How to Search the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ Collections Online


Search the Smithsonian Institution Archives Collections

The Archives’ Collection Search helps researchers find all of the records that have been digitized and cataloged to date. Please note that the majority (but not all) of the Archives’ collections have online finding aids which staff are constantly adding to and updating for the collections search.

Finding Aids to the Collections are guides to the Archives’ collections and include general descriptions of materials, box/folder inventories of collection contents, and information on access and citation policies. The Archives provides online access to selected individual images, documents, and oral/video histories.

The Archives’ Reference Team is also available to help researchers locate the materials they require, and answer general Smithsonian history questions via the Reference Inquiry Form.

The Smithsonian Institution holds millions of other collections across its units. For reference inquiries pertaining to collections across all the Smithsonian’s museums, research centers, libraries, and archives, please visit the Smithsonian collection page which guides you to collections both onsite and online.

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Additional Ways to Browse and Discover Smithsonian Institution Archives Collections

Browse Archives Collections by Topic

The Archives continues to digitize records and develop topical searches that will be continuously added to the Archives’ online Collection Search. Currently the Collection Search allows researchers to focus searches on:

  • Smithsonian Records Browse official records created at Smithsonian Institution museums, research centers, archives, and libraries, now in the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ collections.
  • Oral Histories Browse oral and video history collections containing interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff, and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution.
  • Smithsonian Secretaries Browse records and papers of Smithsonian Secretaries (the equivalent of the Smithsonian CEO) who have served the Institution from 1846 to today.
  • Personal Papers Browse papers and special collections created by institutions and persons who have contributed to and collaborated with the Smithsonian.
  • Professional Society Records Browse records of professional societies closely associated with the Smithsonian, that focus on areas of scientific research and museum studies.
  • Expeditions Browse records and papers documenting scientific and collecting expeditions either affiliated with the Smithsonian or with Smithsonian research participants.
  • Smithsonian Museums and Research Centers Browse records and papers documenting the history and research of major Smithsonian units.
  • Field Books Browse field books (primary source documents that describe the events leading up to and including the collection of specimens or observations during field research).

Databases at the Smithsonian Institution Archives

  • History of the Smithsonian Catalog. Access a special search page for more specific queries across the five databases documenting the history of the Smithsonian: Smithsonian History Bibliography, Smithsonian History Chronology, Smithsonian Legal Documents, Historic Images of the Smithsonian, and Smithsonian Board of Regents. Results can be limited to a single database or sorted by database. Although these records are also available on the Smithsonian Archives Collections Search page, this catalog allows you to search a single database, select the combined keyword search screen, and limit your search to that database. To use the browse function for a single database, use the limit function on your results screen. See Special Topics tab at the top of the page for pre-set searches on special topics on the history of the Smithsonian.
  • Joseph Henry Papers Document Database. This database is an item-level index of documents related to Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Each document is described by author, recipient, date, repository, and number of pages. Currently, this database is not available online, however, you can contact the Institutional History Division for additional information.
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Other Online Resources for U.S. and Local Washington D.C. History Information

Sources within the Smithsonian

Sources outside the Smithsonian