The American Historical Manuscript Collection (AHMC) cataloging project, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, wrapped up on January 5, 2018. Since June 2014, when the project began, our catalogers have created searchable, electronic records for thousands of small manuscript collections and single items, racking up some impressive totals:

  • Collections cataloged: 11,010
  • Items in these collections: 53,851
  • Collections cataloged per month (on average): 258.1
  • Items cataloged per month (on average): 1,263.1

Before the grant, sole access to these manuscript materials was through an onsite card catalog. Now researchers and staff can easily search for and request them through the Society’s online catalog. And request them they have, over 2,263 times since the project began!

Manuscript card catalog in N-YHS Reading Room.

The variety of names and subjects in a single manuscript catalog drawer.

Robert R. Livingston catalog card, describing a letter.

While some of the items in AHMC are separated from larger collections, many are stand-alone purchases and donations. And while the catalogers expected them to document the complex history of New York City between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, they discovered during the course of the project the true expanse of the collection. Narrative letters reflect local life across the United States and even abroad. Several travel journals remark on destinations around the world—the Philippines, Morocco, Italy, the Arctic—in peace and at war.

But cataloging was just one facet of the project. The role of our Conservation Department cannot be overlooked. The lab handled 1,316 items, mending some, treating others for mold, unfolding, humidifying, and flattening yet others, encapsulating some, and cleaning still more. (Here is one particularly messy job!)

Along with manuscripts proper (e.g., deeds, receipts, letters, etc.), the AHMC project staff encountered and cataloged ephemera and artifacts in myriad form, such as funeral arm bands, dried flowers, photographs, calling cards, a lock of hair purported to be Napoleon Bonaparte’s, and samples of flax produced by a “machine of modern invention” sent to a correspondent by James Madison.

AHMC – Madison, James (1751-1836) collection, MS 2958.6325, flax samples encapsulated.

AHMC – Theodore Parker correspondence, MS 2958.7484, dried flower petals encapsulated.

The fruits of the AHMC project are to found in scholarly publications (like Margaret A. Oppenheimer’s The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel: A Story of Marriage and Money in the Early Republic), exhibitions, and presentations, like the open-house we hosted for Archives Week 2017, where library professionals viewed materials from the collection and discussed methodology with project staff.

The New-York Historical Society Library thanks our technical staff, conservators, and everyone who helped make the American Historical Manuscript Collection cataloging project a success. Be sure to read all our past “AHMC of the Month” posts. Better yet, visit the library to view these fascinating collections in person!

AHMC – Salem Normal Academy of Music diploma to Mary Jewell Camp, MS 2958.8581.

AHMC – Schoharie, New York collection, MS 2958.8694, wax seal.

Cataloging of the American Historical Manuscript Collection (AHMC), a group of 12,000 small and unique manuscript collections, is made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, and the Pine Tree Foundation of New York.