Archival Resources at the Smithsonian

archives reference room

The Smithsonian Institution has vast archival research collections that measure over 145,700 cubic feet, making its holdings among the largest collections of historical document resources in the United States.

The scope of the collections is equally staggering and covers nearly every facet of our nation's history—from the history of the Institution itself to the history of American, African American, and Latin American art, culture, music, and design; science and technology; landscapes and gardens; and native and indigenous world cultures.

The archival collections include technical drawings, photographs, letters, field notebooks, diaries and journals, sketches and sketchbooks, scrapbooks, manuscripts, rare printed materials, motion picture film, video and sound recordings, and much more. Many of the archival units are repositories within the Smithsonian's museums, libraries, and other larger divisions, and two are independent collecting units. Nearly all have online collections and resources where visitors will find more detail about the scope of collections, collection guides and finding aids, and digitized content.

The Smithsonian Institution Archives and Special Collections Council (SIASC) is a forum for open discussion regarding experiences, interests, and concerns of the Institution's numerous archives and special collections. It prepares archival management policies, procedures, manuals, and other guidance for those at the Smithsonian who manage archival collections. Each year, SIASC plans special activities for American Archives Month, including collaborative events with archives across the metropolitan area.

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SOVA: Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives

Explore digital content from letters, manuscripts, diaries and journals, ledgers and stock books, photographs, scrapbooks, sketchbooks and drawings, technical drawings and blueprints, field notebooks, log books, rare printed materials, sound recordings, videos, and much more. Descriptions and detailed inventories of thousands of primary resource collections maintained by archival units across the Smithsonian.

Megatherium Club members

Smithsonian Institution Archives

From its inception in 1846 to the present, the records of the history of the Smithsonian Institution—its people, its programs, its research, and its stories—have been gathered, organized, and disseminated so that everyone can learn about the Smithsonian and its role in American history, scientific exploration, and with the promotion of international cultural understanding.