Harvard’s Digital Portrait of Colonial Life

Harvard University has launched a new website called the Colonial North American Project. It includes 150,000 images of diaries, journals, notebooks, and other rare documents from the 17th and 18th centuries. Many more documents are planned to be added in the coming months.


Part of the University’s endeavor to digitize all its collections and make them available free of charge, the Colonial North American Project contains material scattered throughput 12 repositories — from Houghton Library to the Harvard University Archives to Loeb Music Library. When complete, the project will make available to the world digitized images of all known archival and manuscript materials in the Harvard Library that relate to 17th and 18th century North America. These documents reveal a great deal about topics such as social life, education, trade, finance, politics, revolution, war, women, Native American life, slavery, science, medicine, and religion.

For example, Harvard mathematics Professor John Winthrop kept account of all the deaths, in a “bill of mortality,” in Cambridge between 1759 and 1768. He wrote there were “235 deaths in 10 years.” Among the most common causes, he noted, were accidents, fever, consumption, and dysentery.

In addition to reflecting the origins of the United States, the digitized materials also document aspects of life and work in Great Britain, France, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

With 150,000 images, the Colonial North American Project, supported by the Arcadia Fund and the Sidney Verba Fund, is one-third complete, said Megan Sniffin-Marinoff, University archivist. Work is ongoing at several libraries to digitize the remaining 300,000 images of Colonial North American manuscripts in 1,654 collections.

You can access the Colonial North American Project at http://colonialnorthamerican.library.harvard.edu.

My thanks to the several newsletter readers who wrote to tell me about this important new collection.


For those who may not know, “consumption” meant tuberculosis.


I am descended from 20% of all white people living in New England in 1690. Plus the Indians.
I would be interested in all colonial history (I have a BA in it)


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