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Archives & Special Collections Research


  • ArchiveGrid
    • Searches over 7 million records describing archival and special collections materials from over 1,400 archives, libraries, museums, historical societies, and other repositories. 
  • Archives of American Art
    • More than 20 million letters, diaries, scrapbooks, manuscripts, financial records, photographs, films, and audiovisual recordings of artists, dealers, collectors, critics, scholars, museums, galleries, associations, and other art world figures. Includes the largest collection of oral histories anywhere on the subject of art.
  • Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America 
    • Developed by the Frick's Center for the History of Collecting to guide researchers to primary source material about American collectors, dealers, agents, and advisors, and the repositories that hold these records.
  • Archives Portal Europe
  • The Empire Archival Discovery Cooperative (EmpireADC) 
    • Searches archival material in libraries, archives, and cultural heritage organizations across New York state
  • NYPL Archives & Manuscripts Portal 
    • NYPL holds nearly 10,000 archival and manuscript collections comprising over 50,000 linear feet of material in nearly every format imaginable.
  • SNAC (Social Networks in Archival Context)
    • Free, online resource that helps users discover biographical and historical information about persons, families, and organizations that created or are documented in historical resources and their connections to one another. Users can locate archival collections and related resources held at cultural heritage institutions around the world.
  • Google search your subject + “finding aid” OR "papers" OR "collection"
    • Some finding aids only appear on the website of the organization where the materials are held, not aggregated discovery services such as ArchiveGrid.

Understanding Finding Aids

Archival collections are described in standardized documents called finding aids that detail the contents, organization, and size of a collection. Think of a finding aid as a table of contents to the archival collection, meant to help determine whether the materials may be relevant to your research.

Finding aids generally include the following sections:

  • Scope and Content Note: a brief description of the collection's provenance, date range of materials, and types of materials found within (correspondence, notebooks, receipts, etc). May also highlight significant materials from the collection.
  • Biographical/Historical Note: information about the person or organization who created the materials, including details about their historical context.
  • Container/Box List: the location of materials within a collection. Note: this may be needed for relaying which boxes and folders you wish to consult when making a research appointment.
  • Arrangement: a description of how the collection is organized.
  • Related Material: this may suggest materials related to the subject of the collection, either in the same repository or elsewhere.
  • Restrictions on Access or Use: a description of how materials may be accessed or reproduced by researchers. Though archives aim to preserve material for access and use, some sensitive materials may be restricted for reasons of preservation, personal privacy, or cultural protection.