Collecting Scope

This general overview of the collection development policies of the Harvard University Archives is intended to provide guidance for donors.  For further information, contact the Collection Development department at


The Harvard University Archives supports the dual mission of education and research by striving to preserve and provide access to Harvard’s historical records; to gather an accurate, authentic, and complete record of the life of the University; and to promote the highest standards of management for Harvard’s current records.  First recognized by a vote of the Harvard Corporation in 1851, updated requirements were voted several times over the course of the next century.  The addition of a formal records management program was mandated by the Corporation in 1995.

Collecting Scope

For over 150 years, the Harvard University Archives has collected records (paper, visual and electronic), papers and manuscripts, publications, and other historical materials documenting the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard University from the 17th century to the present. The Archives serves as the principal repository for the institutional records of the University and faculty archives, including papers and manuscripts.  Staff works in conjunction with the major satellite programs at the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Business School as well as several smaller collections. The Archives seeks to document (to varying degrees historically), the faculty, students and academic programs at the University, including the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Graduate School of Education, Harvard Law School, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (including Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard Extension School), the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard School of Design, and Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, as well as Harvard’s central administration, its libraries, museums, research centers and affiliated organizations.

Description of Collecting Areas

Harvard University Records

The Harvard University Archives collects records and publications created in the course of University business from ca. 1636 to the present.  These include administrative, operational, programmatic, personnel, financial, legal, and academic records with permanent historical value in documenting programs, decisions and individuals at Harvard.

The four main creating/collecting groups of University records are:

  • University Offices and Academic Departments
  • Research Centers and Museums
  • Campus-wide Initiatives (e.g. “Green is the New Crimson”)
  • Harvard Affiliates (e.g. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

The General Records Schedule (GRS) provides basic details of Harvard’s policy on how long to keep different types of records, and whether to send records to an archives or destroy them when they are no longer needed. The GRS describes common records found across the University in all formats – including electronic records and email.  


University Publications and Dissertations, Theses, and Prize Papers

The Harvard University Archives collects University publications as well as dissertations, theses, and prize papers which are all considered University records regardless of acquisition process or source (subscription, transfer, gift, purchase, or web harvest).

University Publications

University publications constitute published and/or promotional materials created by the Harvard University community for internal and external purposes.  These include both publications created for immediate public access and those created for university, school or departmental needs and not intended immediately for public access. 

University publications and promotional material may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Serials, newspapers, and newsletters
  • Books published by the University and its departments
  • Scholarly journals
  • University-sponsored web sites, blogs and e-newsletters
  • Promotional material, such as posters, post cards, announcements, tickets, programs, flyers and objects (T-shirts, buttons, pins, medals)
  • CDs and DVDs
  • Certificates of membership in student organizations

Dissertations, Theses and Prize Papers

Per a vote of the Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College on January 22, 1951, theses and dissertations accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a degree, or manuscripts successful in Harvard prize competitions, are considered the physical property of the University.  The University Archives is the repository for these materials and provides access to them as part of its collections. Work is underway to collect dissertations in DASH.


Personal and Faculty Archives

The Harvard University Archives collects the personal and professional papers and manuscripts (including web sites) created by individuals who have had a significant relationship to Harvard.  These include – but are not limited to—archives in all formats of faculty, senior administrators, students, alumni and family with close ties to the University.

The four main creating/collecting groups of personal and faculty archives are:

  • Faculty archives
  • Senior Administrator professional and personal materials
  • Student and Alumni personal materials
  • Family archives

Non-Harvard, but University-related manuscript collections of major research significance are also considered for acquisition.


Associated Organization Records

The Harvard University Archives  collects records created by organizations whose members presently work or study at Harvard; whose members have worked or studied at Harvard previously; or are brought together because of an interest in Harvard.  Associated organizations may be separately incorporated and/or receive financial or other support from the University. 

The four main creating/collecting groups of Associated Organizations are:

  • Student Clubs and Organizations
  • Alumni Clubs and Organizations
  • Current or Retired Employee Clubs and Organizations
  • Community Organizations (local and international working with Harvard)


Historical Materials

The Harvard University Archives collects material not created in the course of Harvard business but which documents the intellectual, cultural, administrative, and social life of Harvard and its surrounding communities. 

The two main collecting areas of historical materials are:

  • Books and publications about Harvard or the surrounding area
  • Records and other materials collected or created by non-Harvard individuals and organizations enhancing our knowledge of Harvard and the surrounding community history