MIT Distinctive Collections collects, preserves, and fosters the use of unique and rare materials such as tangible and digital archives, manuscripts, ephemera, artists’ books, and more. With these collections the Libraries seeks to cultivate an interest in the past, present, and future; the humanistic and the scientific; and the physical and the digital in order to inspire and enable research, learning, experimentation, and play for a diverse community of users.
Distinctive Collections comprises a number of collecting units within the MIT Libraries. Unified by uniqueness or rarity, these materials range across disciplines and time periods and take a number of different forms.
Collection strengths include materials which document MIT’s history and the people who have been a part of that history. Official records of the Institute, selected personal and professional papers of MIT faculty, staff, and students, and oral histories comprise the core of this collecting area. The department also collects MIT publications and the record copies of MIT theses.
We collect broadly on modern science and technology and their impacts on society, with particular attention to materials which document the role of scientists and engineers in the formation of science policy. Our evolving work in building and stewarding other collections of interest for the MIT community includes a particular emphasis on innovative artistic, architectural, computational, and scientific work, especially that which explores social justice and diverse experience.
MIT’s Department of Distinctive Collections is home to thousands of rare books and manuscripts with an expansive range, including manuscript collections from notable MIT faculty and administrators. Many texts represent foundational and fundamental scientific discovery and achievement. Works by prominent figures such as Georgius Agricola, Robert Boyle, Marie Curie, Michael Faraday, Otto von Guericke, Caroline Herschel, Ada Lovelace, Issac Newton, Mary Somerville, Alessandro Volta are included, as are less universally recognizable scientists.
Topically, the collection is rich in materials on
- electricity, electrical engineering, magnetism (including animal magnetism),
- lighter-than-air travel, telegraphy, and popular science.
It delves into some perhaps unexpected areas as well, covering such topics as
- witchcraft and mesmerism,
- horology (study and measurement of time)
- gymnastics and exercise
- politics, poetry, and even dentistry
The collection also includes obscure incunables – books printed before 1501 – like Coniuratio Malignorum Spirituum, a handbook on exorcisms, as well as some of the best documented and most recognized texts of the Middle Ages, like the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle.