May 24, 2022

New Online Collection of Images, Documents From Harvard Library Provides a “Digital Portrait of Colonial Life”

The Colonial North American Project at Harvard University launched earlier this week.

From the Harvard Gazette:

Launched Monday, the website of the Colonial North American Project so far includes 150,000 images of diaries, journals, notebooks, and other rare documents from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Part of the University’s endeavor to digitize all its collections and make them available free of charge, the Colonial North American Project is unique because of its scale. According to a 2011 survey, the material is scattered through 12 repositories — from Houghton Library to the Harvard University Archives to Loeb Music Library.


“We’re bringing history alive,” said Franziska Frey, the Malloy-Rabinowitz Preservation Librarian and head of Preservation and Digital Imaging Services.

“It’s a treasure of cultural heritage,” added Frey, who is overseeing the digitization process and the overall project. “If photography would have existed at the time, we would have found photographs in our collections.”

In many of the diaries and journals, fanciful yet vivid illustrations accompany meticulous details of life and death, painting a dramatic picture of the Colonial era.

From the Project Web Site:

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. Scattered through twelve repositories, 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. 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. The ‘Essays’ on this website are the work of a Summer 2015 Arcadia Fellow, Alicia DeMaio, who was one of the first researchers to connect thematically related material from among the images digitized to date.

Direct to Complete Harvard Gazette Article (About 600 words)

Direct to List of Project Contributors

Direct to The Colonial North American Project at Harvard University

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.