This post was written by Project Archivist Larry Weimer.
Over the course of its 211 year history, the New-York Historical Society has been steadily accumulating the records of one of New York and America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions; of an organization that ranks as the second oldest state historical society in the United States and the oldest museum in New York City; of an organization that has counted among its members such prominent Americans as J.P. Morgan, William Cullen Bryant, George Bancroft, and Washington Irving; of an organization that, since its founding in 1804, has collected millions of museum objects and library materials related to American history; of an organization that hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year for exhibitions, scholarly study, public presentations, educational programs, and more. So, what is the name of this collecting coup? It’s the records of—the New-York Historical Society!
Yes, among the many rich collections of records of organizations held by N-YHS are its very own records.
Indeed, over the years some intrepid researchers have found their way to N-YHS’s archives, such as Tom Glynn for his recent book Reading Publics: New York City’s Public Libraries, 1754-1911. Yet without any finding aids or other substantive roadmap to its content, the archive has been largely inaccessible to the general public. Until now!
Thanks to a generous grant from the Leon Levy Foundation, N-YHS is now implementing a project to organize and describe its own extensive records, dating from its very first founding meeting to the present day. Work began last January and at this point, one year into the two-year project, my colleague Brynn White and I, along with interns and volunteers, have processed about 300 feet of material, including most of the 19th-century documents. In fact, the finding aids for this material were posted in December and can be found by following this link to N-YHS’ manuscript finding aid webpage. The finding aids can also be found and searched, as with other N-YHS finding aids, through New York University’s archival collections portal.
First, it’s helpful to know that, because N-YHS’ archive is so large and diverse, and because it will continue to grow over time, the entire archive has been broken down and organized into groups of related records called, well, “record groups.” Each record group has its own finding aid and call number. For example, the record group of “Membership Records” is call number “NYHS-RG 9” and you can link to its finding aid here. Thirteen record groups have been processed to date and many more will come during the project and into the future. To help patrons understand the content of the entire archive and to identify the specific record group(s) that might be most helpful to their research, there is also an overview guide of all the records. With that, I’ll end Part 1; next week I’ll turn to a discussion of the archival material itself.