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Special Collections Research Guide: Manuscript Collections

This guide describes types of material available in Special Collections and provides tips for finding resources.

About Manuscripts

While some collections may contain handwritten documents, it is common to find a variety of documents such as printed articles, reports, subject files, and memorabilia.

Collections can be small - containing a single document - or quite large, containing hundreds of boxes.

Manuscript Collections

A manuscript collection contains a variety of materials and may include letters, journals, publications, writings, or business papers.  Collections may be centered around an individual (Cornelius Vanderbilt), an organization (Vanderbilt Aid Society), or a specialized topic (Vandy Goes to War Oral History Project).  Warner Prize letter to E.E. Barnard, 1882

While the term “manuscript” technically refers to handwritten material, a collection may contain a variety of different formats including handwritten letters, typed articles or manuscripts, photographs, film reels, audio cassettes, reel-to-reel recordings, VHS cassettes or DVDs, floppy disks, and other material. 

Highlights of some of these collections include the papers of: Delbert Mann, director of hundreds of film and television productions; Francis Robinson, director of the Metropolitan Opera; Kelly Miller Smith, Divinity School assistant dean and civil rights activist; and William Giles Harding, Civil War general and founder of the Belle Meade Plantation.

Historically, Special Collections created finding aids (a box by box contents list for a collection) for its manuscript collections which were kept in file cabinets in the Reading Room.  These guides are now listed in the library catalog and digitized for display online to assist researchers in locating material.  Currently, there are more guides listed on the website than are listed in the library catalog.  Browse the alphabetical list or the subject guide for a complete list of these collections.

Public Services Archivist

Teresa Gray's picture
Teresa Gray
Special Collections & University Archives