About

meet the collection
The Southern Historical Collection is home to over 5,000 distinct archival collections. These are each comprised of unique primary documents, such as diaries, correspondence, photographs, maps, and oral histories. We offer robust documentation of all periods of Southern history since the late eighteenth century, particularly the Antebellum era through the Civil Rights Movement.

Some of our traditional subject strengths include:

  • Communities and Families
  • Business and Labor
  • Slavery and the Antebellum plantation
  • Civil Rights activism
  • Sociology
  • American Civil War
  • Journalism and Literature
  • Religion and religious communities

Looking to the Future

In 2015, we began a five year strategic planning process. Through effective collaborations and competent stewardship, we are improving access to our collections and reinvigorating the study of the South. We are also attracting the resources to ensure the long-term vitality of the collections and to afford the freedom to pursue creative, active, and forward-looking collecting agendas. Read our objectives for the future of the Southern Historical Collection.

Our Own History

Our collection began in 1844 as the work of the North Carolina Historical Society, whose materials were later inherited by the University Library. The collection received a boost in 1915, when History Professor Dr. J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton began a concerted effort to search for additional materials. He hoped to establish “a great library of Southern human records” at Chapel Hill, and traveled throughout the South, picking up boxes of documents in his “faithful Fords.”

The University officially established the Southern Historical Collection on January 14th, 1930. Dr. Hamilton was the inaugural Director, and Mrs. Sarah Graham Kenan provided the first major gift to establish our endowment. When Hamilton retired in 1951, the SHC held just over 2 million items. We have grown over ten-fold since, today holding more than 20 million items organized into more than 5,000 discrete collections.