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Special Collections: African American Studies Research Guide

Manuscripts and Archival Collections

"Manuscripts" refers to a wide range of unpublished materials--such as handwritten and typed letters, documents, photographs, drawings, rough drafts, or maps--that are of personal, historical, political, and cultural importance with enduring research value.

Archival collections are records created or received by a person, family, or organization and preserved because of their continuing value. These primary sources are available in various formats, from documents to scrapbooks to contemporary digital images or email.

Historical documents pertaining to African Americans include items such as bills of sale for enslaved people, plantation inventory lists, manumission papers, and wills documenting the treatment of people as property. The Lincoln Collection at Delaware includes important copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, the presidential order issued by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 that declared "all people held as slaves are ... free,"  and a rare copy of the Thirteenth Amendment, signed by President Lincoln.

Researchers interested in contemporary issues of civil rights, Black nationalism, integration, and racial justice, will find an abundance of material in the American Propaganda collection, the Chris Oakley collection of Alternative Press, the Delaware Desegregation collection, and the Sir Joseph Gold political and miscellaneous ephemera collection. See the corresponding "Historical Sources" tab on this subject guide.

Literary manuscripts feature the comprehensive archives of major authors Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Ishmael Reed. Other writers, such as Ted Joans, Amiri Baraka, and Charles Wright are represented in manuscript collections. See the corresponding "Literary Sources" tab on this subject guide.

This research guide is not exhaustive and is not intended to be a complete index to manuscripts related to African Americans, but suggests some areas of research. It presents a selection of manuscripts and archives with brief descriptions of the materials. More detailed information about each collection is available through links to collection "finding aids." Researchers may learn more about the archival collection categories in Special Collections, search, and browse all archival collections through this catalog:

Use Suggested Search Terms available in the Finding Resources section of this research guide. The archival finding aids will provide biographical notes about the creator of the collection, scope notes about the research topics in the collection, information about how the collection is arranged (usually organized in sections called "series"), and detailed inventories of items in the collection. For assistance of any kind with manuscripts and archives, please contact a Librarian in Special Collections.