Library Collections -- Manuscript Collections
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Manuscript collections are located in the John Hay Library.

For information about the collections contact
Zola manuscript

The Manuscripts Collection at the Brown University Library includes corporate archives, personal papers, collections compiled by collectors (sometimes called "artificial" collections), and single manuscripts - more than 3,000,000 pieces of paper in all. The manuscript collection as a whole is a particularly rich repository for sources in U.S. history, American literature and the history of science, technology and medicine, but manuscripts are collected in nearly every subject area. Particular emphasis is given to acquiring manuscript materials that help build on existing or emerging strengths in the Library's holdings, regardless of format.

Primary access to the Library's manuscript holdings can be obtained through the following mechanisms:

    Short descriptions of significant collections, providing information on important access points, and including links for exhibitions and related materials

    Catalog records that describe individual manuscript collections

    Online finding aids, some with digital facsimiles of manuscripts

    Online finding aids for manuscript collections at the John Hay Library and other Rhode Island institutions

  • Manuscripts card catalog
    located near the Reader Services Desk in the John Hay Library

  • Printed finding aids
    located near the Reader Services Desk in the John Hay Library

Please note that only a small proportion of the Library's manuscripts currently have online or printed finding aids. The Library recommends that users begin their research by consulting the Manuscripts staff, who know the collection intimately and can help put researchers in touch with the manuscripts in our holdings that will meet the user's research needs.


ARCHIVES. An archival collection typically includes manuscripts, printed materials, photographs and other items that have been generated by an institution or organization in the course of its official activities. Chief among the Library's collections of institutional and organizational records is the Gorham Company Archive, which documents the design and manufacture of silver flatware and hollowware by the Gorham Manufacturing Company between its founding in 1831 and its demise as a going concern in 2001. In 2007, the Brown University Library was awarded an IMLS National Leadership Grant to work with the RISD Library and the RISD Museum to work toward making the Gorham archive available online for research use. In the interim, we suggest that interested researchers begin at the Gorham Research Inquiries page.

A major emphasis of the archival holdings in the Manuscript collection comprises the records of publishing houses. The largest among these is the Archive of St. Martin's Press, in which Brown alumni played a founding role. The Brown University Library also holds the records of the Feminist Press (founded in 1970) and its dynamic founder, Florence Howe. An additional sub-specialty within the manuscript collections are the records of small literary presses and little magazines; among these, the Library holds the records of Unicorn Press (1966-1984), Copper Beech Press (1973-1983), "December Magazine" (1962-1982), "Gallery Poets Series"/ Harper Square Press (1966-1979), Greenfield Review Press (1974-1985), "Stone Country" (1971-1983), Vagabond Press (1965-1980), and "West Coast Poetry Review" (1969-1982).

One unique publisher's collection is comprised of the correspondence between Dodd, Mead and Company and George Bernard Shaw, complemented by the Sidney P. Albert Collection of rare books and ephemera pertaining to Shaw.

The Library's holdings also include records of a large number of societies and organizations. Principal among these are records of the Rhode Island Society of Pathologists, the American Mathematical Society, the Rhode Island Medical Society, the Sans Souci Literary and Musical Club, the Rhode Island Feminist Theatre, the Providence Pottery and Porcelain Club and, hearkening back to the University's founding period, several Baptist churches located near Providence.

PERSONAL PAPERS. The Brown University Library holds a vast array of personal papers. Many such collections came to Brown because the creator was a Brown alumnus or faculty member. Thus, Brown holds the papers of congressman and abolitionist Eli Thayer (Class of 1845), Lincoln secretary and U.S. Secretary of State John Hay (Class of 1858), educator and author J. Saunders Redding (Class of 1928), humorist S. J. Perelman (Class of 1925), and journalist Lyn Crost (Pembroke Class of 1938), along with those of faculty members Lester Frank Ward (sociology) and Anne Fausto-Sterling (sciences), among others.

In addition to collecting the papers of those affiliated with Brown, the Brown University Library also holds personal papers of important figures in a wide variety of fields. Papers of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Portuguese writer José Rodrigues Miguéis, French writer Emile Zola, Scottish author and politician John Buchan, Providence rabbi and political activist Baruch Korff, and writer and gay activist John Preston are just a few of these. Holdings pertaining to Rhode Island's own literary, artistic and political figures include the papers of poet Sarah Helen Whitman, sculptor Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, activist Elizabeth Buffum Chace and Governor Thomas Wilson Dorr, who led state government under the People's Constitution of 1841.

COLLECTIONS BY COLLECTORS. Some of the most significant portions of the Library's manuscript holdings have come as gifts from individuals who spent many years assembling a collection in a particular topical area. Brown alumnus Albert E. Lownes (Class of 1920) was one such collector; among the manuscripts to be found in the Lownes History of Science holdings is original correspondence of Louis Agassiz, John James Audubon, Charles Darwin and other key scientific figures of the 19th century. Similarly, the Morse Whaling Collection, compiled by alumnus Carleton D. Morse (Class of 1913), includes more than a dozen logbooks and related business papers of those involved in the whaling industry, principally from New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Another such collection, covering U.S. social history of the late 20th century, is the Hall-Hoag Collection of Extremist and Dissenting Printed Propaganda, compiled over the course of forty some-odd years by Gordon Hall and collaborator Grace Hoag, which documents activities by a variety of activist groups on both the Left and Right ends of the political spectrum from 1945 through 2000.

Manuscript holdings at the Brown University Library include materials in many languages. One of the most beautiful and significant groups of manuscripts in non-Latin script is the Minassian Collection of illustrated Arabic, Persian, Mughal and Indian leaves, compiled by dealer Kirkor Minassian, which contains illuminated calligraphic fragments with texts, some from the Qur'an, in various languages of the Middle East.

The Christine Dunlap Farnham Archive, a collection of materials pertaining to women, was not originally compiled as a collection. Established in 1987 as a partnership between the Pembroke Center for the Teaching and Research on Women and the Library, The Farnham Archive initially represented the attempt to retrospectively uncover materials documenting women's history within the Library's existing holdings. Since 1987, the Farnham Archive has added much new material focusing specifically on women to the Library's manuscript holdings. Most recently, the Pembroke Center has established a Feminist Theory Archive, which includes the papers of pioneering feminist theorists Naomi Schor and Elaine Marks, and is expected to grow significantly in the future.

Access to these and many other manuscripts can be obtained by following the procedures outlined under Access and User Services for the John Hay Library. For additional information about materials in the Manuscript Collection, please contact: