Immigration to the US Immigration to the US Home Harvard University Library

Scope and Content


"Immigration has shaped the contours of this nation's history from its founding to the present day. Immigration has shaped the nation's cities, its institutions, industries, and laws, its literature and its culture. Harvard's world-renowned library and museum holdings reflect these realities through guidebooks, ethnic publications, policy documents, diaries, photographs, and organizational records that chronicle the continuing impact of immigration on the United States."

— Sidney Verba, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Research Professor and
Founder of the Open Collections Program at Harvard University
At Ellis Island There is a Stream of Inflowing Life, photograph by Louis Hines [sic], in Lillian D. Wald, The House on Henry Street, New York, H. Holt and Co., 1915.
At Ellis Island There is a Stream of Inflowing Life, photograph by Louis Hines [sic], in Lillian D. Wald,
The House on Henry Street, 1915.

Immigration to the US, 1789-1930 is a web-based collection of selected historical materials from Harvard's libraries, archives, and museums that documents voluntary immigration to the United States from the signing of the Constitution to the onset of the Great Depression. For Internet users worldwide, Immigration to the US provides unparalleled, free and open digital access to a significant selection of unique source materials—more than 410,000 pages, 100 individually cataloged maps, and 7,800 photographs.

Immigration to the US is made possible with the generous support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The collection is part of a burgeoning international movement to provide educational materials on the Internet that the Hewlett Foundation has helped to pioneer.


Concentrating heavily on the 19th century, Immigration to the US includes more than 2,200 books, pamphlets, and serials, totaling over 400,000 pages; more than 1,800 archives and manuscripts selections, totaling over 9,600 pages; over 100 individually cataloged maps; and more than 7,800 photographs. By incorporating diaries, biographies, and other writings capturing diverse experiences, the collected material provides a window into the lives of ordinary immigrants. For example:

  • Images from Harvard's Social Museum, which was established in 1903 by Harvard professor Francis Greenwood Peabody, illustrate "problems of the social order" related to the rapid influx of immigrants.
  • Original manuscript and archival materials—ranging from records of the Immigration Restriction League to the papers of New Jersey librarian Jane Maud Campbell (1869–1947)—document the plight of newly arrived immigrants. In addition to thousands of items that are now accessible to any Internet user, the collection includes contextual information on voluntary immigration and quantitative data.

Items digitized and included in Immigration to the US are in the public domain.


The collection is limited to materials on voluntary immigration to the United States, and does not attempt to duplicate resources available elsewhere on the African diaspora and/or slavery. Instead, the site provides links to related digital resources that cover these other aspects of immigration.

Manuscript Materials and Published Texts

Many manuscript materials are handwritten and not generally convertible to searchable text by optical character recognition (OCR). They therefore are not full-text searchable. While manuscript materials may be included in library catalogs such as HOLLIS, manuscript repositories often rely on separate finding aids to guide users who are interested in these materials. Where possible and appropriate, the Open Collections Program provides links to finding aids at Harvard. To view Harvard finding aids online, visit the OASIS catalog.

Published texts are generally searchable in full text.


Selections are primarily in English, but at least twenty other languages, including German, Swedish, French, Norwegian, Polish, Italian, Finnish, Yiddish, and Ukrainian are represented in the Immigration to the US collection.

Digitization Standards and Practices

Project cataloging and descriptive metadata practices are designed to promote discovery of digitized items in the environments that students, teachers, and researchers use. OCP applies community standards for bibliographic description, assigns persistent links to digital objects, and stores metadata in centrally supported library systems using open protocols (MODS, OAI-PMH) to facilitate discovery in major Internet search engines, as well as in library catalogs and project databases for OCP web sites.

When supported by optical character recognition (OCR) software, machine-printed texts in a variety of languages are digitized to facilitate full-text as well as catalog searching. OCR-generated texts are not corrected to be 100% accurate transcriptions of all characters in the original materials.

Digital imaging and structural metadata practices have evolved with technologies and institutional expertise—primarily in HCL Imaging Services—to produce complete, legible, navigable, citable, and portable electronic reproductions delivered by the centrally managed delivery systems of the Harvard University Library’s Office for Information Systems. Digitization processes and practices for materials preparation and quality control balance mandates for safe handling, high rates of throughput, and affordability.