Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Social Sciences

Advisor 1

Terry S. Reynolds

Committee Member 1

Susan R. Martin

Committee Member 2

Steven A. Walton

Committee Member 3

Robert R. Johnson


This dissertation compares and contrasts the founding and early manuscript collecting activities of four publicly accessible American archival repositories known for their extensive holdings in business, industrial, and technological history: the Baker Library at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts; the Hagley Library and Museum in Wilmington, Delaware; the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.; and the Benson Ford Research Center at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan. It uses a historical narrative methodology and case study approach to consider how institutional contexts influenced appraisal and selection activities at these repositories during their formative years 1905-1983. The contexts considered include institutional mission, anticipated users, models inspiring their initial work, partner agencies and networks that supported their collecting activities, and the education and training of their staff. This study analyzes how these contexts affected the manuscript collections available for research today and why other records were ignored, passed over, or destroyed.

The first chapter situates the histories of these four case study institutions within the larger contexts of the history of libraries, museums, and archives in the United States, the expansion of interest in business history in the twentieth century, and existing literature about archival practice at institutions which collect manuscript records in business, industry, and technology. Chapters 2 through 5 examine each of the four case study institutions in detail, documenting their establishment, periods of rapid expansion, and ultimate stabilization. Chapter 6 provides comparative commentary and analysis. The study reveals the idiosyncratic nature of manuscript collecting at the four repositories. Acquisition was not guided by pre-established policies or guidelines at any of the four repositories, nor did the repositories have a standardized approach. Instead key individuals at each institution determined the direction of manuscript acquisition, usually in an ad hoc manner. Personality took primacy over written policy. The separate and often disparate approaches that resulted, however, led to the preservation of a much broader range of record formats, business types, and industrial sectors than might otherwise have survived.

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