The Southern Historical Collection (UNC-Chapel Hill) Chapel Hill, United States

The Southern Historical Collection is a repository of distinct archival collections at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which document the culture and history of the American South. These collections are made up of unique primary materials, such as manuscripts, letters, photographs, diaries, drawings, scrapbooks, journals, oral histories, maps, ledgers, moving images, literary manuscripts, albums, and other materials.

The North Carolina Historical Society began collecting manuscripts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1844. The collecting stopped in the early twentieth century when the Society ceased operation.

The holdings were then transferred to the University Library. By the 1920s, Dr. J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton, a professor of history was corresponding about the idea of creating “a great library of Southern human records.” Hamilton began traveling the South, in his “faithful Fords,” seeking out and gathering materials.

On January 14, 1930, the Southern Historical Collection was officially established. Dr. Hamilton served as director, and the initial endowment was offered by Sarah Graham Kenan. Upon Hamilton’s 1951 retirement, the Southern Historical Collection held roughly 2,140,000 manuscript items.

The Southern Historical Collection now holds more than 15 million items, which are organized into over 4,600 discrete collections. The collection can be found in Wilson Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Materials are available for on-site research, but are non-circulating due to rarity and fragility.

The collections held in the Southern Historical Collection are described in online and print finding aids, which contain information on the history or background of the entity (person, family, or organization) that created the collection, as well as a description or list of most of the materials in the collection itself.

The Southern Historical Collection (SHC) encourages the study and appreciation of the history and culture of the American South by collecting, preserving and promoting the use of unique documentary materials of enduring historical value. The SHC does this to enable users to derive meanings from the southern past and to support the University’s mission of teaching, research and service. Long at the center of inquiry into the history and culture of the American South, the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) is a vast collection of distinct archival collections. These collections are comprised of unique primary documents, such as diaries, journals, letters, correspondence, photographs, maps, drawings, ledgers, oral histories, moving images, albums, scrapbooks, and literary manuscripts. For information on accessing materials in the collection, please contact our reference department at or (919) 962-3765.