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Collection Description of the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division

William Still; The underground railroad.William Still; The underground railroad.The Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division collects, preserves and makes available for research purposes rare, unique and primary materials which document the history and culture of peoples of African descent throughout the world, with a concentration on the Americas and the Caribbean.

The division's holdings include personal papers; records of organizations and institutions; subject or thematic collections; literary and scholarly typescripts and playscripts; sheet music; broadsides; programs and playbills; ephemera; and, rare books. Materials are collected in most languages, although the bulk of the holdings are in English, French and Spanish. In addition, the division is responsible for the records of the Center.

The division's manuscript holdings, including some in microform, cover the history, literature, politics, and culture of peoples of African descent in the Americas, Africa and England, primarily in the twentieth century. Subject emphasis includes: the performing and visual arts; women in the United States; Haitian history; African American religion; the social, cultural and political history of Harlem; twentieth century writers from the United States and the Caribbean; education in Africa and the United States; civil rights organizations and activities; research files of scholars and intellectuals; and papers and records of individuals and organizations documenting radical political movements.

The Literary and Scholarly Typescripts Collection covers a wide range of subjects and literary genres, as well as historical, sociological and anthropological works, dating primarily from the early twentieth century. Included are manuscripts of books, articles, essays, short stories, poetry, speeches and scholarly papers. The playscripts collection consists of published and unpublished plays, and includes plays by important Black playwrights.

The sheet music collection contains vocal and instrumental compositions and includes the following genres: spirituals, secular folk songs, ragtime, blues, jazz, gospel, popular songs, show tunes and European classical music by composers of African descent. Geographic coverage is primarily for the United States, the Caribbean and Africa.

The broadsides, programs and playbills collections primarily document theatrical, cultural, social and political events in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the present.

The rare book holdings date from the late sixteenth through the twentieth centuries, although the bulk of the titles are pre-1865 imprints. Languages represented in the collection are primarily English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, and Latin. Subject coverage includes the following broad categories: slavery in the Americas; anti-slavery issues in the United States and the Caribbean; travel narratives in Africa and the Americas; and biography, history, literature and religion. In addition, the collection contains first, early and variant editions by Black authors up to 1901, works by authors of the Harlem Renaissance period and prize- winning titles by Black authors up to the present.

Collection Strengths

The manuscripts and archival collections are strongest for the twentieth century in the areas of the performing arts, women, Harlem, African American writers, civil rights organizations and activities, manuscripts and research files of historians and other scholars, papers and records of individuals and organizations documenting radical political movements, religion, and eighteenth and nineteenth century Haitian history. Geographic concentration within the manuscripts collection is primarily in the United States.

The sheet music collection strengths lie in spirituals, jazz from the 1930s and 1940s period, and popular songs.

Subject and genre strength for the rare book collection include slavery and anti-slavery in the United States; fiction; travel narratives in the Americas and Africa; history of Blacks in the United States and Caribbean; biography; and, poetry. In addition, the collection has one of the finest representative collections of works by authors of the Harlem Renaissance, nineteenth century Black women authors, and monographs published during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by and about Black people.