Get to Know PHS: What's in Our Collections | Presbyterian Historical Society

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Get to Know PHS: What's in Our Collections

May 22, 2023

Organized in 1852, the Presbyterian Historical Society is the oldest denominational archives in the United States and serves as the national archives for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessor denominations. Our collections include archival records, published materials, and artifacts documenting the history of the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition in America.

What types of records does PHS collect?

The Presbyterian Historical Society is home to over 40,000 cubic feet of records and 250,000 published titles that reflect Presbyterian, Reformed, and ecumenical history. Our collections are expansive and include paper records that document the work of the denomination; sermons, correspondence, and diaries of prominent Presbyterians, including ministers and missionaries; photographs, sound and video recordings, such as VHS and open reel tapes; oral histories and conversations with influential Presbyterians; a postcard collection of congregations around the country; and a museum collection filled to the brim with communion tokens, commemorative pins and medals, and more. 
Churches, mid councils, agencies, and more

As the national archives of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Presbyterian Historical Society collects records of historic value from congregations, mid councils, and national agencies.

However, our shelves are also filled with records that document the work and lives of Presbyterians in other capacities. We collect records from ecumenical organizations, including the Federal and National Council of Churches, the Church World Service, the Religious News Service, and more. And, in recent years, PHS has expanded our collections to include grassroots groups and mission networks, like the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, the Israel Palestine Mission Network, and Living Waters for the World.

Personal papers

Our collections of personal papers document the works and ministries of individual servants of the church and society. Among these are mission coworkers, ecumenical and interfaith workers, community organizers and activists, sanctuary workers, and advocates for the imprisoned and impoverished. Included in our records are the personal papers of Eugene Carson Blake, Katie Geneva Cannon, Gayraud Wilmore, and Maggie Kuhn.

Published books

PHS also houses a bountiful library collection, consisting of over 250,000 monographs, rare books, and periodicals, and 19,000 pamphlets and rare documents that reflect the history of the Presbyterian tradition in America. You can access records of some of these items in Calvin, our online library catalog.

Part of our audio/visual collection. Any milk today?

Staying Focused Through Intentional Collecting

PHS is committed to building an inclusive archive by confronting the gaps in our collecting and storytelling practices and diversifying the scope of our collections through intentional collecting practices. To keep our collecting focused and on track with this mission, we’ve developed a policy and collecting initiatives. You can read the collecting policy here.

Special collecting Initiatives

Through the Pam Byers Memorial Collection (PBMC), we gather archival materials that document all sides and perspectives on the forty-year movement for gay ordination and LGBTQ marriage rites in the church. Our African American Leaders and Congregations Initiative (AALC) brings into the archives the histories and perspectives of prominent Black Presbyterians—including church workers, missionaries, theologians, activists, professors, and more.

We are always seeking stories from groups traditionally under-represented and marginalized within the Church, such as BIPOC, Latinx/Hispanic, Korean, and LGBTQIA+ Presbyterian communities and individuals, in order to create a more complete picture of the denomination. Click here to learn more about what we collect.

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