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Special Collections

The Library's archives document the history of the Museum, including primary resources on scientific expedition and research, Museum exhibition, education, and general administration.

If you have any questions or would like to make an appointment to conduct research, please refer to Special Collections Access.

Special Collections Resources:

Digital Special Collections provides access to our rich online resource of digitized archival photography, art, memorabilia, and rare book illustrations.

Diagram illustrating the organizing principles of the AMNH Special Collections Archives
Diagram illustrating the organizing principles of the AMNH Special Collections Archives

The Archives

Museum Archives, Manuscripts and Personal Papers

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

The Manuscript and Personal Papers consists of field notebooks, correspondence, manuscripts, and other personal papers created or collected by Museum scientists and administrators, and materials associated with a few notable individuals without a formal Museum affiliation.

The Photograph Collection

The Photograph Collection contains over one million b/w prints and negatives, color transparencies, glass plates, and slides in formats ranging from 35mm to 11x14 inches. The images document scientific work worldwide in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, astronomy, geology, paleontology, and zoology. The collection also documents Museum exhibition, Museum staff at work, and images of objects and specimens from the Museum collections, including select images from the Library's Rare Book Collection. 

The earliest negatives date from the late 1800s. This includes a collection of over 40,000 lantern slides that were once used for lectures and loaned to New York City schools. In addition, the Photographic Print Collection includes over 900 series of vintage photographic prints, totaling approximately 140,000 individual photographs. The collection includes 52 scrapbooks that were created in various Museum departments.

Film and Audiovisual Collections

The film and audiovisual collections document the Museum’s involvement in scientific exploration, discovery, and public education. A significant portion of the film collection was created by expedition members during the 1920s and 30s when the Museum sponsored expeditions across the globe or have been donated by Museum trustees and affiliates from their personal travels. In the early 1950s, the Museum collaborated with CBS Television to make the Adventure Series. This live-broadcast television series aired for three years and covered scientific topics of the day. The audiovisual collection also includes exhibition footage, video recordings of lectures held at the Museum, copies of televised interviews with Museum scientists, and other miscellaneous Museum-related recordings.

Art and Memorabilia

The majority of the Museum’s fine art collection is administered by the Library. Many items from the collection are on exhibit in the permanent halls but hundreds are in Library storage or out on loan. The Memorabilia collection preserves many objects that help tell the story of the Museum’s history, including ephemeral components of exhibition, scientific and documentary equipment, and personal artifacts from individuals associated with the Museum.