The Columbia University Archives preserves the institutional memory of Columbia University from its founding in 1754 to the present day. Among its holdings are non-current official University records, publications, master’s essays, photographs, scrapbooks, artifacts and a variety of other materials related to student life, faculty and alumni. In addition to the popular resources noted below, please be sure to consult the Archival Collections Portal to find even more collections held at the University Archives and the various other Columbia University archival repositories.
- Buildings & Grounds Collection
- Central Files (Office of the President Records)
- Columbia College Papers
- Columbiana Library
- Historical Biographical Files
- Historical Subject Files
- Office of the Provost Records
- Oral Histories
- Photograph & Negatives
- Protests and Activism Collection
- Trustee Minutes
Buildings & Grounds Collection
Compiled over the years by University Archives staff, the Building and Grounds Collection contains materials relating to Columbia University’s buildings and grounds on the three sites that have served as the University's main campus (Park Place, 49th Street & Madison Avenue and Morningside Heights) as well as other real estate used by the University, such as the Medical Center at 168th Street, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in the Palisades, NY, and Baker Field in Upper Manhattan. It contains floor plans and correspondence related to the construction and maintenance of buildings, as well as information about Columbia University’s grounds: gates, walkways, outdoor sculpture, and landscaping. The collection includes maps, press clippings, images, and administrative reports - all of which are useful if you are trying to trace the history of a particular building, campus or campus feature. The bulk of the material consists of specific files of information for buildings on the Morningside Heights campus. Please consult the Historical Photograph Collection if you are looking for buildings and grounds photographs.
Central Files (Office of the President Records)
Central Files contain the core administrative records of the University. The records that comprise Central Files originated in the Office of the President starting in the 1890s and continue through the present. Central Files chiefly contains correspondence (sent and received) between Columbia University administrators and other University officers, faculty, trustees, and individuals and organizations from outside the University. Other records in the files include: reports, budgets, proposals, minutes and agenda, legal documents, personnel records, invitations, pamphlets, publications, floor plans, petitions, fliers, press releases, and speeches. Records represent the tenure of presidents Seth Low (1890-1901), Nicholas Murray Butler (1902-1945), acting president Frank D. Fackenthal (1945-1948), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1948-1953), Grayson Kirk (1953-1968), Andrew Cordier (1968-1970), and William J. McGill (1970-1980). The first few years of the tenure of President Michael I. Sovern (1980-1993) are also represented.
Due to the nature of these records, Central Files are closed for 25 years after their creation.
Columbia College Papers
Columbia College Papers is cataloged at the item level and contains the surviving files of official correspondence, reports, documents, and printed materials of King's College from 1750 to 1784 and Columbia College from 1785 to 1890, as well as Columbia University up to 1964. The King's College era materials include correspondence, grants, deeds, indentures, lists of governors, leases, accounts, etc. The Columbia College era papers commences with documentation regarding the attempts to revive the college at the end of the American Revolution. In the later period these papers primarily supplement and document the minutes of the meetings of the Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees. Much material was destroyed and scattered in the late 19th century leaving this collection quite incomplete.
In addition to manuscript materials, the University Archives is also home to the Columbiana Library which contains publications created by the University (e.g., annual reports, course bulletins, yearbooks, directories) as well as books on topics related to Columbia University and individuals associated with the institution. The book collection has its own call number system which was created by Melvil Dewey in the late nineteenth century. While some Columbiana books are found by searching CLIO, many are still only found by searching the card catalog found in the reading room. This paper catalog also has the added benefit of containing citations for specific articles found in major university publications such as Columbia University Quarterly and Columbia Alumni News.
The University Archives collects publications produced by Columbia University schools, departments, central administration, and student organizations. Our current holdings do not always contain full runs of a given publication, nor do they include every publication created by a Columbia unit or affiliate. However, many out-of-print and current publications can be found here. Notable publications in the collection include the Columbia University Alumni News, Columbia College Today, Columbia Magazine and the Columbia University Quarterly, as well as the student newspaper The Columbia University Spectator and the student humor magazine The Jester. Publications are non-circulating and can be found by searching Columbia's online catalog CLIO or by consulting our in-house card catalog.
If you have copies of any University publications you are interested in donating to the Archives, please visit our Donating Materials page.
The Columbia University Bulletins, also known at different points in the University's history as Bulletins of Information, Catalogues, or Announcements, are key resources for studying the curricula of Columbia University's many schools. The bulletins, published every academic year for each of the major academic schools and colleges of the University, contain a schedule of classes with course descriptions and the name of the instructor. Additionally, they outline degree requirements for each program and contain general information on admission, registration, fees, the academic calendar, and general policies for the college or school in question. We have nearly full runs of these bulletins dating from the mid-19th century until the early 2000s. Some of the more recent versions of these publications were only web-published. Some online course information may be able to be accessed via our web archiving captures, but not all online course information is necessarily available via the University Archives.
Yearbooks, Facebooks and Class Books
Yearbooks, Facebooks, and Class Books are a good source of information about former students, student activities, and the composition of the student body over the years. The University Archives collections include an extensive run of yearbooks from Columbia College (The Columbiad and later The Columbian) dating from 1869 to the present, as well as a representation of yearbooks from other schools of the University and a complete run of those for the Midshipmen's School (Side Boy), which was on campus during World War II. Incomplete runs of yearbooks for the School of Engineering and Applied Science (The Miner and later The Engineer), the Graduate School of Journalism, and the Graduate School of Business are also available. You can use the Yearbook, Facebooks and Class Books finding aid to see the University Archives holdings and to request volumes for use in the reading room. Some of our copies may not be in the best conditions so we are seeking second copies for a select number of years. If you have a copy of The Columbian or The Engineer from these years that you wish to donate, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to yearbooks, the University Archives also holds incomplete runs of Columbia College Freshman Facebooks (1950s-2008), Columbia College Senior Class Books (1867-1920), and reunion publications for Columbia College classes starting from the late 19th century. The senior class books often contain more detailed information about graduates than what is noted in the corresponding yearbook. You can use the Yearbook, Facebooks and Class Books finding aid to see the University Archives holdings and to request volumes for use in the reading room. You can also request to view the Graduate School of Journalism Facebooks.
Not all yearbooks and class books have been digitized, but a small selection is available from other repositories.
Historical Biographical Files
The Historical Biographical Files, a collection compiled by Columbiana curators and University Archives staff, contain general information about individual alumni, faculty, officers and other notable Columbians. In fact, these files can contain information on anyone who has had any sort of connection to Columbia over the years - including those who have lectured here or obtained honorary degrees. A typical file might contain newspaper clippings, press releases, obituaries, and other published documents that provide short descriptions of the individual's accomplishments and activity. Occasionally, files also contain primary documents such as correspondence. The collection is not limited to Columbia-specific material, so it can be a good source of information about a person's life before or after their time at the university.
Historical Subject Files
The Historical Subject Files consists of clippings, press releases, programs, and other printed matter compiled over the years by curators of the Columbiana Collection and staff of the University Archives. The files contain an assortment of information on numerous topics related to Columbia University history from the 18th century to the present and are a very good reference source and starting point for research on many areas of Columbia's past. Among the subject areas addressed in these files are academics and research, alumni, events, faculty, administration, the libraries, student life, fellowships and scholarships, university symbols, and publications.
Office of the Provost Records
For additional information about academics, faculty, and student life, please consult the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs records (1939-2006). The records include documentation on the administration, development, and history of departments, programs, research institutes and centers, schools, and academic services. The files include correspondence between the Office of the Vice President and/or Provost and administrators, committee members, deans, department chairs, donors, faculty members, foundations, offices, and students. These files also contain agendas, agreements, background information, budgets, committee materials, legal documents, memoranda, minutes, proposals, questionnaires, personnel records, policy statements, reports, statistical data, and surveys.
Due to the nature of these records, Office of the Provost Records are closed for 25 years after their creation.
The Columbia Center for Oral History (CCOH) was founded by Columbia History professor and journalist Allan Nevins in 1948 and is credited with launching the establishment of oral history archives internationally. At over 15,000 interviews, the Oral History Archives is one of the largest oral history collections in the United States. It includes many interviews with Columbia alumni, faculty and staff. You can find lists of Columbia University-related oral histories in their research guide or use the online catalogue CLIO to search their collections.
Photographs & Negatives
Finding Aids linked to within the text below
The Archives maintains an extensive collection of University-related images dating from the mid-19th century to the present. Formats include black and white gelatin silver negatives and prints; color negatives, prints, and slides; albumen prints; cyanotypes; lithographs; salt prints; postcards and digital images. The bulk of the collection consists of black and white gelatin negatives and prints and is strongest from the early 20th century through the 1970s.
The Historical Photograph Collection (HPC) is our largest collection of images and includes portraits of individuals (ca. 34,000 items), images of buildings and grounds (ca. 12,000 items), various university events, student activities and student life, athletics, academics, university symbols, university administration, and campus activity during WWI and WWII.
The Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection is another very large image collection consisting of several smaller accessions. This collection contains prints, a very large number of photographic negatives covering the 20th century, color slides, images of the 1968 protests on campus, and very recent image files from the early 21st century in print, negative, and digital formats. The negatives in this collection are often the best source for finding images of more recent events.
There are also a number of smaller image collections available for consultation including:
- Class Photograph Albums, 1856-1902
- The Columbia Spectator Photograph Collection (photographs once maintained and used by the Columbia Daily Spectator)
- Columbia University Faculty Photograph Collection
- Graduate School of Journalism Photographs Collection
- John Mladinov Photograph Collection, 1939-1942
- Women’s Graduate Club Portrait Collection
If one is searching for portraits of individuals it is recommended to search the Historical Photograph Collection, Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection, Columbia Spectator Photograph Collection, and the Columbia University Faculty Photograph Collection. As an aid to finding portraits of individuals you may also wish to consult the excel spreadsheet of "Portraits” linked to from this website. This document is not necessarily comprehensive, but it does note the locations of the majority of the portraits found across these various collections.
Images of the Varsity Show can be found within the Varsity Show Records.
Additional 1968 protest images can be found within the University Protest and Activism Collection.
Protest & Activism Collection
The Protest and Activism Collection is an excellent source for researchers interested in the campus turmoil of the spring of 1968. Containing flyers, correspondence, news clippings, press releases, transcripts of electronic media reports, memoranda, legal documents, meeting minutes, and photographic prints and negatives, this collection provides access to the myriad of viewpoints on campus at that time. There is also extensive documentation of a number of student organizations, notably the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which was instrumental in organizing demonstrations and other strike activities. Although the main focus of this collection is on what transpired in 1968, materials also document events leading up to the April 1968 strike, the aftermath of those events, as well as subsequent student strikes in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972.
The University Archives maintains copies of all of the Minutes of the Board of Trustees from 1754 to the present. These are a particularly useful tool for tracing the history of a department, a specific school's development, or university governance. The Minutes provide official information about numerous topics in the history of Columbia including university governance (e.g., changes to the University statutes), teaching appointments, awards of honorary degrees and certain prizes, endowments, donations of money and materials, real estate purchases, appointments to the Board of Trustees and its various committees, and construction projects. The minutes also often comment (both directly and indirectly) on major national events (e.g. Abraham Lincoln's assassination) and include resolutions of appreciation for significant individuals, usually associated with the Board. Minutes created since 2005-2006 are in electronic format only.
Due to the nature of these records, Trustee Minutes are closed for 50 years after their creation.