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AMNH Central Archives

Identifier: DR-CA

Scope and Contents

The AMNH Central Archives consists of 826 boxes of correspondence and materials from the central administrative filing system of American Museum of Natural History, as well as 99 boxes of supporting index materials and card catalogs. Materials cover the overall administration of the museum including but not limited to, construction, finances, expeditions, education programs, reports and minutes, collections, employees, board of trustees, relations with the city, publications, membership, and special events. The collection materials span from the foundation of the museum in 1869 to 1985 with the bulk of materials covering 1900-1975. The collection includes blueprints, photographs, illustrations, newspaper clippings, postcards, and ephemera.


  • Majority of material found within 1890-1975


Access Conditions and Restrictions Note

Please contact Special Collections; materials are sometimes restricted.


392 Linear Feet (Mix of manuscript, legal, and card catalog boxes. )

Language of Materials



The Central Archives is divided into 3 series: Central Archives I c.1869-1924, Index Numbers 1-1114 Central Archives II: 1925-c.1985, Index Numbers 1115-1292 Central Archives III: supporting materials. The Index Guides and Card Catalogs

Every subject was assigned an Index Number within the Central Files and, upon incorporation into the Central Files, every item was marked with the relevant Index Number that can be seen on the top right corner. Additionally, materials were cross indexed within the Central Archives card catalog. Such relevant Index Numbers may appear throughout a document. The Index Number on the upper right hand corner will indicate the primary subject and where the item is filed. Classification and indexing were done according to action by the museum rather than correspondent. Inter-museum classification was indexed from the administrative point of view.

Central Archives I (c. 1869-1924) was created ad hoc. There is no file plan or system of organization. Some Index Numbers are assigned to multiple subjects and some subjects have multiple index numbers (ex: Morris K. Jesup).

Central Archives II (1925-c1980) was planned out before implementation and focuses more on administrative organization. Individuals are no longer assigned Index Numbers, instead the focus is on departments, expeditions, publications, etc. The organization system and hierarchies have been kept in place and can be seen in the finding aid. With a few possible exceptions, any name changes within an Index Number come directly from the Index Guides and supporting documentation. Explanations of these changes are included in the Notes fields in the finding aid.

Central Archives III consists of the Index Guide and Card Catalogs, which are key to finding materials in the collection. The Index Guides for Central Archives I and II have been digitized and are available to researchers. A digital version of the Central Archives I and II Card Catalogs is available to research in the Museum Library Reading Room.

Because the Central Archives was created over a long time and so heavily cross-indexed, it is impossible to do away with the card catalogs or ingest that level of detailed information into this finding aid. The searchable card catalog is available in the Museum Library Reading Room. In some cases, the finding aid and search functions will get you exactly what you need, but in others you will also need to refer to the card catalog or staff for assistance. This is especially true when searching for individuals within the collection. The finding aid will direct you to the record specifically assigned to that subject, department, or individual giving you quick access to the exact box(es) and folder(s).

Example: Index Number 943: Sir Ernest H. Shackelton, see Box 198, Folder 19

Searching within the finding aid for Ernest Shackleton will lead you to his specific Index Number (Index Number 943). Searching the card catalog will give you this information and any other Index Number where he might appear, such as Index Number 211: Membership and Certificates, Index Number 545: Lecturers, and so on.

Custodial History

The Central Archives was the Central Administrative Filing System for the museum for almost 100 years and touches on almost everything the museum did during that time. The Administrative Files, or Central Files, were created and maintained by the Office Services Division under the supervision of the Comptroller.

From the Central Archives Index Guides “Beginning January 1, 1953, as a result of the Cresap Survey, the numerical system was discontinued, and a new subject system was set up. This system was used for two years and found ineffective for institutional filing, so all the material was re-cataloged under the numerical system. A few changes were affected to simplify and make the system more efficient...It was decided that, in some instances, card entries could be eliminated.”

Related Materials

Crocker Land, Press DR 101, Early Administrative and Letterpress, DR 119 and DR 120

Processing Information

Some early index numbers were repurposed or reassigned, occasionally two different subjects are assigned to the same number. All materials for the subjects have been separated and are contained within their own set(s) of folders.

Whenever possible, additional context and/or clarification has been added to titles and subjects. This is especially common within Central Archives I. Parentheses indicate either added context or additional information and are reflected on folder and finding aid materials, examples:

Index Number 1058: Henry C. Frick (Trustee) Role/association with museum added

Index Number 887: Photographs-Peary Expedition (Requests for) context for staff/researchers

Index Number 765: Department of Entomology (Frank E. Lutz) change in original title from Frank E. Lutz, curator at the time of creation, to better reflect the contents of the file(s), that of the department. Original name kept in parentheses to match Index Guide and Card Catalog materials.

In Central Archives II, title changes to Index Numbers are due to an institutional title change that was noted in the Index Guides. Any details about such changes are included in the Notes section for that specific Index Number.

The creators of the Central Files now Central Archives use “unclassified” to mean the material is more general or unsorted. Files with “unclassified” in the title may be restricted under a protected category of the Library Access Policy

Available for on-site access only
In Progress
Lauren VanDenBerg
March 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Shelby White and Leon Levy Archive Initiative

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
(212) 769-5420