Beyond the Founding: Introducing the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Joseph-James Ahern's picture

You may know of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) as the keeper of such national treasures as the first draft of the United States Constitution, an original printer’s proof of the Declaration of Independence, and many other such venerable documents.

But did you know that HSP is also a chief center for the documentation and study of ethnic communities and immigrant experiences in the 20th-century? Or that we are one of the largest family history libraries in the nation?

Founded in 1824, HSP is today one of the nation’s premier special collections libraries. Our remarkable holdings encompass more than 350 years of America’s history, and we are renowned for our 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century manuscript holdings. But our collections include more than 20 million manuscripts, some 600,000 books, pamphlets, serials, and microfilm reels, and more than 300,000 graphic items.

Our collections center on eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and parts of Delaware and Maryland, but they also include a wealth of materials on the eastern U.S., the founding of this country, and the diversity of ethnic and immigrant experiences across the nation (thanks to the addition of the holdings of the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in 2002).

The true strength of our collection is its overall breadth and depth. Researchers can find here a rich, complex portrait of U.S. history and society from the 17th century to the present.

Our holdings will be of interest to a wide variety of researchers, whether you are investigating the experiences of one person, family, business, or civic organization, or are studying broad social, cultural or political movements. We also offer rich holdings in

·         business and labor history;

·         arts and culture;

·         civic associations and community service;

·         military history;

·         the experiences of African Americans;

·         ethnic and immigrant history;

·         women’s history, and so much more;

The best place to start exploring HSP’s holdings is through our online catalog, available at You might also be interested in reading our research overview, “How to Find the Materials You Need in HSP’s Collections.”

HSP is pleased to now offer FREE admission to all students with a valid school ID. Our library is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 – 5:30 pm, on Wednesdays from 12:30 – 8:30 pm, and on Fridays from 10:00 am – 5:30 pm. To learn more, visit