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Administration & Programs

Harvard University Archives


The Harvard University Archives documents the heritage of the University and provides advice and assistance on the management of current University records. Changing technology and new practices in electronic record-keeping require that the staff of archivists, records managers, and librarians work in new ways and collaborate on joint projects and presentations. Such staff efforts in both the Archives and Records Management areas led to the completion of two important initiatives this year:

  • a survey of the filing practices of a sample of Harvard faculty and preparation of Guidelines for Managing Faculty Files, featured in presentations at the annual meetings of the Society of American Archivists and the Association of Records Managers and Administrators; and
  • the first Harvard University Archives electronic acquisition and access project, A-Cats: Archives Harvard University Online Course Catalog, which assures the collection and long-term preservation of Harvard's electronic catalog.

The latter project, the culmination of several years of work, was completed in consultation with staff from Academic Computing and HUL's Office for Information Systems. This past year the staff began work with the Library Digital Initiative on a project to capture, preserve, and make accessible copies of FAS department web sites.


The University Archives collects actively and continues to build strong, comprehensive, and permanent collections that date back to the 17th century. The holdings encompass University records and publications, as well as theses and dissertations, faculty papers, course curricula, records of student organizations, and alumni/ae memorabilia. These materials represent a broad range of formats, from paper files, books, and periodicals to photographs, audio and video recordings, and, increasingly, digital files. 

A sample of what the University Archives collected in FY 2006 includes:

  • 331 cubic feet of University records, including the records of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies documenting the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev in 2002; Office for the Arts audio recordings of a master class taught by Illinois Jacquet in 1983; Harvard Printing and Publishing Services' sample diplomas, 1900-1995; and audio recordings (phonograph disks and magnetic tapes) from 1936-1958 and 1983-1989 of University special events.
  • 311 cubic feet of faculty papers, including the papers of professors Samuel Beer (government), William Bond (bibliography), David Ellwood (political economy), Gwynne Evans (English literature), William Gienapp (history), Heinrich Holland (economic geology), George Mackey (mathematics and theoretical science), Barrington Moore (social studies), Sidney Verba (political science), James Wang (biochemistry and molecular biology), John Welsh (zoology), and Bartlett Whiting (English literature).
  • 31 cubic feet of records of affiliated organizations, including posters, photographs, and audio recordings of the Harvard Krokodiloes (1996-2005); records of the Harvard Glee Club (1874-2003); and materials from the International Relations Council, including those of the Harvard Model UN programs (1960-2005).

Reference and Holdings Management

The Harvard University Archives serves patrons in the reading room and through active e-mail correspondence. The researchers are a broad audience and include University faculty, students, administrators, alumni/ae, and visiting scholars from around the world.

In FY 2006, Public Services staff

  • provided research assistance for 3,800 on-site patron visits and 1,970 off-site reference inquiries;
  • circulated internally 9,300 items from the on-site stacks and 4,500 items from the Harvard Depository;
  • reorganized 6,700 feet of materials in the on-site stacks; and
  • upgraded storage and housing for 103 fragile items.

The Public Services staff also provided substantial reference support for approximately 300 students in 15 Harvard courses, including

  • Expository Writing 20 (4 students)
  • History 98, Junior Tutorial (80 students)
  • History 2616, The Art and Craft of Historical Writing: Graduate Seminar (15 students)
  • Historical Studies B-38, Liberty and Slavery: The History of an American Paradox (reference support for instructor)
  • History 1610, Confronting Objects/Interpreting Culture: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on North America: Conference Course (4 students)
  • History 1679, Making America Modern: The US During the 1920s (3 students)
  • DCE SSCI E-107, Advanced Analytical Reasoning in the Social Sciences (40 students)
  • Freshman Seminar 49y, Amateur Athletics (12 students)
  • GSE A412, History of American Higher Education (~3 students)
  • House Seminar DN-71, Histories of Dunster House (10 students)
  • Anthropology 1130, The Archaeology of Harvard Yard (25 students)
  • HLS Seminar, Legal History: History of American Legal Education (3 students)
  • Music 194rs, Proseminar: Before West Side Story: Leonard Bernstein's Boston (6 students)
  • Religion 1513, History of Harvard and Its Presidents (120 students)
  • Religion 2464, Radical Religion in England and America, 1550-1750, Seminar (2 students)
  • Freshman Treasures Tour (12 students)
  • Adams House history concentrators (10 students)

In addition to instruction and tours for Harvard faculty, staff, and students, the Archives and Records Management staff spoke about the work of the Archives to several outside groups, including the American Friends of the British Museum and a delegation of Chinese archivists from Beijing Normal University Archives, Beijing University Archives, the State Archives Administration of China, and the Ministry of Education of China.

Enhancements to Access

One of the great challenges to collections services staff is extensive legacy collections with old cataloging information that needs much attention, time, and patience to convert to current standards. In addition to this work, the staff continues to describe new materials by adding accession records to the local database, creating HOLLIS records, and contributing finding aids to the OASIS (Online Archival Search Information System) database, which provides centralized access to a growing percentage of finding aids for archival and manuscript collections at Harvard.

In FY 2006 the collections services staff

  • reorganized and cataloged the records and papers of President Charles William Eliot (115 cubic feet);
  • began the preliminary processing of 70 previous accessions of faculty papers;
  • reorganized and began the retrospective cataloging of the Curriculum Collection, which includes teaching materials, syllabi, student notes, and student assignments, from the 17th through the 20th centuries (approximately 2000 items);
  • reorganized and began the retrospective cataloging of the records of the Harvard Treasurer, from the 17th through the 20th centuries, which include early materials from Harvard Treasurer John Hancock; and
  • continued work on extensive data conversion in the local inventory control database, now containing over 100,000 records, or approximately 70% of the Archives holdings.

Serving Harvard's Offices

Through its records management services, the Archives offers advice and assistance on the management of Harvard University records through all stages of the records life cycle. Advice is often communicated through workshops, and this year, the Archives offered its first workshop on the management of e-mail for University Information Systems' Project ICE! Integrated Communications with Exchange.

Among the many forms of direct assistance to offices are office records surveys. This fiscal year, those offices surveyed included:

  • FAS Department of Evolutionary and Organismic Biology
  • FAS Department of Physics
  • FAS Department of Government
  • FAS Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, McMahon Laboratory
  • FAS Registrar
  • FAS Human Resources
  • Graduate School of Education, Project Zero

In FY 2006, records management staff also

  • began work on the "office table," which, when completed, will provide better understanding of the status of record-keeping across the University;
  • added new disaster prevention and recovery guidelines to the web site;
  • added guidelines for imaging University records to the web site;
  • conducted 193 client consultations and 131 follow-up consultations;
  • conducted 35 training sessions for 397 University personnel;
  • fulfilled 2,910 orders, including 357 new pickups, 1,154 refiles, and 922 retrievals; and
  • answered 225 account-related questions.