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The Cooper Union Archives & Special Collections

“There is no separation between past and present, meaning that an alternative future is also determined by our understanding of the past.”

— Nick Estes, Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance

What are Archives?  

Archives are records produced by people and organizations, documenting the way they lived, thought, loved, and worked. 

"The archives" is also a term used to describe the place where these records are kept. This could refer to a physical place - a room with shelves and boxes - or a digital repository.

"To archive" means to make a decision to invest in the storage, safety, and accessibility of an item based on its perceived historical, cultural, or institutional value.

Want to learn more? The Library of Congress has a great post on the many ways the word archive is used, "What Do you Mean by Archive?"

Useful Terminology 

Archival Materials - Records in any format - e.g. business documents, personal letters, photographs, film, and objects - retained for their continuing value. Typically archival materials are composed of primary sources: direct evidence, first-hand testimony, or eyewitness accounts.

Collection - A broad term encompassing both personal papers and organizational records collections. Archival materials are grouped into collections according to provenance (i.e., source of materials), or type/theme, if provenance is unknown. 

Finding Aid - A written guide to a collection that describes what is in the collection and how it is arranged, as well as giving context for how, why, and by whom the documents in the collection were created.  

Processing - Preparing archival materials for use by assessing, organizing, and describing them, as well as performing basic preservation activities (such as moving materials into acid-free folders and boxes) and creating a finding aid for ease of researcher access.

Provenance - This term refers to the history of an object - who created it, who owned it, who bought and sold it. In the archival world, the “principle of provenance" dictates that archives are typically arranged by source (as opposed to being arranged by topic).

How to Find Archives

WorldCat - A comprehensive database with listings for books, videos, and archival materials stored in libraries worldwide (

ArchiveGrid - A database containing over 5 million records describing archival materials about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more; over 1,000 different archival institutions are represented, including archives, libraries, museums, and historical societies. (

  • NOTE: Materials in The Cooper Union Archives & Special Collections are searchable through both these databases, as well as via The Cooper Union Library's Bobcat search engine, once they are processed and made available via 

Additional tools for discovering archival materials include:


More Archives for the Cooper Community

In addition to the Archives and Special Collections, The Cooper Union is home to two other incredible resources for archival material:

The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Student Work Collection: Over 4,800 student projects spanning more than eight decades of The Cooper Union’s architectural pedagogy, plus archival architecture material including an extensive blueprint collection.

The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography: An archive of Herb Lubalin's work, including drawings, editorial and advertising design, typeface design, posters, and logos, as well as material from other eminent designers.

Through The Cooper Union's library consortium agreement, current Cooper Union students, faculty, and staff also have access to the following archives:

Additionally, by virtue of being in New York City, we have access to a long list of publicly accessible local archives, including:

...and so many more! Reach out to if you need help finding an archive to meet your research needs

Address: 7 East 7th St, New York, NY 10003 | Email: | Phone: (212) 353-4184 |

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