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American History & Culture

Presidential Portrait Tray, ca. 1897.
Susan H. Douglas Political Americana Collection

Students of American history will find a rich selection of manuscripts from the colonial and revolutionary war periods to the present. The Marquis de Lafayette, George Hyde Clarke, and the signers of the Declaration of Independence are all represented by personal papers and other documents. Civil War materials include holdings on Harriet Beecher Stowe and Lydia Maria Child, a prominent collection of antislavery materials, diaries, muster rolls, regimental histories, photographs, and a copy of the Gettysburg Address handwritten by Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

A regional history collection, begun in 1942, includes detailed documentation of everyday life in upstate New York. The Cornell University Archives, established in 1951, include university administrative records as well as personal papers of faculty members, students, administrators, and alumni. The archives also contain more than 100,000 photographs that provide a comprehensive portrait of university life.

The papers of Cornell University founder Ezra Cornell and other political figures provide a picture of nineteenth-century politics in upstate New York. The papers of Cornell presidents Andrew Dickson White and Jacob Gould Schurman and alumnus Willard D. Straight document diplomatic service in Germany, Russia, China, and the Philippines. The Susan H. Douglas Collection of Political Americana contains buttons, posters, textiles, and other artifacts from political campaigns dating back to 1828.

City and regional planning is featured in the papers of many of the nation’s first generation of planners and of major planning organizations. Ellen Shipman’s drawings highlight the collection’s strength in landscape architecture. The collection also includes thousands of architectural plans, drawings, and photographs for the more than 200 buildings on the Cornell campus.

One of the library’s newest collections documents human sexuality. Established in 1988 with a broad mandate to record and preserve the cultural and political contexts of sexuality, it was one of the first university collections of its kind. Particular attention is given to the history of gay, lesbian, and bisexual lives. Among the holdings are personal papers, historical records, and publications relating to gays and lesbians; erotic fiction; and records of AIDS activism and the personal papers of people with AIDS. The collection also examines the politics of pornography through court records documenting obscenity trials.

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