Introducing Unfolding History: Manuscripts at the Library of Congress

Manuscript Division archivists make sense of materials that often come to them folded, bundled, stacked, or mangled. Pictured is a suitcase holding an addition to the papers of actor-director Eva Le Gallienne. It turned out to hold a letter from half-sister Hesper describing ships massing on the English coast for D-Day, and setting out for France “like ghosts in the pale light.”

The Manuscript Division is starting their own blog, as their treasure trove of documents is both (a) amazing and (b) endless. This introductory post was written by Josh Levy, a historian of science and technology in that division. 

There are a lot of stories folded into the collections of the Library’s Manuscript Division, and it’s time to share them in a new way.

Those stories come from one of the world’s most extensive archives related to American history. They are found in collections that document our political, social, cultural, military, and scientific pasts. And there are a lot of collections: more than 12,000 of them, which together encompass more than 70 million items. Among them are the personal papers of presidents and artists, judges and activists, generals and poets, scientists and nurses, and transformative organizations like the NAACP and the Works Progress Administration. More are added every year.

Unfolding History: Manuscripts at the Library of Congress is a new blog that aims to offer a wider window into those collections. Here, our historians, archivists, and reference librarians will share stories about exciting new discoveries and items that catch their eye.

We’ll pull back the curtain on the whole life cycle of an archival collection, from its arrival at our doorstep – sometimes in perfect order, sometimes in a jumbled mass – to the intricate puzzle work our archivists do to make it accessible, to the evolving insights it yields as our reference librarians and historians help researchers explore it over and over again, across generations. In other words, we’ll bring you into the fold. And bring you stories we hope will spark new research ideas, find their way into your classrooms, and pause your scrolling during lunch hour.

So join us, as the Manuscript Division works to collect the unique documents, digital files, and objects that can help current and future generations probe, understand, and continually reconsider what matters about our past and present. Join us, as history unfolds.


The “Day Dream” of Billy Strayhorn’s Music

Billy Strayhorn was an American jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and lyricist, most often working for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He wrote “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Lush Life,” “Chelsea Bridge,” “Day Dream” and dozens of other standards. His papers are collected at the Library of Congress.

By the People: Transcribe Early Copyright Applications

The Library’s newest crowdsourcing campaign, American Creativity: Early Copyright Title Pages, is now online and ready for your amusement, education and transcription. It features the great (and not so great) ideas of yesteryear in copyright applications from 1790 to 1870, which recorded the young nation’s attempts to capitalize on the present and transform the future.