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Massachusetts Institute of Technology  /  MIT Museum
Building N51   265 Massachusetts Avenue   Cambridge, MA 02139
Open Daily 10am – 5pm  /  Closed Major Holidays

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MIT Museum General Collection: Biographical and Subject Files

This collection of subject and biographical files documents many aspects of MIT, from its founding in 1861 to the present. The bulk of the collection dates from 1890s to 1980. It provides a unique record predominantly through photographs and news clippings of the development of MIT and its academic, administrative, and student bodies. The collection is an important source of historical photographs depicting MIT and its impact on the wider world of science and technology.

Biographical Files

An extensive collection of biographical files containing photographs and biographical information on over 8,000 former and current MIT faculty, staff, and students. Photographs include formal portraits and images documenting their work, as well as informal shots. It includes all MIT presidents; MIT faculty members who had a significant impact both at MIT and in science and technology, such as Vannevar Bush, Norbert Wiener, and Claude Shannon; and MIT students such as Robert R. Taylor (Class of 1892), the first black student to attend MIT.

A significant portion of the collection was collected and organized by Julia Comstock, who was instrumental in compiling faculty and corporation records during her 60-year career at MIT (1892-1952).  She was acknowledged by MIT in 1942 as "Curatrix of Its Historical Memorabilia." (Tech Talk December 12, 1977)

Subject Files

This collection comprises approximately 1,700 folders on approximately 500 topics. Each file contains some or all of the following: photographs, news releases issued by the MIT News Office; news clippings from national and local newspapers and periodicals; and correspondence, pamphlets, and ephemera plus cross references to other material in the museum's collection.

Highlights from the collection include a comprehensive photographic history of the development of the Cambridge campus, arranged by building number; a diverse record of student life and activities; administrative and departmental histories; and events and traditions reflecting the unique MIT culture. The collection also includes a valuable photographic record of buildings, departments, faculty, and students of the 19th-century Boston campus. Also represented are significant events at MIT such as developments in computing history, including the Differential Analyzer and Whirlwind Computer; the Mid-Century Convocation; MIT's move from Boston to Cambridge in 1916; and annual events such as Commencement.

An in-depth Guide to MIT Subject Files is available online as a pdf file (36 pages - 236kb).

Provenance

The bulk of material in the subject and biographical files of MIT Museum was collected during the 1970’s after the formation of the Committee on MIT Memorabilia in 1971. The majority of photographs and news clippings are from the archives of the News Office, Technology Review, Graphic Arts, and individual departments. Some of the photographs have been transferred from collections held by the Institute Archives.

A significant portion of the collection derives from sources outside MIT for which the MIT Museum may not be owner of all rights necessary for publication. It is, therefore, the user’s responsibility to obtain any necessary permission to publish the material from parties other than the MIT Museum.

Arrangement

The subject files are arranged alphabetically by subject heading and chronologically within each subject where possible. The collection documents all aspects of MIT from its founding in 1861 to the present. The bulk of the collection dates from 1890s to 1980. It provides a unique record predominantly through photographs and news clippings of the development of MIT, its academic, administrative and student body. The collection is an important source of historical photographs depicting MIT and its impact on the wider world of science and technology. The subject files comprise approximately 1700 folders on about 500 topics. Each file contains some or all of the following: photographs, news releases issued by MIT’s News Office, news clippings from national and local newspapers and periodicals, correspondence, pamphlets, ephemera, cross references to other material in the museum’s collection.

Highlights from the subject files include a comprehensive photographic history of the development of the Cambridge Campus arranged by building number; a diverse record of student life and activities; departmental histories; administrative bodies; events and traditions reflecting the unique culture of MIT. The collection also includes a valuable photographic record of the Boston campus, its buildings, departments, faculty and students. Also represented are the significant developments in computing history that took place at MIT such as the Differential Analyzer and Whirlwind Computer, significant events such as the Mid-Century Convocation, the move from Boston to Cambridge and annual events such as Commencement.

The subject files are arranged according to the following categories:

Boston Campus

Photographs, news clippings, maps, associated ephemera, and written material of the buildings centered in Back Bay, Boston, that comprised MIT from its founding to the move to Cambridge in 1916. Building files include the Rogers, Walker, and Pierce Buildings. For cataloguing purposes, all Boston campus buildings are assigned numbers by order of construction date. Each building file contains photographs and written material on some or all of the following elements: plans, renderings, building exterior, interior, and destruction. Photographs of the Boston campus can also be found in individual departmental files.

Cambridge Campus

Photographs, news clippings, maps, associated ephemera, and written material recording the development of MIT's Cambridge campus from the original site selection to the present. These files include photographs of the site before and during construction of the campus; aerial views of the entire campus, from 1916 to 1980; buildings that have been demolished, such as Building 20; and buildings located off the main campus such as Endicott House. Existing buildings arranged by building number are also well documented. Each file may have photographs of some or all of the following elements: renderings, models, plans, ground breaking, time capsules, dedication, construction, interior, exterior, and destruction. These files often document changing uses of a particular building over time and provide images of people at work in departments and offices.

Centers, labs, programs

Photographs, news clippings, and documents on programs and research projects plus existing and defunct research centers and laboratories. Subject files include the Lincoln Lab and Draper Lab; ROTC (Military Science); solar energy research; Round Hill; and the Center for International Studies.

Committees, councils, associations

Photographs, news clippings, and written material documenting MIT committees, councils, and associations. Included are the Alumni Association, Black Alumni at MIT (BAMIT), and the Quarter Century Club.

Computers

Photographs, news clippings, and documents that chronicle the development of computers and computing at MIT. Individual computers such as the Differential Analyzer, Whirlwind, TX0, and PDP1 are represented as well as the work of the Laboratory for Computer Science and pioneering projects such as Project MAC and the Space War computer game

Departments

Photographs, news clippings, documents, and ephemera of all MIT academic departments from 1865 to present. These files include photographs of departmental laboratories, faculty and students, experiments, projects, and instruments. Some of the earliest photographs of MIT departments date from the 1880s. These files may be arranged in earlier configurations of departments using names and organizational structures that are no longer current.

Events, celebrations, traditions

Photographs, news clippings, and ephemera documenting annual and historical events and unique traditions of MIT. Subjects include annual events such as Commencement and Tech Day and subjects unique to the culture of MIT, such as its mascot, the beaver.  Files also record regular events such as lectures, visits by significant figures to MIT and conferences. Historical events documented include the Mid-Century Convocation, 1949, marked by Winston Churchill's visit to MIT;  the move from Boston's Back Bay across the river to Cambridge, which was celebrated with an elaborate ceremony, The Mask of Power;  and the blizzard of 1978. Group photographs of MIT classes are also represented.

Executive and administrative bodies, non-academic departments

Photographs, news clippings, and documents that highlight MIT's executive and administrative bodies. Subjects include the Corporation; university resources such as the libraries, on both the Boston and Cambridge campuses; and offices and departments such as Facilities (Physical Plant) and campus police.

Student Life

Photographs, news clippings, and ephemera documenting student activities. The bulk of material represents student life from late 19th century to the 1980s. The following activities are represented: student activism, athletics, clubs and societies, social events, fraternities, annual weeks and weekends, student publications, student government, and hacks.

Women at MIT

This collection has been fully catalogued, but has not yet been completely digitized. The collection is comprised of two series: Series 1 contains 479 prints, 8 5x7 negatives, 1,324 35mm negatives, and 160 4x5 negatives; and Series II contains documents such as clippings, press releases, histories, and various publications. This collection includes organizations such as Association of MIT Alumnae and the Women's Laboratory, founded by Ellen Swallow Richards.


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