This post was written by Project Archivist Larry Weimer.
In Part 1 of this blog posted last week, I introduced N-YHS’ institutional archives project now underway thanks to a generous grant from the Leon Levy Foundation. Several finding aids are now online, and in this Part 2, I would like to give you a short introduction to the archival materials now available.
First, there is a lot of correspondence. My colleague on the project, Brynn White, has been working her way through these hundreds of boxes (Image 1). The finding aid now available describes the content of these boxes up through 1908, covering the first 100 years of N-YHS’ history. The subject matter covers a broad range of topics, from offers and accessions of historical artifacts to research inquiries, from arrangements of commemorative events to publishing addresses and edited manuscripts, from membership nominations to operational concerns, and more.
As just one example, the correspondence includes the exchange with Lucy Audubon regarding her 1863 offer to sell the watercolors drawn for The Birds of America by her late husband, John James Audubon (Image 2).
Through the 19th and well into the 20th centuries, N-YHS kept much of their correspondence in one central set of files, which we call General Correspondence (NYHS-RG 2). But some correspondence was spun off into separate topical files and that can be found in other record groups, such as the Celebratory and Memorial Event Records (NYHS-RG 12) and the John Watts DePeyster Publication Fund Records (NYHS-RG 10). One of these topical record groups concerns the construction of the two buildings that N-YHS has owned in its history.
During its first 50 years, N-YHS operated out of rented or donated quarters. In the 1850s, N-YHS constructed a home for itself on 2nd Avenue at 11th Street. Later, in the first decade of the 20th century, it constructed a new building for itself at its present location on Central Park West, then expanded it substantially in the 1930s. The Original Buildings Planning & Construction Records (NYHS-RG 3) includes the correspondence with architects, construction contractors, subcontractors, and others related to the development of these two buildings. The record group also holds the correspondence and other documents concerning N-YHS’ attempt in the 1860s and 1870s to locate itself within Central Park, an opportunity that would eventually be obtained instead by the newly-established Metropolitan Museum of Art (Image 3).
Beyond correspondence, the archive also holds many other important documentary forms. For example, the buildings record group includes the minute books for the various building committees that oversaw the funding, design, and construction of the structures. The record group also has hundreds of architectural plans for N-YHS’ Central Park West home (Image 4).
Other fundamental sources of information about N-YHS’ history found in the archives include the Collection Accession Registers (NYHS-RG 15) and the Membership Records (NYHS-RG 6). A complete set of minute books documenting N-YHS governance from 1804 to 1938 are found in the Management Committee Records (NYHS-RG 1) (Image 5).
Also found in the committee records are so-called “official papers,” which were working papers and other documents related to the business meetings of N-YHS’ Members and the governing Executive Committee. As an example, these papers hold the signed and sealed agreement turning over the collection of the New York Gallery of the Fine Arts (i.e., the Luman Reed Collection) to N-YHS (Image 6).
From the 1863 lectures on Egypt to the present day’s wide-ranging exhibitions and other public events, the archive documents N-YHS’ rich history of programming (Image 7).
The Ephemera record group (NYHS-RG 14) captures an overview of this history with a large selection of tickets, programs, calendars, handbills, and other material dating from 1839 to 2012 (Image 8).
The Public Relations Material (NYHS-RG 8), with documents from the 1940s to the 1990s, includes press releases and press kits describing many of these programs for media outlets (Image 9).
The extent to which the media reported on the activities and other developments at N-YHS is well documented from the late 19th century into the late 20th in the Press Clippings (NYHS-RG 7). The archive even holds the Scholarship Essay Submissions (NYHS-RG 13) from Columbia University undergraduates competing for an annual award sponsored by N-YHS from 1925-1933. And the Pictorial Archive (NYHS-RG 5) includes an extensive collection of photographs of exhibitions, programs, and events. The Pictorial Archive also includes many images taken during the initial construction and 1930s expansion of the Central Park West building.
So as you can see, this collection is vast. But we hope that with the detailed finding aids now online, patrons will be able to discover resources in N-YHS’ archival material that will allow them to pursue other lines of inquiry beyond the confines, however interesting, of N-YHS’ institutional history. And, though much is now available, the Leon Levy Foundation-funded project is only halfway complete, so stay tuned as additional record groups and their finding aids will be posted throughout 2016.