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 and supports the record-keeping activities of all entities of the Church. As part of the Office of the General Assembly, the society assists the Stated Clerk in fulfilling their record-keeping responsibilities for all General Assembly entities.
Certain types of records are collected under mandates in the Book of Order.
- National agencies: records appraised as having permanent value by the archives staff and the church’s records manager, regardless of medium (paper, electronic, etc.), including correspondence, minutes, reports, photographs and other audiovisual materials, publications, serials, and monographs.
- Mid councils: in compliance with the Book of Order (G.3.0107), official records of the church’s presbyteries and synods and other records of permanent value, including presbytery and synod minutes, trustees’ minutes, permanent judicial commission records, directories and publications; and dissolved congregation records including minutes, registers, charters, articles of incorporation, and property records.
- Congregations: in compliance with the Book of Order (G.3.0107), official records of active congregations and other records of permanent value, including registers; minutes of session, trustees, and other church groups; charters and property records; publications; and photographs.
Archival collecting areas
Beyond the collecting mandates, the society also prioritizes the collection of personal papers from prominent Presbyterians and ecumenical leaders and the records of some Presbyterian and ecumenical organizations.
- Personal papers of individuals who provided a unique service to the church. The society’s collections of personal papers document the works and ministries of individual servants of the church and society. These collections emphasize domestic and world mission work; racial and social justice; and ecumenical and interfaith work.
- Records of grassroots Presbyterian groups and mission networks. Mission networks and fellowships actively support the work of national agencies, lead new endeavors, and critique the work of the ecclesiastical bureaucracy. Among the bodies we represent are the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, Presbyterians United for Biblical Concerns, Cuba Partners Network, the Iraq Partnership Network, Living Waters for the World, and the Israel Palestine Mission Network.
- Records from select ecumenical organizations. The Presbyterian Historical Society serves as the archives for several ecumenical organizations including the Federal and National Council of Churches, the Church World Service, the American Sunday School Union, the Religious News Service, the American Waldensian Society, the American and Foreign Christian Union, and the Religious Public Relations Council.
Current collection strengths
- Domestic and foreign mission work. The society holds papers, records, publications, and museum objects that document domestic and foreign mission work from the 18th through the 20th century. The archival collections are particularly strong in their coverage of mission work to Native Americans and Alaska Natives and mission work in China, Korea, Japan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- National agency leaders. The society holds personal papers and national agency records that document the work of prominent national agency leaders of the PC(USA) and its predecessor denominations, including the papers of stated clerks, moderators, and agency heads such as Eugene Carson Blake, J. Oscar McCloud, Gayraud Wilmore, and Maggie Kuhn.
Highly desired archival materials
The Presbyterian Historical Society 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 this end, the society is particularly interested in collecting stories from groups traditionally under-represented and marginalized within the Church, such as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), Latinx/Hispanic, Korean, and LGBTQIA+ Presbyterian communities and individuals.
Of particular interest are:
- Papers and records documenting Black, Latinx/Hispanic, Native, and Korean leaders and congregations and members of diaspora communities in the United States.
- Papers and records documenting the movement for full LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the PC(USA) and its predecessor denominations.
- 20th-century mission coworkers’ papers and records covering Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
- Papers and records of individuals, families, and grassroots Presbyterian organizations at work on immigration advocacy, environmental justice, and racial and social justice issues, including peacemaking and defense of our unhoused neighbors.
Materials not accepted or actively collected
- Museum and three-dimensional objects. The Presbyterian Historical Society does not actively collect artifacts, artwork, and other three-dimensional objects unless they are provided within the context of an archival collection, deemed valuable for research, and only when staff determine that there are adequate resources to store, preserve, describe, and provide access to the item(s).
- Publications. The society does not collect rare books or bibles, and only acquires a small number of publications per year. Preference is given to materials written using the society’s holdings or that support research in the society’s collections on topics such as: domestic and foreign missions, slavery and abolition, social justice issues, and ecumenism.
Guidelines for Collection Development
- National agency, mid council, and congregation records. All PC(USA) records are held on deposit at the society, and ownership is retained by the PC(USA) entity that created the records or that entity’s official successor. The society will only take on deposit records of permanent value as defined by the records retention schedule. Separate retention schedules are defined for national agencies, mid councils, and congregations.
- Personal papers. Papers must be donated through a deed of gift to the society and appraised as having permanent value by the archival staff. The society retains ownership of the materials, subject to any provisions stipulated in the deed of gift. Among the genres and formats of personal and family papers that we accept are correspondence, diaries and journals, sermons and essays, photographs and slides, scrapbooks, motion pictures, audio and video recordings.
- Records of Presbyterian organizations. Records are donated through deed of gift whenever possible. In some cases, records may be deposited via a deposit agreement. Records must be appraised by the archival staff as having permanent value based on existing records retention schedules used for PC(USA) national agency records.
- Records of ecumenical organizations. Records are donated through deed of gift whenever possible. In some cases, records may be deposited via a deposit agreement. Donations of ecumenical records are subject to the approval of the executive director. Records must be appraised by archives staff as having permanent value based on existing records retention schedules used for PC(USA) national agency records.