Special Collections

The Special Collections at Andover-Harvard Theological Library preserve and make accessible over 5,000 linear feet of primary source materials documenting the history of religion and theology, with particular historical emphasis on American liberal religious traditions. These include diaries, letters, photographs, manuscripts, and more. In addition, the collections contain more than 85,000 early printed and rare books that reflect the history of the study and practice of theology. Though the historical strengths of the collections have been in the field of Christianity, other religious traditions are increasingly reflected, in step with Harvard Divinity School’s evolving focus on global religious studies. The following collection areas are only a few of the many that make up our Special Collections.

Unitarian Universalism

As the official repository for the Unitarian Universalist Association, AHTL has extensive holdings on Unitarian Universalism and its predecessor denominations. These include ministers’ papers (Theodore Parker, Hosea Ballou, William Ellery Channing, among others), church records, and institutional records. In addition, AHTL has collected thousands of printed sermons, tracts, and brochures related to UU and liberal religious traditions.

More about Unitarian Universalist collections at Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Rare Books

Andover-Harvard's holdings include early Hebrew, Latin, and Greek bibles as well as many bibles in vernacular languages printed on missionary presses. There are first editions of Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Zwingli, and other reformers, including a large collection of 16th- and 17th-century Dutch and Latin tracts by Jacobus Arminius and his followers, who were early opponents of strict Calvinist theology. There is an excellent collection of materials concerning the 18th-century Salzburg Protestants, a Lutheran refugee group expelled from Salzburg, Austria in 1731 and 1732. Early editions of the works of the New England Puritans and first editions of most of the works of important 19th-century Unitarians and Universalists.

More about rare books at Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Papers of Notable Theologians and HDS Faculty

AHTL holds the papers of several noted theological scholars, including Paul Tillich, H. Richard Niebuhr, and Henry Wilder Foote. The Tillich collection is particularly notable as it contains drafts of all his major works, 100 boxes of correspondence with major figures of the time, and rare photographs. The library also holds the papers of prominent Harvard Divinity School faculty, including collections on James Freeman Clarke, Samuel Miller, and Gordon Kaufman.

Religion and Material Culture / Book History

The collections are rich in evidence of former owners and readers, providing a glimpse into the ways early readers interacted with religious texts. Many items have marginal annotations, marks of previous ownership, and unique bindings that give insight to the roles these books played people’s lives. In 2015, AHTL received a donation of more than 100 illustrated and family bibles of the 18th and 19th centuries, the largest such collection in North America. The infinite variation between copies in terms of bindings, illustrations, and other supplemental materials, as well as handwritten family trees, etc., make this an important resource for the study of Christianity and culture of these periods.

More about rare books at Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Digital Collections

Special Collections materials are increasingly being digitized for preservation and free online access. One major digitization project focused on documentation of the Unitarian Service Committee’s efforts, during and after World War II, to aid hundreds of displaced persons and in their efforts to leave war-torn Europe. Jointly funded by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine in Paris, AHTL digitized about 238,000 documents and 3,100 photographs. AHTL has also participated in a Harvard-wide initiative to digitize materials of the colonial North American period, including church record books, diaries, and sermons.

More about digital collections at Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Using Special Collections

All materials in AHTL’s Special Collections are available for research to students, faculty, visiting scholars, and others with interest in these materials. No letters of introduction are necessary. Special Collections staff are available to help identify materials relevant to particular research interests.

More about using the special collections at Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Teaching with Special Collections

AHTL Special Collections supports teaching and learning by hosting class visits where students can encounter primary source materials relevant to the curriculum. Students are welcome and encouraged to use special collections for papers and research projects, and staff is available to collaborate in identifying collections that complement course topics. Hands-on instruction in using and handling special collections is also provided.

More about teaching with special collections at Andover-Harvard Theological Library.


AHTL sponsors several exhibits a year, many prominently featuring items from Special Collections. Some of our recent exhibits include Religious Aspects of the American Civil War, Seventy-Five Years of Service: Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, 1940-2015, and Other Lives. Be sure to stop in and check out our exhibit spaces throughout the library during your visit.

More about exhibits at Andover-Harvard Theological Library.