About the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center


The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center is the principal repository for and steward of the Library's rare books, manuscripts, University Archives, and the Chicago Jazz Archives. Its mission is to provide primary sources to stimulate, enrich, and support research, teaching, learning, and administration at the University of Chicago. Special Collections makes these resources available to a broad constituency as part of the University's engagement with the larger community of scholars and independent researchers. In pursuit of its mission, Special Collections:

  • Provides unique opportunities for teaching and learning
  • Provides responsive, personable, and expert public service
  • Builds distinctive and unique collections
  • Facilitates discovery through online access to information about Special Collections
  • Promotes access to and use Special Collections by collaborating with the Library, University, and Chicago-area special collections communities
  • Collaborates with other Library units to promote preservation of the holdings of Special Collections


The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center was established in 1953 as the Department of Special Collections, the University of Chicago Library's center for rare books, manuscripts, and archives.  Special Collections incorporated holdings transferred from two predecessor institutions, the original or Old University of Chicago (1857-1886) and the Baptist Union Theological Seminary (1869-1892).  These collections were expanded through the library acquisitions of the University of Chicago beginning with the purchase of the Berlin Collection  in 1891. Rare books, manuscripts, and archives grew substantially following the move of Special Collections into the Joseph Regenstein Library in 1970, and collections of primary source materials continue to be enlarged and enhanced in support of the research and teaching programs of the University of Chicago. By 2002 expanded research access to the collections was reflected in a new name for the department, the Special Collections Research Center, and Special Collections celebrated its 50th anniversary the following year.

On November 9, 2020, the University of Chicago renamed Special Collections as the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center. The new name recognized the scholarship and academic leadership of Hanna Holborn Gray, tenth President of the University of Chicago (1978-1993), Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of History, and President Emeritus of the University.

The collections currently include:

  • 350,000 rare books dating from the beginning of printing in Western Europe in the 15th century to the present, with particular strengths in the history of science and medicine, English and American literature, history, and economics, contemporary poetry, historical children’s books, Jewish life and culture, theology, Renaissance humanism, Homer in print, the book arts and bindings, and the printed works of Frederick Chopin.
  • 13,216 linear feet of manuscript collections, including papyri, medieval and Renaissance codices, and early modern European manuscripts; as well as modern American manuscript material documenting the settlement of the trans-Appalachian West and early Illinois; Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Civil War era; modern poetry; Chicago jazz; internationalism and world government; the post-World War II atomic scientists' movement; and Hyde Park-Kenwood community history and urban renewal
  • 60,234 linear feet of University Archives, including official administrative records of the University of Chicago; papers of faculty members, trustees, administrators, and alumni; and records documenting campus student organizations and academic community life.  The collections are particularly strong in the history of the University of Chicago; the social sciences, especially sociology, anthropology, political science, and economics; social welfare; the physical sciences; ecological studies; law; religious studies; and political thought.