Houghton Library

Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

Questions about Specific Collections

Modern Books & Manuscripts

Which manuscripts of the Alcott family does Houghton have?
We have manuscripts relating to various members of the Alcott family, including Louisa May Alcott and Amos Bronson Alcott. You can browse a list of finding aids associated with the Alcott family by going to OASIS and choosing the Browse Finding Aids tab. Then choose Limit by repository = Houghton Library, enter “Alcott” (without the quotation marks) in the Jump to box, and click GO. You will then see a list of all the finding aids associated with the Alcott family and can click on each one to browse through the specific contents.

There are letters by the Alcotts in other collections, such as the Emerson papers, so you will want to do a search in OASIS as well. Enter Alcott in Personal Names, Limit by Repository = Houghton Library, and click GO.

Do you have any manuscripts or drawings by John James Audubon?
Yes, and we have digitized all of his drawings. For an overview of what we have, please see the John James Audubon Collection. You can see the manuscripts by or related to Audubon by choosing Expanded Search in HOLLIS, then Keyword from = Author words and entering “Audubon” in the Search for box. You should then limit your search to Format = Manuscripts and Locations = Houghton. The HOLLIS record for the collection of Letters and Drawings includes a link to the electronic finding aid in OASIS which displays the digitized images of Audubon’s drawings.

Do you have any of the papers of the Brontës?
In HOLLIS Expanded Search, select Keywords from = Author words and enter “Bronte” in the Search for box. Then limit Format = Manuscripts and Locations = Houghton, and click Search.

You can also browse the finding aids in OASIS related to the Brontës. Choose the tab Browse Finding Aids, then Limit by Repository = Houghton, Jump to = Bronte, and click GO. The finding aid to Charlotte and Patrick Branwell Brontë’s Juvenilia includes links to images of nine of their delightful miniature books, which are much easier to read in this format than in the 5 cm originals.

Can I consult Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts and personal books?
Dickinson’s very fragile poems and letters are restricted, but we make photostat copies available to readers in the Reading Room. A facsimile edition of her fascicles is also available: The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson: A Facsimile Edition. 2 vols. Ed. R. W. Franklin (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981). Her Herbarium has been published by Harvard University Press and digitized. In rare cases where the nature of a scholar’s work requires seeing some of the original manuscripts, application must be made to the Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts for permission to work with individual items.

The books from the Dickinson family library are also fragile, and access to them is only by permission of the Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts. Keep in mind that unrestricted copies of the same editions can often be found in the general Houghton collection. To see a complete list of the books in the Dickinson family library in HOLLIS, choose Search Type = Other Call Number and then Search for = EDR (EDR indicates an item in the Emily Dickinson Room at Houghton). There is also a finding aid in OASIS that details the contents of the Dickinson family library.

Dickinson family papers (i.e. manuscripts other than those in the hand of Emily Dickinson) are not restricted. Readers may see them without prior curatorial approval.

The Emily Dickinson Room, where most of the Dickinson books, as well as furniture and other objects from the Dickinson family are on display, is shown to visitors regularly on Friday at 2:00 pm and at other times by appointment.

I am researching Dorothea Dix. Do you have anything of interest?
Houghton Library has original manuscript material by Dorothea Dix and letters written by and to her. The finding aid for our Dorothea Dix collection is available online and includes links to the digitized daguerreotypes of Dix.

Before consulting original materials, however, we suggest that you look at some books about Dorothea Dix written by scholars who have studied many of the manuscripts and letters here. One of the most thorough of the more recent books about Dix may be available at your local library or through Interlibrary Loan (ask your librarian): Brown, Thomas. Dorothea Dix : New England Reformer, Harvard Historical Studies 127 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998).

Can I see the letters and manuscripts of T. S. Eliot?
Yes, but only if they have been published. Eliot’s unpublished materials are restricted, and permission to view items must be sought from Emma Cheshire, Editorial Assistant, Faber and Faber.

Please specify what material you wish to view and when you will be at Houghton in your correspondence, and be sure to bring your permission letter with you when you arrive to consult the items.

Can I access the archives of the Houghton Mifflin publishing company?
Houghton houses the historical archives of Houghton Mifflin Co., including editorial correspondence, contracts, and 19th- and 20th-century business papers, and they are open for research. The archive does not include copies of Houghton Mifflin’s publications.
There are several online finding aids for the cataloged parts of the collection in OASIS. Choose the Browse Finding Aids tab, Limit by repository = Houghton Library, enter “Houghton Mifflin” (without the quotation marks) in the Jump to box, and click GO.

Much of the 20th-century part of the archive remains uncataloged, but readers are welcome to look at all parts of the collection here in the Reading Room. We cannot make photocopies of uncataloged material. We are also unable to search for particular items in the unprocessed parts of the collection on a reader’s behalf due to its size and because much of the collection is stored off-site.

Can I consult the James family papers?
Yes, but since we have many papers related to the James family, you should narrow your search.

You can browse a list of finding aids associated with the James family by going to OASIS and choosing the Browse Finding Aids tab. Then choose Limit by repository = Houghton Library, enter “James” in the Jump to box (without the quotation marks), and click GO. You will then see a list of all the finding aids that have the James family or a member as a central figure: “James family”, “James, Henry”, and “James, William”, for example.

You should also use the Search function in OASIS as many other Houghton collections contain James material. If you were searching for Henry James material, you would search for “James, Henry” (be sure to use the quotation marks) in Personal Names, Limit by repository = Houghton Library, and click GO.

Transcriptions of some early letters to Henry James held at Houghton are available through the Early Letters by Various Correspondents to Henry James web site.

Which of Keats’ manuscripts and books are at Houghton?
Houghton has the most extensive collection of Keats materials in the world, thanks in large part to Arthur Houghton and Amy Lowell, both of whom donated their impressive collections. There is a room dedicated to Keats at Houghton that can be visited as part of the public tour on Fridays at 2:00 pm or at other times by appointment.

Keats’ manuscripts are restricted because of their extreme fragility. Photostat copies of poems and letters are available to anyone, as is the publication John Keats: Poetry Manuscripts at Harvard, A Facsimile Edition, ed. Jack Stillinger (Harvard University Press, 1990), which reproduces most of the poetry manuscripts. 

You can search the finding aids for Keats manuscripts by going to OASIS and choosing the Browse Finding Aids tab. Then choose Limit by repository = Houghton Library, Jump to = Keats, and click GO.

In HOLLIS, you can browse though the volumes held in the Keats room, which include Keats’ personal books, presentation volumes, and editions of his works, by doing a Basic Search with Search Type = Other call number and Search for = Keats. Permission of the Curator is also required to view Keats’s personal books and presentation copies.

Is it possible to see Robert Gould Shaw’s letters?
We have many of Robert Gould Shaw's letters here in manuscript, together with many other Shaw family papers. These papers are restricted because of fragility and readers must consult access copies. A digital copy of the papers is available online through OASIS. Alternatively, readers may consult the microfilm here at Houghton, or order a positive microfilm of the manuscript letters by writing to the Public Services Department at Houghton.

The letters are also available (and far more legible) in printed form, edited with a biographical introduction by Russell Duncan. Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Russell Duncan, ed. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992).

How can I consult the missionary papers in the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM)?
The main collection of ABCFM papers consists of documents, minutes and letters sent by the missionaries to the Board, arranged geographically by location of mission, then chronologically, then alphabetically by name of the missionary. The finding aid for the ABCFM papers at Houghton is available online.     

Many of the papers of the ABCFM have been published in microfilm format, and we ask readers to use the microfilm copies whenever possible. The microfilms are held next door to Houghton in the Government Documents Microtext division of Lamont Library.

You may also be able to order copies of these microfilms via interlibrary loan or find these reels in a library near you (ask your librarian to help you search the WorldCat database to find other holding libraries.) You can also order reels directly from the publisher, Primary Source Media.

The reel list for the microfilm series is available online.

Which ABCFM papers relate to Turkey or the Armenian massacres?
The microfilm of the papers originating in Turkey is listed below:

  • reels 561-581 ABC 16.9   volumes 1-20: European Turkey 1829-1909
  • reels 628-638 ABC 16.9.3 volumes 39-49: Western Turkey, 1910-1919
  • reels 667-672 ABC 16.9.5 volumes 21-26: Central Turkey, 1910-1919
  • reels 712-717 ABC 16.9.7 volumes 25A-28: Eastern Turkey, 1910-1919
    (The microfilm series ends in 1919, though we have additional volumes of original papers for the following years). 

There may be a great deal of material about the massacres in the volumes of documents and letters from Turkey in the years 1914 -1923, but we do not have this material cataloged by subject. The only material that has been cataloged by the ABCFM librarians under the subject “Armenian Massacres” covers the years 1895-1896. That material can be found on reel 639, ABC volume 3: “Western Turkey Mission. Miscellaneous. Letters and reports on Armenian Massacres in Turkey. 1895-1896.”

Are there any ABCFM papers related to the Cherokee or Maumee missions?
Yes, there are many documents in those papers pertaining to the Cherokee (Trail of Tears) and Maumee missions and their schools. Please see the finding aid for the North American Indian missions records.

There is a useful published guide to Cherokee documents that has many index entries relating to the mission schools: Kutsche, Paul. A Guide to Cherokee Documents in the Northeastern United States (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1986).

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Printing & Graphic Arts

How can I see which artists' books you have?
Houghton has an extensive collection of artists’ books that span the period from the mid-20th century to today. To see a list, go to the Expanded Search in HOLLIS, select Keywords from = Form/Genre, enter “Artists’ Books” in the Search for box, and click Search.

Is it possible to look at books and manuscripts illustrated by William Blake?
Since the Blake materials are restricted, anyone needing to look at the originals for research purposes must first receive permission from the Curator of the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts.

Some of Houghton’s holdings of Blake’s illuminated books have been digitized and are available online at The William Blake Archive, and many of Blake’s illustrated books have been reproduced in facsimile editions.

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Early Books & Manuscripts

How can I search for medieval manuscripts at Houghton?
Please see the Early Books and Manuscripts page for information about the Digital Medieval Manuscripts at Houghton Library project. Here you will find guidance on searching Houghton's medieval manuscripts as well as links to related bibliographies.

All pre-1600 manuscripts are restricted. Microfilms are available for most manuscripts and can be viewed in the Houghton Reading Room. Permission is required from the Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts or the Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts (for manuscripts classified as MS Typ) to view the originals.

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