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

African American History Seminar; Online Event

Emancipation In America, Seen Through One Man's Dreadlocks

3Dec 5:15PM 2020
This is an online program

1864. A ship leaves its New England port carrying a USCT regiment to fight Confederates on the Louisiana front. But on the way, a showdown takes place when Pvt. John ...

Author Talk; Online Event

Bank Notes and Shinplasters: The Rage for Paper Money in the Early Republic

7Dec 5:30PM 2020
This is an online program

Before Civil War greenbacks and a national bank network established a uniform federal currency in the United States, loosely regulated banks saturated the early American ...

History of Women, Gender and Sexuality Seminar; Online Event

“To Make Her Own Bargains with Boats:” Gender, Labor, and Freedom in the Western Steamboat ...

8Dec 5:15PM 2020
This is an online program

Free and enslaved Black women have been rendered nearly invisible in the historical andpopular imagination of the antebellum steamboat world. This essay examines how ...

From our Blog

This Week @MHS

Join us for a program this week! Here is a look at what is going on: - Tuesday, 29 January, 5:15 PM: Better Teaching through Technology, 1945-1969, with Victoria Cain, Northeastern ...

Founder to Founder

Like so many good stories here at the Historical Society, it began with a reference question. Jeremy Belknap, hunting through his sources, asked Vice President John Adams for some help. Belknap, the ...

Read more from our blog

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