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

Brown Bag

"Let it be your resolution to be happy": Women's Emotion Work in the Early Republic

23Oct 12:00PM 2017

Tasked with maintaining the comfort and happiness of their families even in the face of adversity, many middling- and upper-class women in the early-nineteenth century ...

Conversation

Advise and Dissent? The Role of Public History in Modern Life

23Oct 6:00PM 2017
There will be a pre-talk reception at 5:30 pm ...

What is the role of historical organizations in a politically polarized environment, a world of “alternative facts” and a social fabric that is being torn ...

Modern American Society and Culture Seminar

Allaying Terror: Domesticating Artisan Refugees in South Vietnam, 1956

24Oct 5:15PM 2017

This essay explores the publication of photographs of North Vietnam refugee artisans in English-language mass print media. These images served as an extension of American ...

From our Blog

Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, October 1917

Today we return to the 1917 diary of Gertrude Codman Carter. You may read the previous entries here:   Introduction | January | February | March | April | May June | July | August | September ...

“Mark, Traveler, this humble stone”: Quaint and Curious Epitaphs ...

I find a visit to any of New England’s burying grounds fascinating year-round, but I consider treading among slate gravestones and timeworn monuments in October a quintessential New England ...

Read more from our blog

Have you seen?