For six years, Harvard Library has been working to make its vast collection of archival and manuscript materials from the colonial era accessible online. Today, approximately 650,000 digitized pages of handmade materials from the 17th and 18th centuries are available free to the public. Held in 14 repositories around the University, the works tell the tale of economic and social life in the colonies that would become the United States.
European exploration and colonialism in North America took place over several centuries and affected the lives of millions of people across multiple continents. The breadth and scope of these materials reflect this long history and its many dimensions. More than 200 years of colonial history are represented in these items, and their diversity in focus, format, and content reflects the complexities of the era in which they were created.
Each item in the collection is connected to countless stories — of lives lived quietly and extravagantly, of encounters peaceful and volatile, and of places near and far. These documents, illustrations, and letters provide an opportunity to travel back in time, to rethink familiar stories and discover new ones.
Major support for this multiyear project was generously provided by Arcadia, The Polonsky Foundation, James B. Adler through the Adler Preservation Fund, and Peter H. Darrow and William O. Nutting through a fund for the Colonial North America Digitization Project at the Harvard Library.