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Overview Guide to the New-York Historical Society Records
1804-2018
 NYHS-RG Archives

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Larry Weimer, Margaret Kaczorowski and Brynn White

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on August 29, 2019
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

The record groups summarized in this overview Guide are processed and are open to qualified researchers. Any particular restrictions applicable at the record group level are noted in the Guide for that specific group.

A few record groups, primarily those concerning late twentieth century and more recent records from executive management, are restricted in whole and are not included in this overview.

Use Restrictions

Permission to quote from this collection in a publication must be requested and granted in writing. Send permission requests, citing the name of the collection from which you wish to quote to: Manuscript Curator, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024.

Related Archival Materials Note

It appears that over time some number of documents, especially correspondence from notable individuals, were removed from N-YHS's institutional records and placed in the manuscript collection. During the 2015-2016 processing project, some of these items were identified and returned to the archive. But other such documents likely exist and likely can be found in a collection compiled by N-YHS originally called Miscellaneous Manuscripts, but now referred to as the American Historical Manuscripts Collection.

The personal papers of several officers and other members of N-YHS are held in the manuscript collections of N-YHS. These papers may include some material directly relevant to N-YHS. These collections include, but are not necessarily limited to, the papers of John Pintard (MS 490), Egbert Benson (MS 56), Luther Bradish (MS 71), William Kelby (MS 339), John Alsop King (MS 351), William Calver (MS 96), Reginald Pelham Bolton (MS 67), Alexander J. Wall (MS 664), Weekes Brothers (MS 684), DeWitt Lockman (MS 390), and George Zabriskie (MS 328).

Processing Information Note

Prior to 1982, many of N-YHS's historical records were held in the "Old Record Room" on the third floor and were maintained by general office staff. These records included volumes and wrapped documents stored in file cabinets. A packing list/inventory prepared in connection with the off-site storage of the records in the 1930s during the building expansion and renovation project of those years is believed to represent most or all of those stored documents. (A copy of the 1930s inventory can be found in the New-York Historical Society management committee records (NYHS-RG 1) in the Official Papers series for 1938.)

In 1982, Tom Dunnings, the Curator of Manuscripts, was given responsibility for N-YHS's historic records as part of his overall responsibilities. At that point, additional material was transferred from N-YHS departments to the Manuscript Department. In August 1989, Dunnings was named the full-time Institutional Archivist and he set about centralizing, organizing and physically processing and rehousing N-YHS's oldest archival material, including the "official papers," central correspondence, and celebratory events files, among others. He was highly successful with this, leaving an invaluable legacy to N-YHS. Dunnings also developed rudimentary paper-based lists and summary level descriptions for parts of the archive that served as basic finding aids for internal staff. Dunnings left N-YHS in 1993, ending the full-time Institutional Archivist position, with responsibility for the archive returning to the Curator of Manuscripts, where it has remained since. (The above is taken primarily from a May 19, 1992, internal memo written by Dunnings in which he described the status of the archive for Librarian Jean Ashton.)

Despite the lack of a full-time institutional archivist, attention, albeit sporadic, continued to be paid to organizing and processing the archive, even as additional material has continued to come into it. Immediately after Dunnings's departure in 1993, at least one staff member, Douglas Southard, prepared a general inventory of the entire archive, with material then present into the early 1990s. At the direction of Curator of Manuscripts Margaret Heilbrun, the consulting firm Archiva surveyed the entire archive in 1999, with special emphasis on the late twentieth century records that were new to the archive. Archiva did no processing, but descriptions of box content were prepared and a high level inventory was entered into an Access database they created. These could work as rough finding aids for internal staff but were intended essentially as detailed notes to assist further project planning.

With a generous grant from the Delmas Foundation, significant work was done with the archive in 2003-2004. Archivist Kit Messick, working on a part-time basis, physically organized a large portion of the mid-late twentieth century records into record groups, rehoused the material into archival boxes and, in some cases, folders, added basic labeling to boxes, identified some material to be removed from the archive, and added information to the Access database Archiva had initiated in 1999. Messick's work rationalized the overall physical layout of the archive and substantially increased its accessibility for internal staff. It also provided the foundation for the further work done in the coming years. Following on her work, additional physical processing was done on a spot basis through the 2000s but, for the most part, still no archival standard finding aids or catalog entries existed. An exception to this was the so-called Pictorial Archive (NYHS-RG 5), a collection of photographs and other images, which was processed and described in a finding aid, initially in 2005, with later updates. Also, additional material continued to be moved into the archive, formally or informally, through 2015.

Most recently, as part of an initiative to finally process the full archive, especially in terms of creating finding aids to facilitate its use by both internal staff and outside researchers and to establish consistent access policies, a generous grant was obtained from the Leon Levy Foundation in 2015-2016. With this grant, an Archives project team completed archival standard finding aids, using the Archivists Toolkit database, for all record groups and prepared an overview guide for the archive as a whole. These were published on the Internet along with catalog entries for the record groups. The project team built on the work done by prior archivists, largely focusing on describing the archive as it had been organized in the past. Nonetheless, many refinements were made, especially in terms of adding definition to record groups, detailing them further into series and subseries as warranted, formalizing a system of box numbering, and firming the folder content of each box. Additional material was brought into the archive and material with no archival value was removed. With the publication of finding aids and the ready accessibility of the content to the public, restricted material was identified and separately boxed. Also building on prior efforts, additional files were rehoused, though large portions of the late twentieth century records remain minimally processed, in original folders, with original labels stapled in place to prevent information loss. As of the close of the Levy Foundation-funded project at December 31, 2016, the entire N-YHS archive as it stood at that time was organized physically and described in finding aids.

Accruals Note

The New-York Historical Society records will continue to accrue additional record groups and, in some instances, additional material for existing record groups. Over time these additional materials will be processed and made publicly available, consistent with N-YHS's access policies for its institutional archive.

Bibliography

The N-YHS archives have been used over the years for histories, catalogues, articles, blogs, and other published matter written by N-YHS staff or on behalf of N-YHS and published by N-YHS. Such publications are not included in this list. This list includes only those publications prepared by authors from outside the organization that cited sources in the N-YHS archive. The list was started in 2015 and includes only known material so it is not necessarily complete.

Pamela Spence Richards, Scholars and Gentlemen: The Library of the New-York Historical Society, 1804-1982 (Hamden, Conn: Archon Books, 1984).

Tom Glynn, Reading Publics: New York City's Public Libraries, 1754-1911 (New York: Empire State Editions, 2015).