Subject Guide: Archival Collections at Area Small Repositories

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Subject Guide: Archival Collections at Area Small Repositories

The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR), a project of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, uncovered hundreds of hidden collections held by the many small archival repositories in the five-county Philadelphia region. Some of the collections cataloged in the HCI-PSAR project are summarized in this subject guide, which is designed to facilitate and encourage research at small repositories. The guide is not comprehensive and has not been updated since the project's completion in 2016, but will serve to highlight underutilized collections and reveal the depth and breadth of resources available at small repositories.

Finding aids to all small repository archival collections surveyed in the HCI-PSAR project are available at our finding aid website, hosted by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries

Arts and Culture

Philadelphia and the surrounding region have a rich history in culture and the arts. Many small repositories have personal and family papers as well as the records of institutions and associations that relate to the visual and performing arts, music, and horticulture and landscape.


Business and Industry

Personal papers, family papers, and institutional records document various businesses and industries in Philadelphia and the surrounding region. Some of the industries represented include real estate, manufacturing and farming, railroads, and the legal profession.


Community and Social Services

Small repositories hold a significant amount of collections that relate to education, service organizations, religious institutions, and orphanages. Also included are collections from Eastern State Penitentiary, the world's first true "penitentiary," that opened in Philadelphia in 1829.


Family and personal papers

Family and personal papers at small archival repositories document the lives of Philadelphia-area residents in the 19th and 20th centuries.



The genealogy resources available at many small repositories include primary source records, such as membership registers and funeral records; genealogy research papers that were collected by individuals or family associations; and family files maintained by the repositories that consist of alphabetical files on local individuals or families with copies of newspaper clippings, obituaries, family trees, and narrative family histories.


Nature, Technology, and Medicine

Some of the most important naturalists in American history, John Bartram and John James Audubon, both called the Philadelphia area home. Archival collections documenting their lives, as well as numerous environmental groups, inventors, doctors, and scientists are held at small repositories.


Planning, Development, and Preservation

Collections that fall under this category include those that document urban planning and development in Philadelphia, as well as those that relate to the suburban sprawl that affected many areas outside the city beginning in the mid 20th-century.  A few collections also document preseveration and revitalization initiatives.


Politics and Governance

Records of municipal governments and politicians' papers illustrate individual lives and fit into larger narratives of national politics and events. Small repositories hold important archival collections relating to politics and governance, including the papers of Pennsylvania Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker.


Race, Class, and Gender

Small repositories represent the diversity of inhabitants in the five-county Philadelphia area. Archival collections document the lives of African Americans, ethnic and immigrant communities, LGBT individuals, and union members.


Recreation and Travel

The Philadelphia area's small archival repositories are rich in resources relating to the recreation clubs and world travel, including records of one of the oldest clubs in the country devoted to sport (Philadelphia Cricket Club) and the evangelical missionary and international explorer who was most likely the first individual to travel the entire Great Wall of China (William Edgar Geil).


Wars and Military Service

Small repositories contain a wealth of archival material about the military service of Philadelphia-area residents. Particularly rich in documentation of World War II and Civil War veterans, small repositories also hold collections relating World War I, the Spanish American War, and other battles, as well as military service generally.


Women's History

Women's contributions to arts and culture, community and social service, and science, medicine and technology are documented in archival collections held at small repositories.