogues link on the About page.

Search Our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts has two search modes. Simple Search allows a basic keyword search of (presumably) all record fields; Advanced Search lets searchers combine keyword searches of three of the following fields: full text, description, personal name, place, subject, reference code (shelf mark), creation date, and user tags. Results can be sorted by relevance, descending date, title, or reference (i.e., shelf mark). Depending on the content of records returned, a search can be refined by categories (e.g., type of document, date of creation, persons mentioned, collection, and date). Currently, it is not possible to request a document through Search Our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts; see the How to Reserve Archives and Manuscript Items page (

Other catalogs of significant collections include the following:

  • Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Houghton Library, Harvard University. 8 vols. Alexandria: Chadwyck-Healey, 1986–87. Covers acquisitions as of April 1985. Many finding aids for individual collections are accessible through OASIS (
  • Madan, Falconer, et al. A Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. 7 vols. Oxford: Clarendon–Oxford UP, 1895–1953. To sort out the various catalogs and classification schemes, users must consult vol. 1, which also includes lists of current and obsolete shelf marks. Two indexes in vol. 7: persons, places, some subjects; owners.
  • Clapinson, Mary, and T. D. Rogers. Summary Catalogue of Post-medieval Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford: Acquisitions, 1916–1975 (SC 37300–55936). 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon–Oxford UP, 1991. A continuation of Madan (see above). Five indexes in vol. 3: persons and places mentioned in manuscripts; owners and donors; manuscripts owned by Sir Thomas Phillipps; auctioneers and booksellers; binders. Details of additional catalogs can be found at the Special Collections Catalogues, Finding Aids, and Facsimiles Web page ( The Online Catalogues of Western Manuscripts ( is in progress.

See also[edit]

Sec. E: Libraries and Library Catalogs/Research Libraries.

Crum, First-Line Index of English Poetry, 1500–1800 (M1590).

General Indexes[edit]


Schoenberg, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts. Penn Libraries. Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image, U of Pennsylvania, n.d. 10 Oct. 2012. <>. Updated regularly.

A database of 194,002 manuscripts (as of 10 October 2012) of at least five leaves written before 1600 and included in the catalogs of more than 12,000 “auction and sales catalogues, inventories, catalogues from institutional and private collections, and other sources that document sales and locations of manuscript books.” The amount of information in a record depends on the catalog description: a full record includes fields for author, title, comments, provenance (which can include the current owner), artist, date of creation, number of folios (as well as lines and columns), historiated and illuminated initials, miniatures, language, place of composition, dimensions, material (i.e., paper or vellum), binding, scribe, source of data, liturgical use, seller, buyer, catalog, lot number, date of catalog, price, and record number. Results from a Database Search (i.e., keyword search) can be narrowed by most of the record fields; Advanced Search allows for searching combinations of most record fields; in addition, records can be browsed by field. Results in all search types can be sorted, in ascending or descending order, by date, title, record number, or date added to the database. An important resource that is making accessible data buried in thousands of catalogs, Schoenberg is an essential tool for locating manuscripts, tracing their provenance, reconstructing collections, and studying social and economic aspects of the manuscript trade.

See also[edit]

American Book Prices Current (U5415).

Book Auction Records (U5420).