Institutional Archives, Manuscripts, and Personal Papers

The Archives consist mainly of correspondence, memos, reports, press releases, and other records associated with the administration of the Museum (known as the Institutional Archives). The Archives also include manuscripts and personal papers of scientists and administrators associated with the Museum, and materials associated with a few notable individuals without formal Museum affiliation.

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Institutional Archives

The Institutional Archives of the American Museum of Natural History provide an unusually complete and detailed record of the history and development of an American scientific institution, including nearly every letter sent or received by the Museum in its first 100 years.

The Early Administrative Records spans from 1864 to 1912 and contains the Museum’s charter, leases, letterpress copybooks, scrapbooks, and the earliest correspondence.

Correspondence and other administrative records continue in the Central Archives, spanning from the 1880s to the 1970s. With an estimated 370,000 items, measuring over 360 linear feet, the Central Archives is a unique body of records documenting the growth and history of the Museum from its founding. The collections include letters from many political, industrial, and scientific luminaries who were associated with the Museum, such as Theodore Roosevelt and his son U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., J.P. Morgan, Henry Fairfield Osborn, Charles Knight, Lincoln Ellsworth, Edward Drinker Cope, O.C. Marsh, Frederick Law Olmstead, and Roy Chapman Andrews, among many others. 

The Central Archives are organized and indexed according to subject and cross indexed by personal and corporate names. The index consists of over 121,000 cards which can be searched online (within the Museum network) by Subject Heading or by full text.

The Institutional Archives also contain the Museum’s Departmental Records [see chart above] which consists of reports and correspondence from the Museum’s Science, Education, and Exhibition departments. Coverage spans from the 1880s to the present, but is incomplete; departmental participation in submitting records to this collection is voluntary.

Manuscripts and Personal Papers
Image 6499

Letter from Henry Fairfield Osborn to Chinese officials, AMNH letterhead, page 2 of 2, Central Asiatic Expedition. (AMNH image no. 6499)

The bulk of this collection consists of field notebooks, correspondence, manuscripts, and other personal papers associated with scientific staff and administrators of the Museum. Early Museum history is particularly well represented, and includes the following:

  • papers of Museum founder Albert Smith Bickmore (dating from 1854 to 1914)
  • papers and manuscripts from Museum president and paleontologist, Henry Fairfield Osborn (dating from 1877 to 1935) including material associated with his books: The American Museum of Natural History: its origin, its history, the growth of its departments to December 31, 1909 and Proboscidea : a monograph of the discovery, evolution, migration and extinction of the mastodonts and elephants of the world, among others.
  • the correspondence of J. A. Allen (dating from 1870 to 1919), the first curator in charge of birds and mammals
  • the papers of Museum director Roy Chapman Andrews (dating from 1912 to 1944) as well as his scientific field notebooks from the Central Asiatic Expeditions
  • the diaries of James L. Clark while in British East Africa and in the Cassiar Mountains (dating from 1909 to 1910, and 1925)

More recent additions to the collection include the papers of astronomer Thomas Nicholson (dating from 1969 to 1989) who also served as Director of the Museum, and the papers of Museum curator Norman Newell (1945-2005), a renowned invertebrate paleontologist and geologist.

A smaller collection of materials originate from individuals not associated with the Museum, including:

  • unpublished manuscripts of the works of Titian Ramsey Peale (dating from 1838 to 1885) including The butterflies of North America, Lepidoptera americana, and Lepidoptera: larva, food-plant, pupa, etc.
  • a manuscript page from On the Origin of Species in Charles Darwin's hand
  • field diaries and letters of paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope (dating from 1846 to 1897)
  • 35 volumes of Ernest Thompson Seton's diaries (dating from 1879 to 1946) filled with mementos, photographs, and drawings; field diaries and correspondence

Please see Special Collections Research Tools for more information.