People—as individuals or as families, groups, and institutions—record their activities in letters, photographs, diaries, minutes, and other documents. These materials are called manuscripts. They fall into two broad categories. Manuscripts created by individuals and families are usually referred to as Personal Papers; those created by groups and institutions are generally called Organizational Records.
The Historical Society uses the term manuscript to refer to most unpublished material. This avoids confusion with its library collection of published materials. However, a manuscripts collection often contains some material that is published. Why is this published material not in the Society's Library collection? Usually because the published material in a manuscript collection is integrally related to the unpublished material in the same collection. For this same reason, manuscripts collections often contain photographs; moving images and sound recordings; maps, especially in the records of the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads; and even artworks on paper, particularly sketchbooks.
The Society's manuscripts collections touch on virtually every topic imaginable, but are particularly strong in the areas of agriculture; business, especially agribusiness, transportation, lumbering, and health care; the environmental movement; organized labor; and philanthropy. Also strong is the coverage of the history of women; African Americans; Asians and Pacific Islanders; and the Civil and Dakota wars. Regardless of the subject areas covered, manuscript collections come from every area of the state, and relate to both famous and typical citizens, to large and small organizations.
Some manuscripts collections contain material predating the establishment of the Minnesota Territory in 1849; others bring the state's history up into the 1990s. Some of the collections are very small—a handful of letters or a single diary; others contain tens of millions of documents in thousands of boxes. All told, the Society owns nearly 8,000 separate manuscripts collections, totaling over 38,000 cubic feet (roughly 95 million pieces of paper!) They are among the largest and richest in the nation.
Searching the Collection
Many collections are listed in the library catalog. Search the catalog using the name of the organization or individual, type of business, or an associated topic.
For collections of businesses, organizations and personal papers not yet in the library catalog, check for entries in the Manuscripts Card Catalog.
Located in the Library, the Manuscripts Collections Inventory Notebooks contain, for each manuscripts collection, a more detailed description than that found in the library Catalog or the Manuscripts Card Catalog.
Notebook entries include (as appropriate) biographical or historical sketch; summary of the collection's scope and content; narrative description of the collection; contents of individual boxes, folders, volumes, or film rolls; information on provenance and/or restrictions; and lists of author entries and subject headings.
Consult reference staff for help in locating the correct notebook.
Find information about the copy services available at the Society.
How to Donate
Donating items to the Society's collections.