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Research Guides

HSTRY 498: Civil Rights & Labor Movements in the Pacific Northwest: Manuscript Collections

What are manuscripts & archives?

 Examples of manuscript material

Manuscripts and archives are unique documents (handwritten or typed letters, diaries, meeting minutes, photographs, financial records, etc.) produced by people and organizations. Manuscripts generally refer to personal papers while archives usually refer to organizational, institutional or business records. Oftentimes the terms are used interchangeably. Some collections may be a single folder containing a few letters while others can span hundreds of boxes containing thousands of documents.

The UW Libraries Special Collections contains manuscripts and archival records that document the history and culture of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Included in the collection are personal papers of early pioneers and settlers, labor and civic leaders, citizen activists and politicians and others plus organizational records from labor unions, the University, important industries, conservation groups and local community and ethnic groups. 

To identify possible manuscript collections search Archives West for names of people and organizations and by topic. Each collection will have a collection guide/finding aid that will list the general contents of the collection. Use the collection guide to identify specific boxes or folders that you would like to view. Make an appointment with Special Collections to view the material.

Search Archives West


Other PNW Collections

These are just a selection of regional archival collections. Use Archives West to search for collections on specific people, organizations or topics located in manuscript collections across the Pacific Northwest (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington & Utah). Also check with local historical societies and museums.

Collections Elsewhere

These are a selection of sources to identify archival collections as well as some catalogs to specific major collections and directories of repositories.

Tips When Using Manuscript Collections

Research using manuscript material is different from more typical library research. The unique nature of the material dictates that there are stricter security procedures -- users need to register, manuscript materials need to be requested, personal belongings are placed in lockers, scanning is limited, etc. The following tips can help you when using the manuscript material in Special Collections:

  • Check Special Collections hours, they are open fewer hours than the rest of the library.
  • Make an appointment to come in and use the collection. Special Collections is located in the basement of Allen Library South.
  • Read Using the Collections.
  • Do preliminary research first so that you can place the manuscript material in historical context. Since manuscripts tend to be either personal papers or organizational records, it is essential to know the important people and groups associated with your research topic.
  • Make sure the collections you need are housed on site. Some collections are kept off-campus and must be requested prior to use. If this information is not provided in the collection guide, contact Special Collections to check.
  • Peruse the online collection guide prior to using this collection so that you can identify the boxes and folders you will need to examine.
  • Allocate sufficient time. Research using manuscript material takes time.
  • Ask permission to use your phone to take photos of items. Taking photos of material is usually the most efficient use of your limited time. Consider using Tropy to organize the photos.