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Frequently Asked Questions


What is a primary source? A manuscript? An archives?

A simple description of a primary source is any kind of recording of life or events made roughly at the same time as that event, such as a letter, photograph, diary entry, scrapbook, or newspaper article. Many primary sources exist in only one or a few copies and are therefore unique or rare.

The term manuscript is used to describe an original handwritten, typed or printed document that has not been published. A manuscript collection generally refers to a collection of personal papers including correspondence, diaries, unpublished writings, research files, scrapbooks, photographs, and memorabilia.

The term archive is defined as a collection of “noncurrent records of an organization or institution preserved because of their continuing value” [from “A Basic Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators and Records Managers,” Evans et al. The American Archivist: Vol. 37, No. 3] However the term is often used in a general way to refer to both institutional archives as well as manuscript collections.

For more information of finding and using primary sources, see the 5 College Archives Research Guide.

How can I find out the value of some papers I have?

SSC staff are prohibited from appraising the monetary value of papers due to potential conflict of interest. Professional book and manuscript appraisers and many booksellers can help.

Is there an archives that would want our family's papers or organization's records?

There may well be. SSC staff may be able to help you find a repository.

What's the difference between the Sophia Smith Collection and the Smith College Archives?

There are three Special Collections units in the Smith College Libraries: the Sophia Smith Collection, the College Archives and the Mortimer Rare Book Room. The SSC and College Archives are both located in the Alumnae Gym and share a reading room but they are two distinct collections.

The College Archives collects, preserves, and makes accessible the official records of the Smith College; materials created by students, faculty, and staff during their time at the college and other materials which document the history of the College and student life.

The Sophia Smith Collection is an internationally recognized collection of personal and family papers, organization records, periodicals, subject collections, books, and periodicals on the history of women. Read more About…

Do you have to have a Smith connection for your papers to be in the Sophia Smith Collection?

No, although some of the women whose papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection do have a Smith connection, the SSC's mission is to document the history of women-especially those whose papers or records fill a gap in the historical record and are within our current collecting policies or priorities.

Subject strengths include birth control and reproductive rights, women's rights, suffrage, the contemporary women's movement across race, class, and sexual orientation, U.S. women working abroad, the arts (especially theatre), the professions (especially journalism and social work), and middle-class family life in nineteenth- and twentieth-century New England.

Does the SSC accept donations? How do I contact someone about possibly donating papers to the SSC?

Monetary donations are always welcome. See Supporting the SSC. The SSC is actively adding materials to the collection, but we do not have the space to cover every aspect of women's lives through history. For more information about the kinds of materials the SSC is interested in see Donating Collections.

What is the oldest item in the SSC?

The oldest manuscript in the SSC is a 1687 indenture notice for “9 pounds in laffull monoy of new england” for the sale of 8 ½ acres of land in Deerfield, Mass., to Joseph Bodman by his neighbor James Brown. It is found in the Bodman Family Papers.

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