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Archival History Sources in the Manuscript Division

This guide describes sources in the Manuscript Division for study of the development of American archives including the papers of archivists and their professional organizations.


Researchers who study the history of archives - what gets saved, where it goes, and how preservation and access are accorded to important records over time will find many significant resources in the Manuscript Division. These resources include the papers of major figures in the development of the field of archival practice, as well as the records of several important professional organizations serving archivists and historians.

Theodor Horydczak. Photographer. Construction of National Archives. 1934. Prints and Photographs Division.

Material in these collections demonstrates the close connection between the Library's Manuscript Division and the movement to establish a national records repository in the United States. 

Solon J. Buck, who was the second Archivist of the United States from 1941 to 1948, subsequently joined the Library of Congress as Manuscript Division chief from 1948 until 1951.

John Clement Fitzpatrick began his career at the Library of Congress when the Manuscript Division first opened in 1897. His publication Notes on the Care, Cataloguing and Arranging of Manuscripts (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1913) set standards for arrangement and description of archival collections. Fitzpatrick produced an edition of George Washington writings, George Washington, Colonial Traveller,1732-1775 in 1927. In 1928 he was named editor by the George Washington Bicentennial Commission of the Writings of George Washington, which produced 39 volumes.

St. George Leakin Sioussat, Manuscript Division chief and Chair of American History from 1938 to 1948, served concurrently as member of the newly formed National Historical Publications an Records Commission (NHPRC), an organization chaired by the Archivist of the United States. The NHPRC included archivists, historians, documentary editors, and records administrators advising on activities to preserve and publish original records.

Waldo Gifford Leland joined in a 1903 survey of federal records sponsored by the newly founded Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. He co-authored The Guide to the Archives of the Government of the United States in Washington, published in 1904, and revised and expanded that work for the 1907 edition. Leland was the nation's leading authority on federal archives. He was active in the American Historical Association, serving as secretary in 1909-1920, and worked closely with J. Franklin Jameson to lobby Congress to establish a national archive. From 1939 to 1948 Gifford served as director American Council of Learned Societies. As a testament to his significance in archival history, the Society of American Archivists maintains the Waldo Gifford Leland Award for publications in the field of archival history, theory or practice.

Click on the tab at left to learn more about these papers of individual archivists and professional organizations in the Manuscript Division collections.