Skip to main content

Archives & Primary Sources

Learn about the Emerson College Archives & Special Collections as well as other archives that may be of use when researching your topic. Also learn about primary sources and where to find them online.

Archival Databases

Search the databases below to find archival collections and other primary sources located around the world.  Please note that Archives Finder is available only with a Boston Public Library card.

Annotated List of Archival Repositories in Boston

The Archive of The Boston Athenaeum
"...this archive provides a complete and unbroken record of Boston cultural development from 1792 until the present day. Staff, library members, and outside researchers use the archive’s vital and unique material, from the past to the present, to enhance their study about the Athenaeum, general library history, history of reading, history of individuals, and or Boston intellectual institutions."

Location: 10 1/2 Beacon Street, 2nd floor, Boston, MA
Telephone: (617) 227-0270
Hours:The reading room is available for appointments Tuesdays 12:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. and  Wednesdays - Fridays, 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Materials cannot be retrieved after 3:00 p.m. Appointments strongly encouraged.

The Bostonian Society (Old State House)
"The collections are particularly effective in documenting the history of Boston in the late 18th and 19th centuries, including architectural history and the built environment, the lives and activities of prominent political and economic leaders, and the contributions of 19th century civic, charitable, and social organizations. The collections also contain a significant amount of 20th century material."

Location: 15 State Street, 3rd floor, Boston, MA
Telephone: (617) 720-1713, ext. 23
Hours: By appointment only. 

The Boston Public Library Special Collections Department
An extensive collection of architectural plans & drawings, art & architecture, manuscripts & archives, maps, music, newspapers, photographs, prints & drawings, and rare books focusing on Boston and the greater New England region and to a lesser extent Europe and Asia.  Subjects vary widely, but include musical composition, the American Civil War, early modern English literature and drama, the middle ages and renaissance period, and the performing arts.

Location: 700 Boylston Street, 3rd floor, Boston, MA
Telephone: (617) 859-2379
Hours: By appointment only.

Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library 
This extensive collection is composed of 200,000 maps and 5,000 atlases.  "The map collection is global in scope, dating from the 15th century to the present, with a particular strength in maps and atlases from the New England region, American Revolutionary War period, nautical charts, and world urban centers."

Location: 700 Boylston Street, Copley Square, Boston, MA
Telephone: 617-859-2387 
Hours: Mondays - Wednesdays and Fridays 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. and Thursdays 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.  Appointments are encouraged.

Congregational Library
A rich collection for those interested in 19th century life through the filter of Congregationalism: church records, hymns, church and town histories, biographies, and mission work. There is also a great collection of 19th and 20th century periodicals. One of the more interesting ones is the Missionary Herald, which primarily published letters from missionaries in the field back home, as well as news by and about their work.

Location: 14 Beacon Street, 2nd floor, Boston, MA
Telephone: (617) 523-0470
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. -5:00 p.m., Appointments strongly encouraged.

Massachusetts Historical Society Library
An independent research library and manuscript repository. Its holdings encompass millions of rare and unique documents and artifacts vital to the study of American history, many of them irreplaceable national treasures. A few examples include correspondence between John and Abigail Adams, such as her famous "Remember the ladies"; several imprints of the Declaration of Independence; and Thomas Jefferson's architectural drawings. The Massachusetts Historical Society is an independent research library that collects, preserves, makes accessible, and communicates manuscripts and other materials in order to promote the study of the history of Massachusetts and the nation-a mission it has pursued since 1791.

Location: 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA
Telephone: (617) 536-1608
Hours: Mondays, Wednesdays - Fridays 9:00 a.m. - 4:45 p.m., Tuesdays 9:00 a.m. - 7:45 p.m., Saturdays 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Appointments strongly encouraged.

State Library of Massachusetts Special Collections
"The Special Collections department includes items that need special care due to their age, fragility, or format. Holdings comprise rare books, manuscripts, broadsides, newspapers, tax valuations, architectural drawings, prints and photographs, scrapbooks, and souvenirs. The collection is particularly strong in nineteenth and twentieth-century city directories, maps, and atlases."

Location: State House, Room 55, Boston, MA
Telephone: (617) 727-2595
Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.  Appointments are encouraged.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum: Archives & Manuscripts
"Students and scholars can also arrange to conduct research using our collection of historical materials chronicling mid-20th century politics and the life and administration of John F. Kennedy."The Archives contain h and twentieth-century city directories, maps, and atlases."

Location: Columbia Point, Boston Boston, MA
Telephone: (617) 514-1600
Hours:   Audiovisual Research Room is open Wednesdays - Fridays, 8:30 a.m. -4:30 p.m. Appointments are required.  General Research Room is open Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. -4:30 p.m.  Appointments strongly encouraged.

Hemingway Archive (at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum)
"The most comprehensive body of Hemingway material currently available in one place." Use the collection finding aid to learn more.

Location: Columbia Point, Boston Boston, MA
Telephone: (617) 514-1600
Hours: By appointment Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

City of Boston Archives
"...The City Archives makes Boston's municipal archival records accessible to the public by means of document finding aids, reference procedures and the promotion of public use, and ensures ready access to essential evidence that documents the rights of citizens, the actions of municipal officials and Boston's historical municipal experience.."

Location: 201 Rivermoor Street, West Roxbury 02132
Telephone: (617) 635-1195
Hours: Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Please contact the office at least one day in advance to arrange an appointment.

Local College & University Archives & Special Collections

Below is a list of College and University archives and special collections that can be used by the general public.  Click on the links to go to their webpage to get more information about what collections they hold.