Descriptions of Our Collections

The Massachusetts Historical Society primarily collects manuscripts—the letters, diaries, and other personal papers of individuals and families. The Society holds many famous documents such as Paul Revere's own account of his famous ride and manuscript copies of the Declaration of Independence by both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  However, the true strength of the collection lies in how millions of pages of documents weave together as primary sources for the study of American history.

In addition to manuscripts, the Society holds large collections of books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, and photographs, as well as works of art and historical artifacts that support research in the library collections. 

Manuscripts

The Manuscript Collection consists of more than 3,600 separate collections of personal and family papers and, to a lesser extent, institutional and early business records that date from the beginning of European settlement to the present.

Photographs

The Photograph Collection consists of approximately 120,000 images that span the development of photographic technology, including hundreds of daguerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes, glass-plate negatives, and carte-de-visite portraits of individuals and family groups.

Books and Pamphlets

Books and pamphlets printed through 1821, including a large number of 17th-century Massachusetts imprints and many early foreign publications, and broadsides and newspapers, comprise the Early Imprint Collection.  The collection also includes modern reference materials, biographies, and pamphlets.

Broadsides

The Society holds more than 10,000 broadsides--single sheets of paper printed on one side that served as the primary tool for public announcements.

Maps

The Map Collection consists of approximately 2,500 maps and charts that illustrate the history and development of the United States.

Graphics

The Society's collection of graphics consists of approximately 4,000 portrait prints and drawings, 230 silhouettes, and 2,000 images of historical events.

Newspapers

The Newspaper Collection contains 300 titles, ranging from single issues of American and foreign newspapers to extensive runs of early Boston papers.

Works of Art

The MHS Art Collection includes 380 portrait paintings, 67 city- and landscapes, 165 miniature portraits, and 52 sculptures.

Artifacts

The Historical Artifact Collection, including more than 7,000 numismatics (coins, medals, and paper currency) are available to researchers as part of the library collection. 


Upcoming Events

History of Women and Gender Seminar

How to Be an American Housewife: American Red Cross “Bride Schools” in Japan in the Cold War Era

22Jan 5:30PM 2019
Location: Massachusetts Historical Society

In 1951, the American Red Cross in Japan began offering “schools for brides,” to prepare Japanese women married to American servicemen for successful entry ...

Biography Seminar

Writing Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

24Jan 5:30PM 2019

Join us for a conversation with David Blight about the challenges of writing his biography of Frederick Douglass, the fugitive slave who became America's greatest orator ...

Modern American Society and Culture Seminar

Better Teaching through Technology, 1945-1969

29Jan 5:15PM 2019

Uncertainty about media technology’s affective and political power plagued post-World War II efforts to expand media use in schools around the nation. Would ...

From our Blog

Images of the 1925 bombing of Damascus

These images are part of a series of 24 photographs of the October 1925 bombing of Damascus found at the MHS in the papers of Sheldon Leavitt Crosby,* a professional American diplomat in the interwar ...

“Light, airy, and genteel”: Abigail Adams on French Women

When Abigail Adams arrived in France in August 1784, she must have felt like she had just landed on the moon. In all 39 years of her life, Abigail had never been south of Plymouth, north of Haverhill, ...

Read more from our blog

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