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Papers of Harlow Shapley, 1906-1966

Scope of the Harlow Shapley Papers

The Papers of Harlow Shapley date from 1906 through 1966 and document Shapley's career before and during his tenure at Harvard. The collection includes biographical and genealogical information, as well as some documentation of Shapley's family life. It also includes some papers of Martha Betz Shapley (Mrs. Harlow Shapley). Documents include correspondence, manuscripts of articles and books, news clippings, award and degree certificates, and photographs.


  • Creation: 1906-1966


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Open for research

The Papers of Harlow Shapley are available for research use.

Restrictions on use

Permission for photocopying or publishing documents in the collection must be obtained from the University Archivist.


53 cubic feet (167 containers)

Biography of Harlow Shapley

Harlow Shapley (1885-1972) was one of the twentieth century's most noted American astronomers. After studying at the University of Missouri he took his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1913, then moved to Mount Wilson Observatory. There he studied Cepheid variables, using them as indicators of the distances of globular clusters, and boldly developed a new picture of the size and shape of our galaxy.

In 1921 Shapley moved to the Harvard College Observatory, serving there as Director until 1952 and as Paine Professor of Practical Astronomy until his retirement in 1956. He was a member of numerous academies and recipient of many prizes, active in the professional and political interests of science, and a vigorous popularizer of the field.

In addition to his work on Cepheid variables, globular clusters, and the galaxy, Shapley did important work on stellar and nebular photometry and spectroscopy and allied topics in stellar astronomy and cosmology. Under his leadership, the Harvard College Observatory became one of the world's most important centers for training and research in astronomy.

Arrangement of the Papers of Harlow Shapley

The Papers exist in 26 series, the last of which are the Papers of Martha Betz Shapley. The arrangement of the files is essentially that of the material as received by the Harvard University Archives.

Acquisition Information

The Papers of Harlow Shapley were given to the Harvard University Archives in the following accessions:

Number 7697, 8/15/1975: Harvard College Observatory

Number 7974, 9/27/1976: Harvard College Observatory

Number 8590, 2/9/1979: Alan Shapley

Number 8814, 12/18/1979: Alan Shapley

Number 9232, 7/6/1981: American Institute of Physics

Number 9260, 8/7/1981: Alan Shapley

Number 9408, 3/10/1982: Dr. Willis Shapley

Number 10539, 8/20/1985: Harvard College Observatory

Number 12389, 4/2/1992: Alan Shapley

Number 13301, 5/3/1996: Harvard College Observatory

Number 13306, 5/3/1996: Harvard College Observatory

Related materials

In the Harvard University Archives: Harvard College Observatory. Records of the Director Harlow Shapley, 1921-1956. Call numbers UAV 630.21 and UAV 630.22.

In the American Institute of Physics: An extensive oral history interview, summarized in Shapley's autobiographical book, Through Rugged Ways to the Stars, is preserved at the American Institute of Physics, College Park, Md. and supplements Shapley's Papers in the Harvard University Archives.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2022 July 28.

Shapley, Harlow, 1885-1972. Papers of Harlow Shapley, 1906-1966 : an inventory
Harvard University Archives
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Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

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