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Research Guides

Manuscript and archival materials are unpublished documents produced by people and organizations.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. The UW Libraries Special Collections has collections 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 important writers, artists and activists and organizational records from labor unions, the University, important industries, conservation groups and local community and ethnic groups.Collections can include handwritten or typed letters, diaries, meeting minutes, newspaper clippings, photographs, financial records, oral history interviews, and more. Some collections may be a single folder containing a few letters while others can span hundreds of boxes containing thousands of documents.

Search Collection Guides via Archives West

A collection guide or finding aid is a detailed inventory of the content of a manuscript collection. Guides help researchers identify the boxes or folder of interest within a collection. A typical guide also provides background information on the organization or person who created the material, an overview of the collection and how it is arranged plus a detailed container list and any use restrictions. Archives West includes UW collection guides as well as access to collection guides available at other libraries in the Pacific Northwest.


Recommended Collections

Special Collections has photographs and papers for people and groups that lived and worked on Yesler Way. If you find a business, group, building, or person you are interested in, look to see if there are any collections in our finding aids that have materials on them. These are just a few collections that could be of use to your research, mostly focusing on some of the different neighborhoods Yesler goes through (Pioneer Square, Central District, and Leschi), as well as a more ephemeral collection (Historic Menus) which can give you some visual material as well as a feel for businesses in an area.

Other PNW Manuscript Repositories & Portals

These are just a selection of regional archival collections. Use Archives West to search for collections on specific people, organizations or topics.  

Local Research Collections

The following institutions have research collections that may contain useful information for your block.

Manuscript Material as Historical Evidence


  • Manuscript and archival materials are unique

Keep in Mind

  • Using manuscript material is much more time-consuming than more typical library research. Even though there are collection guides (sometimes called finding aids) listing the boxes and folders usually there is no way to know the exact content without scanning each document. 
  • "Expect to have to piece together evidence from various sources and not find a single document that tells the whole story."
  • It is essential to do preliminary research so that you can evaluate the relevance of manuscripts to your topic and place them in context.
  • Manuscripts are housed in Special Collections (located in the basement of Allen Library South). Opening hours are shorter (closed weekends and most evenings) and you will need to register, check in your personal belongings and fill out forms to request material. 

For more information on using manuscript material see: Using the CollectionsLearning to Do Historical Research: Sources Manuscripts and Archives & New to Archives and Special Collections (a guide from the University of Minnesota).