Research Guide

Research Guide

The Columbia University Libraries hold a remarkably rich collection of personal papers, business and organizational records, scrapbooks, oral histories, thematic collections, and databases of value to students, faculty, and other scholars conducting research on the history of sexuality.  The CRIGHS Research Guide is designed to foster such research by identifying and describing approximately 150 of those collections spread across the Columbia University and Barnard College library system.

Rare Book & Manuscript Library 

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is Columbia's principal repository for primary sources, including some 500,000 printed books and 90,000 linear feet (17 miles) of manuscripts, personal papers, and records. Its collection provides rich resources for the study of the Beats and other twentieth-century queer writers, composers, and prominent figures in New York gay cultural circles (e.g., Hart Crane, Tennessee Williams, Virgil Thomson, John Latouche, Leo Lerman), early sexology and psychoanalysis, the homoerotic English war poets, publishers of gay and avant-garde sexual literature (Greenberg and Grove Presses), queer cartoonists, Harlem’s queer literary scene (Alexander Gumby scrapbooks), and human rights organizations (Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch). 

Columbia University Oral History Collection

The Columbia Center for Oral History (CCOH), founded by historian and journalist Allan Nevins in 1948, is credited with launching the establishment of oral history archives internationally. With over 10,000 interviews, the Oral History Archives is one of the largest oral history collections in the United States. It includes transcripts of oral history interviews with leading queer literary figures, such as Robert Duncan, James Baldwin, and John Ashbery; activists such as Harry Hay, Bayard Rustin, Bruce Voeller, Cathy Cade, David Mixner, and Don Kao; and feminist academics such as Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall.  The Center organized several oral history projects, which conducted numerous interviews bearing on particular people, including Hart Crane, Allard Lowenstein, and Mayor Edward Koch, and subjects, such as AIDS, reproductive rights, and population planning. 

Columbia University Archives

The Columbia University Archives preserves the institutional memory of Columbia University from its founding in 1754 to the present day. Its records document the development of schools, academic departments and programs, institutes, and administrative units; campus life; public service; and the University’s role in the history of the metropolitan, national, and international communities.  Some of those records document the history of the Student Homophile League, the nation’s first gay student group, and other early LGBT student organizations, as well as the university administration’s response to them; sexual harassment; AIDS; reproductive rights; and student life. 

Barnard College Collections

Barnard Archives and Special Collections documents the history of Barnard College from its founding in 1889 to the present day. Records of special interest include a large collection of student scrapbooks and publications, which document the clubs, political activism, and intimate lives of Barnard students; the personal papers of Barnard’s most important early Dean, who lived with other women, and Black feminist author Ntozake Shange; and the papers of several activist groups. The Special Collections are especially strong in the areas of feminism, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, zines, and the history of dance. The Barnard Center for Research on Women has also developed an extensive digital record of its activities, including its annual Scholar & Feminist conference. 

Columbia University Medical Center Archives

Columbia University Irving Medical Center is a clinical, research, and educational enterprise located on a campus in northern Manhattan, including four professional colleges and schools: the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, College of Dental Medicine, School of Nursing, and Mailman School of Public Health. The Archives & Special Collections department at the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library holds the archives for all four professional colleges and schools, rare medical books, and the personal papers of physicians, nurses, scientists and others with a connection to Columbia University, as well as of organizations and individuals in the health sciences in the New York City area. Its collections include the papers of key doctors, scientists, and public health activists who conducted research on HIV/AIDS, infertility, transsexuality and transvestism, and other sexual and gender issues, as well as of institutes that worked on family planning, sex education, contraception, and the sexual health of black teenagers in Harlem. 

The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

Union Theological Seminary (UTS) is a non-denominational Christian seminary founded in 1836. The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, part of the Columbia University Libraries, is one of the largest theological libraries in North America, renowned for its holdings of over 700,000 volumes as well as its extensive special collections. Its Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship (AWTS) hold the papers of some of the most prominent and influential female theologians, Biblical scholars, professors of divinity, and religious activists of the twentieth century, including many who researched, wrote, taught, and preached about sexuality and gender.

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, located in Avery Hall on Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, collects books and periodicals in archaeology, architecture, art history, city planning, decorative arts, design, historic preservation, landscape architecture, painting, photography, real estate development, and sculpture. Avery’s Drawings and Archives collection contains approximately two million drawings, photographs, letters, and manuscripts relating to architecture and architects, focusing on American architecture with a strong emphasis on New York City. Art Properties oversees the art collection owned by Columbia University, which includes more than 12,000 works of art in all media and spanning many cultures and time periods, displayed in buildings at each campus and held in storage. The Avery collections include the drawings and papers of prominent gay architects (Philip Johnson and Roger Ferri), design plans for the renovated LGBT Center in New York (Françoise Bollack Architects collection), and photographs and paintings from important artists involved in queer circles (e.g., Andy Warhol and Florine Stettheimer).

Online Databases

Columbia and Barnard students and faculty have access to several enormous databases which provide access to a vast quantity of personal papers, memoirs and letters; organizational records; rare books; complete runs of many important homophile, LGBTQ, and feminist newspapers and magazines; visual materials including photographs, videos, and posters; and much more, assembled from archives across the world.  These are invaluable resources and deserve your attention. 

Columbia and Barnard Research Guides

Library staff at Columbia and Barnard have produced numerous invaluable online research guides. Consulting these guides can help you frame research questions and direct you to supplementary material not included in the archival collections described in this research guide. While the following guides are most directly related to the history of sexuality, browsing the full list of research and course guides for the Columbia libraries and the Barnard Library and Academic Information Services may prove helpful.

Other New York City-Area Archives

New York City is home to several other world-class archives which hold invaluable collections bearing on the history of sexuality, including the New York Public Library’s three major research libraries, two of the nation’s most important community-based LGBTQ archives, and other university libraries. Many of them include collections that complement the holdings at Columbia and Barnard.