Research Repositories in Washington, D.C.
Barbara Bair, October 2007
Why not dip into some archives when you come to Washington, D.C., for the annual meeting in January? The nation's capital is home to an incredibly rich array of research repositories, headlined by the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Smithsonian Institution's many museum archives. Almost any historian is likely to find some material of value for his or her research in these repositories. Even if you only have half a day to spend in the archives, you can often uncover material of real value to your work. Far better, of course, if you can extend your stay in Washington a few additional days to do some research. That "eureka" movement of discovery awaits you in any of the following repositories. The list is not complete, of course, but is intended to suggest possibilities.
It is recommended that you contact institutions in advance to inquire as to rules of use, to schedule required appointments, to confirm listed hours, and/or to speak directly to a librarian, curator, or archivist about your research interests. Many repositories have finding aids, online catalogs, or other detailed information about their collections available through their web sites. These tools can be used to streamline research visits in advance.
Federal Libraries, Record Centers, and Museum Archives
The Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave. SE. Research rooms, exhibits, tours. General information 202-707-5000; Manuscript Division Reading Room 202-707-5387. Information on research centers www.loc.gov/rr/research‑centers.html; Guide for Researchers www.loc.gov/rr/. No appointments are necessary for reading room use, but providing advance notice of research intentions is recommended. Some research materials are stored offsite and must be ordered in advance. Subject matter specialists are available for consultation by appointment. Some collections may carry donor restrictions.
The Library of Congress is the national library of the United States and the research arm of Congress, as well as the copyright depository for the nation. It is the largest public research library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, films, photographs, maps, rare books, newspapers, foreign-language materials, and manuscripts. The Manuscript Division holds some 60 million items, including personal papers and organizational records. Strong in Americana, women's history, African American history, diplomacy, legal history, labor history, military history, history of science, and other fields. Specialized reading rooms include Performing Arts, Motion Pictures & Broadcasting, Geography & Maps, Prints & Photographs, Newspapers & Periodicals, the Law Library, the American Folklife Center, Rare Books & Special Collections, Genealogy, Science, Business, and Technology. Area studies reading rooms include: European, Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern and African. Reading room hours vary, call or refer to www.loc.gov/visit/hours.html for information. Closed Sundays and Federal holidays.
The National Archives in Washington, D.C. (Archives I, NARA)
700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Research Rooms, exhibits, tours. Shuttle to College Park, Md. facility (Archives II). Information: 202-357-5400; Center for Legislative Archives: 202-357-5350; Genealogy Staff: 202-357-5400; Old Military Records: 202-357-5311; Old Civilian Records 202-357-5411. www.archives.gov/research.
The National Archives is the official repository of the federal records of the United States and holds materials of all types of governmental origin. The National Archives Building in Washington (Archives I) holds old civil and old military records including those of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Census Bureau, Coast Guard, Customs Service, U.S. Army Commands (1784–1821), U.S. Army Continental Commands (1821–1920), War Department, Veteran's Administration, and Washington-based components of the judicial branch. It also houses the Center for Legislative Archives, which provides onsite reference assistance to researchers regarding the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The building features a microfilm and genealogical research room. Additional collections are located at the Archives II facility in Maryland. Open Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., with some extended hours.
The Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian's administrative umbrella covers over a dozen art, history, natural history, and science museums located on (or in the vicinity of) the National Mall, as well as the National Zoo in Woodley Park. Several of the many available archives or special collections are listed below. For a full list and further information, including information on the Smithsonian Archives, the Archives of American Gardens, the National Museum of the American Indian Archives, the National Anthropological Archives, and the Hirshhorn Museum, please consult www.nmnh.si.edu/naa/siasc/si_archives.htm.
Air and Space Museum Archives Division. Air & Space Museum, Independence Ave. & 4th St., S.W. Reference: 202-633-2320. www.nasm.si.edu/research/arch/. Manuscripts, photographs, motion picture film, technical drawings, and other materials on the history of aviation. Mon.–Fri, 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. By appointment.
Archives of American Art. 750 9th St., N.W., Suite 2200. Reference: 202-633-7950. www.aaa.si.edu. Letters, photographs, diaries, sketches, scrapbooks, business records, and other documentation that supports the study of the history of the visual arts in America. Microfilm reference room, Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–5 p.m., no appointment necessary. Oral history transcripts, Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–5 p.m, and Manuscript reading room, Mon.–Fri., 9:30 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1:00–4:30 p.m. By appointment.
Archives Center, National Museum of American History.12th St. & Constitution Ave., N.W. 202-633-3270. americanhistory.si.edu/archives. Topic areas represented include women's history, music, technology, popular culture, advertising and branding, invention, marketing, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Wed. 12 p.m.–5 p.m. The archives center will admit researchers by appointment while the museum is being renovated.
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art. 950 Independence Ave., SW, Room 2140. 202-633-4690. africa.si.edu/research/archives.html. The holdings are divided into two major categories: art photographs that show African works of art in museum and gallery settings and field photographs that depict life and art in Africa. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. By appointment.
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. 1050 Independence Ave., SW, Room 2062. 202-633-0533. www.asia.si.edu/visitor/archives.htm. A manuscript repository dedicated to furthering the study of Asian art and culture and turn-of-the century American art represented in the Freer Gallery of Art. Papers of preeminent art historians, archaeologists, artists, dealers, and collectors, rich in photographs. Tue.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. By appointment.
University Archives, Research Centers, and Special Collections
Special Collections and University Archives, American University Library, 4400 Massachusetts Ave., N.W. 202-885-3256. www.library.american.edu/about/services/index.html
Archives chronicle more than one hundred years of the university's history, including paper documents, films, videos, sound recordings, photographic images, electronic files, and dissertations. Special Collections include rare books, playbills, manuscripts and personal papers. Open Mon.–Fri, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
Catholic University of America
Rare Books and Special Collections, 214 Mullen Library, Catholic University Campus, 620 Michigan Ave., NE. 202-319-5090. libraries.cua.edu/achrcua/archacc.html. Books and pamphlets range from medieval documents, including about 100 incunabula, to first editions of twentieth-century authors. Open Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and by appointment.
The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, via 101 Life Cycle Institute, on the Catholic University campus. 202-319-5065. libraries.cua.edu/achrcua/index.html. Holds papers and records of Catholic leaders and organizations, and is a particular resource for the history of American Catholics in the labor movement (including papers of Terence Powderly, head of the Knights of Labor and John Mitchell, president of the United Mine Workers), as well as Catholic charities and educational endeavors. See online manuscript index. Open Mon.–Thurs., 9 a.m.–5 p.m., & Fri. 9 a.m.–12 p.m. By appointment.
Gallaudet University Archives, Gallaudet University Library, Merrill Learning Center, 800 Florida Ave., N.E. archives.gallaudet.edu. Holds 160 manuscript collections of Gallaudet administrators and faculty and other leaders in deaf education, as well as the papers of deaf individuals. Registers of all collections are available online. Open Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–5 p.m., during regular university terms.
Georgetown University Library Special Collection Division. Fifth floor of Lauinger Library, 37th and N Sts. N.W. Basic information 202-687-7444; art collections, 202-687-1469; manuscripts & rare books, 202-687-7614. gulib.lausun.georgetown.edu/dept/speccoll. Includes archives, art, fine prints, manuscripts, rare books, and other special collections over a broad subject range, including the Americana library of John Gilmary Shea and the classical and scientific library of Thomas C. Levins, and the Bowen Collections of spying, intelligence, and covert operations. Open Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
George Washington University
Special Collections and University Archives, Suite 704, Gelman Library, 2130 H St., N.W. 202-994-7549. www.gwu.edu/gelman/spec/ Holds across broad topic areas including American history, African-Americana, Washingtonia, Judaica and Hebraica, rare books and maps, business, theater, and university history. Recently acquired the papers of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C. Mon. 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Tues.–Fri., 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Moorland Spingarn Research Center, Founders Library, Howard Pl. & Sixth St. NW. For info 202-806-7240; Library Division 202-806-4237; University Archives 202-806-7498; Manuscript Division 202-806-7480. www.founders.howard.edu/moorland‑spingarn/ One of the world's largest and most comprehensive repositories for the documentation of the history and culture of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas, and other parts of the world. Bound volumes, journals, periodicals, and newspapers; vertical files; manuscript and archival collections; audio tapes; artifacts; prints, photographs, and maps. Includes the Ralph J. Bunche Oral History Collection and the papers of Kelly Miller, Alain Locke, E. Franklin Frazier, and many others. Open Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–1 p.m. and 2–4:30 p.m. By appointment.
District of Columbia Public Library
Washingtoniana Division, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, Rm. 307, 901 G St., N.W. 202-727-1213 dclibrary.org. The Washingtoniana Division, one of the finest local history collections of all the nation's libraries, was founded in 1905. Collections include materials on early Washington, neighborhood organizations, societies and clubs, education, Civil War records, slavery and emancipation, family history, politics, government, the performing arts, prints and photographs. Open Mon.–Thurs., 9:30 a.m.–9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
The Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
Kiplinger Research Library, 801 K St. NW. 202-383-1850. www.historydc.org/Do_Research/ Open Tues., Wed. and Thurs., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Worth noting for future use (because it has been closed indefinitely to facilitate shifting to new premises) is the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (see www.folklife.si.edu/center/archives.html for updated information). The Moses and Frances Asch collection of original recordings, business records, correspondence, and photographic material that came to the Smithsonian with the purchase of Folkways Records. Also houses the Rinzler Archives of written, audio, and visual records of projects and exhibits sponsored by the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Global and world-ethnic emphasis.
—Barbara Bair, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, is a member of the Local Arrangements Committee.