Special Collections and Archives
Special Collections and Archives hold primary source documents, rare books, and other unique materials. They are extremely valuable for historical research, and are often useful for research in other areas of the humanities and certain social sciences. Special collections are housed within libraries, and archives may be housed within a library or operate independently. The Woodson Research Center is Rice University’s special collections, housed within Fondren.
This guide covers:
- Woodson Research Center
- Searching Archival Collections Online
- Houston-Area Archives
When searching for special collections and archival materials, the website or platform you’re using will search one of two things:
These are searches for individual items–one photograph, one letter, or so on. They are accompanied by digital copies of the original item. The Rice Digital Scholarship Archive, WorldCat, Digital Public Library of America, and the National Archives search for individual items.
Finding aids are inventories of an archival collection with additional information, such as historical or biographical contexts and notes on access or use restrictions. ArchivesSpace, TARO, and ArchiveGrid all search finding aids. Finding aids provide more thorough documentation of special collections materials, since most special collections materials are not digitized.
Woodson Research Center
The Woodson Research Center is Rice University’s special collections center. The Woodson Research Center contains an enormous number of resources across a wide variety of collections. Rare book collections include the History of Science Collection, the Stockton Axson Collection of 18th Century British Drama, the Carroll and Harris Masterson Texana Collection, the Huxley Collection, and more. Manuscript collections cover topics as varied as World War II correspondence, theater programs, academic papers, architectural drawings, athletic memorabilia, and more.
Woodson Research Center materials are cataloged and can be found in OneSearch. This works best when you know in advance specifically what you’re looking for and that it is probably available in the Woodson Research Center. See an example search in OneSearch here.
ArchivesSpace is the platform the Woodson Research Center uses as an independent catalog for its materials. You can search for collections by keyword (or title or creator), within specified date ranges if desired. It’s also possible, using the “Search all record types” drop-down menu, to limit results to digitized collections.
Click on the title of a record you’re interested in to see its finding aid. You’ll be able to click through the inventory and search in the collection for specific items, and links to digital objects in the Rice Digital Scholarship Archive may appear.
Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO)
Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) is a search tool from the University of Texas that allows users to search for materials held by multiple special collections and archives across Texas. There are two ways to use TARO to find Woodson Research Center materials.
The first is to select “Woodson Research Center, Rice University” from the “Browse finding aids by repository” drop-down menu and click “Go.” This takes you to a complete list of Woodson’s collections.
If you are looking for a specific topic in Woodson, type your search term(s) into the search box and click “Search” to see results from all repositories. TARO does not search individual archival materials or digitized materials. TARO searches the finding aids of collections of materials.
TARO does not allow results to be limited to specific repositories from the homepage search. To see Woodson Research Center (or another specific archive’s) materials, retype your search terms in the “Find” box above the search results and select “Rice University, Fondren Library, Woodson Research Center” (or your desired archive’s name) from the “Limit your search to a repository” drop-down menu. Click “Search” to see updated results.
Click on the name of a guide or collection that interests you to access the finding aid. Be sure to check the collection’s restriction and description (accessible by scrolling down or using the links at the left of the page) to check that the collection is open for research and relevant to your research needs.
Rice Digital Scholarship Archive
The Rice Digital Scholarship Archive hosts several thousand digitized materials from the Woodson Research Center. (Woodson’s digitized materials related to Rice history are here, and Woodson’s copies of The Thresher are here.) Collections are stored together and browsable by name. They can be filtered by date, author, title, subject, or document type, and a search bar is available to search for keywords across the collections. Click the name of any collection you’re interested in to open it. Learn more on searching the Rice Digital Scholarship Archive here.
The collection materials will appear in a list with those most recently uploaded at the top. Individual collections have the same search bar and filter functions that Woodson’s main page does.
Click on the title of any record that interests you. A page with more detailed information and a link to “View/Open” the item will appear.
Portal to Texas History
The Portal to Texas History is a project from the University of North Texas that collects digitized primary source materials, especially newspapers, related to Texas history. Items are contributed by libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and other organizations from across the state. Some of the Woodson’s digitized materials, most notably The Thresher, are part of the collection.
To find Woodson Research Center materials, you can conduct a keyword search and refine your results by partner to “Rice University: Woodson Research Center.” Or, you can click the “Explore by” drop-down menu beneath the search bar, select “Partners,” and navigate to “Rice University: Woodson Research Center” for a list of Woodson materials in the Portal to Texas History, which you can search in and filter by serial (newspaper) titles, collections, resource types, locations, dates, and languages.
Searching Archives and Special Collections Online
Some of the same resources you can use to search the WRC can also be used to search archives and special collections across many institutions.
Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) is a search tool from the University of Texas that allows users to search for materials held by universities, public libraries, museums, the Texas State Archives, and other organizations from across the state.
Searching TARO is explained above. As mentioned in that section, TARO’s homepage allows you to search by repository or keyword, not both. Click “Advanced search options” underneath the “Searching the finding aids box” to construct more specific searches.
WorldCat combines the catalogs of over 70,000 libraries across the world. To find archival materials, fill out WorldCat’s search like you would for other materials, but check “Archival Materials” under “Limit type to.” There are also limiters for location if you only want to see results close to you. More information about WorldCat here.
Click on the record you want to see for more detailed information. If you didn’t limit your search to Rice’s library holdings, next to “Availability,” click “Libraries worldwide that own item” to see where it is held.
WorldCat does not contain images, finding aids, or digitized materials, so you will have to access any items of interest through their library. Special collections items are rarely ever part of interlibrary loan (ILL) programs. If you want to access an item in another library, you will probably have to visit in person. Some libraries will digitize items (usually for a fee), but you would have to visit the library’s website or call their special collections to learn more.
ArchiveGrid allows you to search archival finding aids from around the world. It hosts over 5,000,000 records from over 1,000 institutions, including universities, public libraries, museums, government agencies, arts organizations, and more.
There are two ways to search in ArchiveGrid: by keyword using the search bar at the top, or by institution using the map or the list below it.
To search by keyword, click on the search bar at the top right of the homepage and type your search term(s).
To view an archival collection’s record, click its title or “Read More.” ArchiveGrid contains only basic descriptions of collections, not digitized materials or complete finding aids. Contact information for the holding institution is provided, and if an online finding aid exists, it will be linked to under “Related Resources.” Topics, genres of documents, and people are also listed on the right side of the record, and you can use those links to locate related materials.
You can also search individual institutions on ArchiveGrid. For example, if you wanted to learn more about the special collections held by the New Orleans Public Library, you could scroll down to Louisiana on the list of locations below the map, select the library, and click “Search the Collections” on the map.
Portal to Texas History
The Portal to Texas History is a collection of digitized primary source materials, especially newspapers, related to Texas history. Items are contributed by libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and other organizations from across the state. For similar resources about other states, see this list from the Library of Congress.
The following is an example keyword search for Corpus Christi and hurricanes. The location has been limited to materials produced in Nueces County, where Corpus Christi is located, to avoid non-local results relaying events in Corpus Christi. If desired, the results could be refined further by partner institution, resource type, serial (e.g. newspaper, magazine) title, date, language, and so on.
Digital Public Library of America (dp.la)
The Digital Public Library of America (dp.la) collects a variety of primary source materials from libraries, archives, museums, and other institutions across the United States. Types of documents in the dp.la include photographs, books, maps, news footage, oral histories, museum objects, and government documents. All have freely available digitized versions.
To search the collections, type your keyword(s) into the search bar. Once the results appear, you will be able to use the filters at the left of the page to refine your results by document type, subject, date, location, and more. Below is an example search for public libraries narrowed to text documents.
To access an item, click its title or “View Full Item.” Clicking its title will lead you to more detailed information.
dp.la has two other features for accessing primary source documents by theme.
The first is Primary Source Sets, available by scrolling down on the homepage or from the label on the site’s top header. These collect a variety of documents related to the same topic, as well as links to additional resources.
The second is Browse by Topic. Browse by Topic is available underneath the search bar on the homepage or from the top header. It works similarly to Primary Source Sets, but features broader subjects and more organization of the included documents. As of summer 2019, this feature is still relatively new and is expected to grow.
The National Archives collects and preserves documents produced by the United States government. In addition to standard government documents, the National Archives also contains census records and veterans’ records, some of which is available online. For most academic research, “Research our Records” is probably most useful. Note: The National Archives site sometimes takes a long time to load.
From “Research Our Records,” you can access the National Archives’ catalog. You can also check “Research a Specific Topic,” which is most helpful for research about founding documents, military records, genealogy, westward expansion, maps, elections, maritime records, and other broad, commonly researched topics. For narrower or less “popular” topics, you’ll want to use the catalog. Searching in the National Archives’ catalog works like other library catalogs.
Click the eyeglass icon to search. You can use the tabs above the results to limit your results to records available online, and the filters at the right can be used to refine results by data source, material type, digital file format, location, date, and so on. The following is an example search for “Tennessee Valley Authority” limited to records available online.
Click on a record’s title to access more information about it, as well as a digitized image if the record is available online.
Some digital records have been transcribed by volunteers. Transcriptions can be accessed by clicking “View/Add Contributions” at the bottom right of an item’s image. Any transcriptions are located underneath the “Transcribe” tab.
Outside of the Woodson Research Center, there are a variety of archives in and around Houston. Links and brief descriptions are below. Keep in mind that special collections and archives do not have the same generally open policies as libraries, so make sure to contact institutions beforehand to inquire about and arrange access to materials.
The African American Library at the Gregory School is part of the Houston Public Library system. Special collections materials include photographs, the personal and professional papers of various African-American Houstonians, local African-American newspapers, and obituaries and funeral programs.
The Fred Parks Law Library serves the South Texas College of Law. Its special collections include rare books related to legal history and archival collections related to Houston’s legal history, including trial materials from the Pennzoil v. Texaco case.
The Gulf Coast Archive collects materials related to LGBT history in the Texas Gulf Coast region. Materials include photographs, radio show recordings, and LGBT newspapers.
The Boniuk Library at the Holocaust Museum Houston holds a variety of unique materials, including rare books, self-published and unpublished memoirs of Holocaust survivors, and oral histories.
The Hospitality Industry Archives are housed at the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. Materials include photographs, menus, memorabilia, and corporate papers, including from major industry companies, such as Marriott International, Westin Hotels, and Best Western International.
The Houston Grand Opera Archives contains programs, artists’ files, production records, video recordings, financial records, photographs, and more from the Houston Grand Opera.
The Houston Metropolitan Research Center is the main special collections center of the Houston Public Library. Materials include photographs, architectural drawings, directories, and maps documenting Houston’s history; KHOU TV newscasts from the 1960s and 1970s; a variety of local newspapers, including African-American and Jewish papers; rare children’s books, and more.
The Houston Symphony Archives include concert programs, press releases, departmental records, photographs, audiovisual recordings, and more produced by the Houston Symphony.
Housed at the Texas Medical Center Library, the McGovern Historical Center collects materials related to the history of medicine, with a focus on Texas. Collections include rare books, Texas health facilities postcards, records of Texas physicians, medical artwork, and records from the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.
Housed at MD Anderson’s Research Medical Library, the Historical Resource Center collects materials related to MD Anderson’s institutional history and related subjects. Collections include rare books on the history of cancer, the Children’s Art Project, and historical photographs of the Texas Medical Center.
The Blocker History of Medicine Collection is the largest collection of its kind in the southern United States. Materials include rare books on the history of medicine, records of various professional organizations, anatomical drawings, hospital postcards, medical artifacts, and more. Note: in Galveston.
The MFAH Archives document more than 100 years of the museum’s history, as well as materials related to the artistic and cultural history of Houston.
The special collections and archives of Prairie View A&M University include the papers of Representative Wilhelmina Delco and Dr. Harold M. Hyman, as well as the personal library of Dr. Robert King. Note: in Prairie View.
The Robert J. Terry Library serves Texas Southern University. Its special collections include the Heartman Collection, one of the largest collections of materials related to African-American history in the country. Other collecrions include the papers of the Houston League of Business and Professional Women and the papers of several African-American Texas state legislators.
The Rosenberg Library is a public library in Galveston. The special collections in its Galveston and Texas History Center include archival materials, photographs, and oral histories related primarily to the history of Galveston, but also Texas in general. Note: in Galveston.
The Herzstein Library at the San Jacinto Museum of History houses a variety of archival materials, including colonial grants, papal bulls, records of haciendas, diaries, correspondence, scrapbooks, deed records, and government documents related to Texas history from the colonial period through the twentieth century. Note: in La Porte.
The University of Houston Clear Lake’s special collections include the personal papers of individuals involved in human space flights, as well as records related to NASA’s manned space flight activities, such as Apollo and Skylab.
The University of Houston’s special collections include a wide range of materials. Collections include architectural records related to Houston, the records of various women’s organizations, the personal papers of local authors, materials related to the Arte Publico Press, materials related to hip hop in Houston, the records of some Houston-area performing arts organizations, rare books dating from the medieval period, and more general materials related to Texas and Houston history.