William L. Clements Library

Manuscripts Division


The Manuscripts Division contains approximately 2500 collections pertaining to most periods of early American history up to 1900. Our strengths include British-American colonial and military collections for the period of the American Revolution; reform movements of the 19th century, particularly anti-slavery; the Civil War; the War of 1812; Native American and African American history; the history of ideas and of American religious movements; naval history; travel; labor; women's history; westward expansion, especially the Gold Rush era; business and trade; and education. We also have important manuscript materials relating to the domestic, social, and cultural history of the late-18th through early-20th centuries. The geographical focus of the collection is centered on the United States and Canada, but the Library also contains important collections relating to the West Indies.

In recent years the Manuscripts Division has initiated several major projects. We are in the process of converting our paper and html finding aids into Encoded Archival Description, the internationally accepted standard for archival finding aids. These are text searchable and easy to navigate. Please see "Using the Collection" below for search options.

Another project is the Manuscripts Division Subject Databases, which contains data on references to underrepresented groups in manuscript collections. The project started in 1998, with the initial goal of creating finding aids for "women's collections." In 2006, the Division decided to take on the more ambitious plan of identifying all references to women and gender found in manuscripts. With funding from the Institute of Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan, we began the conversion of our women's history database into an online database, not yet completed. We have expanded this project to include other historically underrepresented groups, such as African Americans and Native Americans. The data gathered from this initiative will enhance access by providing information about our collections that is more detailed than that present in the EAD finding aids.

History of the Division

Though the original intention of William L. Clements was to found a rare book library, he became fascinated by manuscripts during a trip to England in the early 1920s, when he attended an auction at Sotheby's, where he had the opportunity to examine the private papers of the 2nd Earl of Shelburne, Prime Minister at the end of the American Revolution. Clements knew that, if he acquired this collection, his library of materials for the American Revolution would be "unsurpassed in the United States." The purchase of the Shelburne papers encouraged Mr. Clements to buy the papers of other important British politicians involved in American affairs during the Revolution, including those of Jeffery Amherst, Thomas Gage, Henry Clinton, and George Germain, as well as the American general, Nathanael Greene. The Clements is still the foremost library in the United States for the study of the British side of the American Revolution. From these initial purchases, the division has grown considerably in the areas described above.

Using the Collection

The Clements Library Manuscripts Division is currently undertaking a project to convert its finding aids to Encoded Archival Description (EAD). To use the new finding aids, visit the Manuscripts Division Finding Aids site.