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COLLECTION Identifier: HUG 1299

Papers of Archibald Cary Coolidge


Archibald Cary Coolidge (1866-1928), was a Professor of History (1908-1928) and the first Director of the Harvard University Library (1910-1928).


  • 1893-1982, bulk dates, 1893-1934.


Conditions on Use and Access

Permission of the Harvard University Archives is required for access to the Papers of Archibald Cary Coolidge. Please see the reference staff for further details.


6.7 cubic feet (13 document boxes, 2 flat file boxes, 1 record carton)

The Papers of Archibald Cary Coolidge document his activities as a traveler, diplomat, editor, writer, professor of history, advisor, librarian, and public servant. These papers contain little lecture material or descriptions of his teaching methods.

Biographical / Historical

Archibald Cary Coolidge was a Professor of History (1908-1928) at Harvard College and the first Director of the Harvard University Library (1910-1928). He was a scholar in international affairs, a planner of the Widener Library, a member of the American diplomatic service, and editor-in-chief of the policy journal, Foreign Affairs.

Coolidge was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 6, 1866 to Joseph Randolph Coolidge and Julia (Gardner) Coolidge. His father was the great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson and a graduate of Harvard University Law School (1854). His mother was the daughter of a prominent banking and shipping magnate. The third of five sons, Archibald Cary Coolidge and all of his brothers graduated from Harvard University.

Coolidge's interest in history was stimulated at a very early age. He spent most of his boyhood traveling in Europe with his parents. He became an avid reader of historical and biographical works and developed a strong desire to learn more about foreign countries, cultures, and societies. Coolidge's parents were constantly experimenting with various educational theories, and as a result Archibald attended seven different elementary and preparatory schools during his early years of schooling. He prepared for Harvard at the Adams Academy in Quincy and was admitted in 1883.

Coolidge's undergraduate career at Harvard was happy and busy. He joined the Hasty Pudding Club and was a member of Phi Beta Alpha and Alpha Delta Phi (also known as the Fly Club). Interested in athletics, he won both the boxing and wrestling featherweight championships at Harvard. A dedicated student, Coolidge graduated summa cum laude in history in 1887.

Determined to make a life for himself as a scholar, Coolidge spent the next six years abroad. He traveled and studied widely and attended the University of Berlin and the École des Sciences Politiques in Paris. In 1892, Coolidge received his Ph.D. from the University of Freiburg in Germany. As a student, Coolidge mastered several European languages including French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, and Russian.

During his travels in Europe, Coolidge's interest in history became focused on contemporary international relations. He served briefly in the American diplomatic service as secretary to the American legation in Saint Petersburg, Russia (1890-1891), private secretary to the American minister in France (1892), and secretary to the American legation in Vienna (1893). Working as a diplomat, Coolidge came to the opinion that anyone who knew the history of the Eastern Mediterranean would hold the key to European affairs and have a good understanding of world politics.

Returning to the United States in 1893, Coolidge was appointed an Instructor in History at Harvard College. In the ensuing years, Coolidge served as an Assistant Professor in History (1899-1908) and as a Full Professor in History (1908-1928). He was also Chairman of the History Department from 1907 to 1910.

Coolidge's goal as a teacher was to make great historical periods intelligible to unprepared students. He felt that the History Department should furnish expert guidance to both graduate and undergraduate students in all the important fields of historical study. Over his long teaching career, Coolidge taught several different history courses including European History from the Roman Empire to the French Revolution (History I), History of Northern and Eastern Europe from 1453 to 1795 (History 15), History of the Eastern Question (History 19), Expansion of Europe since 1815 (History 30B), Selected Topics in the History of the Nineteenth Century (History 29), The Far East in the Nineteenth Century (History 18), and an advanced course in Russian history. Coolidge was noted for his precise and clearly expressed lectures. Furthermore, he was well respected and liked by his students.

Coolidge was enthusiastic over the study of lands that were comparatively unknown and remote and which had been ignored by his contemporaries. He became a pioneer in the establishment and development of Slavic studies, not only at Harvard College, but in the United States. In addition, Coolidge encouraged the introduction of history courses about Latin America, Northern Europe, the Far East, and the Ottoman Empire. Coolidge proposed and taught Harvard College's first course in Russian history. As a result of Coolidge's efforts, Harvard College introduced a more modern and vigorous history program, to the benefit of students and future diplomats.

Besides teaching, Coolidge was interested in broadening and expanding the social life of students on campus. Working with the administration, he was instrumental in the creation of several new clubs for undergraduates and was nicknamed the "King of Clubs" for his efforts. Coolidge was also chairman of the Committee on the Regulation of Athletic Sports from 1899 to 1905 and a member of the Administrative Board from 1896 to 1905.

Although Coolidge gave up a diplomatic career when he began teaching at Harvard, he still traveled abroad representing both Harvard University and the United States. In 1906 he traveled to France and lectured at the University of Paris. In 1908 Coolidge was selected as an American representative to the Pan-American Scientific Conference at Santiago, Chile. In 1913 he lectured as an Exchange Professor at the University of Berlin. When the United States entered World War I, Coolidge joined a State Department research group known as "The Inquiry" to prepare the United States for the upcoming peace conference. He directed the Eastern European division of this group and gathered information about Austria-Hungary and Russia. In 1918, under the direction of the State Department, Coolidge went to Russia to study its political, social, and economic condition. He spent time in Vienna reporting on the situation in Central and Eastern Europe for post-war planners in 1919, and finally, in 1921, working as a negotiator for the American Relief Administration, Coolidge helped arrange relief supplies for famine-stricken peoples in Russia. Sought out by officials in the State Department and by leaders in the foreign ministries of other countries, Coolidge interacted with diplomats from all over the world and kept abreast of international affairs.

As a historian, Coolidge was a proponent of the principle that every venture into a new area of scholarship and teaching should be backed up by library materials. Early in his tenure at Harvard, Coolidge became concerned over the lack of source material in America for the study of European affairs. As a result of his teaching History I, Coolidge became acquainted with Harvard's shortfall of books and primary source materials about various historical topics. To rectify the gaps in Harvard's collection, Coolidge began a book-buying crusade that would continue until his death.

Beginning in 1895 with the purchase of 1371 Slavic books, Coolidge purchased, sometimes with his own funds, thousands of books for the Harvard College Library. His goal was to build a collection of books so large and carefully chosen that scholars in every field could find all the printed material necessary for their work. In 1899 he purchased a large number of books about the Ottoman Empire and the Near East. These acquisitions propelled the library into the forefront of this subject and stimulated his book-buying ambitions into other areas. In 1902 Coolidge began the purchase of the German books that became the Hohenzollern Collection, a collection that later reached 10,000 volumes. Parliamentary documents about the German Empire and States were added in later years. Coolidge used agents and book sellers abroad to identify and purchase books for him at auctions and estate sales. In 1907 he purchased an important lot of French historical works about the French Revolution and the French Commune. In 1908, while at the Pan-American Scientific Congress, Coolidge acquired a collection of 4000 books about Spanish America. Up until his death in 1928, Coolidge continued to augment the library's collection, adding thousands of books in both history and non-history subject matters, turning the Harvard College Library into a major research institution.

Coolidge's early book-buying activities were unofficial and informal and limited to the College Library. However, in 1908 he was appointed to the Harvard Library Council, a consultative group designed to establish overall library policy and set the formal rules by which the library operates. He became chairman of this council in 1909. Then in 1910, upon a reorganization of library leadership, Coolidge, who had spent a good deal of time, energy, and money dedicated to the Harvard College Library, was appointed the first Director of the Harvard University Library. He served in this capacity for the next eighteen years.

As Director of the Harvard University Library, Coolidge was charged with the task of managing and developing all the book collections at Harvard including not only those at the College but also in the Law and Medical Schools and other special departments. Under Coolidge's stewardship, the acquisition of books and other library materials was continued and a major overhaul of the library's catalog and classification system was performed. Coolidge also guided the building of the Widener Memorial Library dealing with various architectural problems, the raising of funds for the new building, the needs of scholars, and the convenience of the library staff. The new building was his crowning achievement, opening in 1915. In both an official and unofficial capacity, Coolidge helped the Harvard libraries reach an assured position among the great libraries of the world.

Coolidge produced few major published works during his career. Most of his writings were developed from public lectures and collections of magazine articles. His most important publications were The United States as a World Power (1908), a collection of lectures presented at the Sorbonne in France, the Origins of the Triple Alliance (1917), and Ten Years of War and Peace (1927). In 1922 Coolidge became the first Editor-in-Chief of Foreign Affairs, a journal established by the Council on Foreign Relations. During the journals early years Coolidge, believing that it was important to expose the public to discussions about United States foreign policy, helped to establish it as an unbiased authority in the United States about foreign and international relations.

Archibald Cary Coolidge died in Boston on January 14, 1928.

Conclusion Archibald Cary Coolidge was characterized as a tirelessly worker, full of energy and enthusiasm for the teaching of history and the development of the Harvard libraries. He believed that a scholar should convey accurate information and master his subject matter thoroughly. Although he never became a diplomat, Coolidge contributed to the training of those Harvard students who took his history classes and entered the diplomatic field. When Coolidge died, he left $150,000 to establish a fund under the name of the "Coolidge Professorship" to be used to maintain a professorship in modern European or Asiatic history. Another $30,000 was awarded to support a student of history in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Finally, the balance of his estate was donated to the library for the continued purchase of books.

On June 20, 1929 a memorial tablet, purchased by Coolidge's friends and colleagues, was unveiled in the main hall of the Widener Memorial Library. It honored his directorship of the library, his advancement of the study of history at Harvard College, and his training of students in foreign affairs and diplomacy. Almost forty years later in 1967, Coolidge was again recognized by the College when a building on 1737 Cambridge Street, Dudley House, was renamed the Archibald Cary Coolidge Hall. This renamed house was the home of the East Asian and Russian Research Centers.

FootnoteHarvard's decentralized administrative structure, in which the various faculties operate independently, is equally apparent in its libraries. The Harvard College Library is part of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Harvard University Library, on the other hand, was established as an administrative unit and held no books; its purpose is to foster cooperative programming among the various faculty libraries.

References used for this biography were:

  • Archibald Cary Coolidge. Harvard Class Reports, Class of 1887, 102-106.
  • Bentinck-Smith, William. Building a Great Library: The Coolidge Years at Harvard. Cambridge, Massachusetts: President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1976.
  • Bentinck-Smith, William, and Elizabeth Stouffer. Harvard University, History of Named Chairs.Cambridge, Massachusetts: President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1991.
  • Currier, Thomas Franklin.A Sheaf of Memories, From the Cataloguers.Harvard Library Notes (April 1928) : 165-170.
  • Currier, Thomas Franklin. "Archibald Cary Coolidge." Library Journal (February 1, 1928).
  • Emily B. Hill.Coolidge, Archibald Cary; articles/14/14/-00118.html; American National Biography Online February 2000. Access Date: Monday February 23 13:26:54 EST 2004.
  • Ferguson, W.S.,C.H. Haskins, E.F. Gay, R.B. Merriman. Memorial Minute: Archibald Cary Coolidge.Harvard University Gazette (September 29, 1928) : 8-10.
  • Merriaman, R.B.Archibald Cary Coolidge. The Harvard Graduates' Magazine (June, 1928) : 550-557.
  • Winship, George Parker.Archibald Cary Coolidge. Harvard Library Notes (April 1928) : 157-164.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. Biographical Materials
  2. Correspondence
  3. Life and Letters
  4. ___Primary Source Materials
  5. ___Harold Jefferson Coolidge Correspondence
  6. Foreign Affairs and International Relations
  7. Writings
  8. Teaching Materials
  9. Lectures

Obsolete Call Numbers

The following list provides a map to old call numbers that were eradicated by the archivist during the 2004 consolidation. All the papers of Archibald Cary Coolidge now fall under the single call number HUG 1299.

  1. HUG 1299 Clippings, etc.: moved to Biographical Materials, Lectures, and Writings series.
  2. HUG 1299.5 Personal Correspondence: moved to Correspondence, Biographical Materials, Foreign Affairs and International Relations, and Life and Letters series.
  3. HUG 1299.5.1 Plaster Positive from death mask: moved to Biographical Materials series.
  4. HUG 1299.7 Correspondence with Walter Lichtenstein: moved to Correspondence series.
  5. HUG 1299.7.5 Correspondence with and about Walter Lichtenstein: moved to Correspondence series.
  6. HUG 1299.8 Letters to his secretary, Theodore F. Jones: moved to Correspondence series.
  7. HUG 1299.10 Notes, addresses, lectures: moved to Teaching Materials, Writings, and Lectures series.
  8. HUG 1299.11 Awakening American Education to the World: moved to Biographical Materials series.
  9. HUG 1299.11.2 A Founder of Russian Studies: moved to Biographical Materials series.
  10. HUG 1299.14 Archibald Coolidge, Life and Letters: moved to Biographical Materials series.
  11. HUG 1299.15 Manuscripts of books: moved to Writings series.
  12. HUG 1299.17 Scrapbook, 1893-1927: moved to Biographical Materials series.
  13. HUG 1299.18 Scrapbook, selections from the Evening Post: moved to Biographical Materials series.
  14. HUG 1299.20F Scrapbook, U.S. as a World Power: moved to Biographical Materials series.
  15. HUG 1299.25F Original text of Suleiman: moved to Writings series.
  16. HUG 1299.50 Taped interviews about A.C. Coolidge: moved to Biographical Materials series.
  17. HUG 1299.75 Harold Jefferson Coolidge Correspondence from friends: moved to Biographical Materials series.

Acquisition Information

  1. Accession number: 08126; 1977 June 7.
  2. Accession number: 09552; 1982 August 13.
  3. 1933 A copy of Archibald Coolidge, Life and Letters, donated by Ralph B. Perry.
  4. 1933 Scrapbook, The United States as a World Power, donated by Harold Jefferson Coolidge.
  5. 1934 Original text of Suleiman the Magnificent, donated by the Estate of A. C. Coolidge.
  6. 1937 Correspondence with Walter Lichtenstein, given by Walter Lichtenstein.
  7. 1939 Manuscripts of books, donated by Lawrence Coolidge.
  8. 1941 Notes, addresses, and lectures, donated by Lawrence Coolidge.
  9. 1941 Personal papers arranged according to Archibald Coolidge, Life and Letters, donated by Lawrence Coolidge.
  10. 1963 Letters to Theodore F. Jones, gifted by Theodore F. Jones.
  11. 1973 Taped interviews with A.C. Coolidge II, given by William Bentinck-Smith.

Related Material

  1. Search HOLLIS (Harvard's online library system) for works by and about Archibald Cary Coolidge.
  2. Records of the Harvard College Library.
  3. Records of the Harvard University Library.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2016 November 9.

Processing Note

Re-processed May 2004 by Dominic P. Grandinetti.

Re-processing included the consolidation of materials cataloged under seventeen separate call numbers, re-housing materials in the appropriate containers, establishment of series and subseries hierarchy, and the creation of this finding aid. The archivist placed the documents into acid-free folders, re-housed the materials into archival document boxes, and examined the folder contents to establish the date of the material. Call numbers beyond the base call number were eliminated. A list of these obsolete call numbers appears at the end of the finding aid.

Details about the re-processing and arrangement of each series are noted below.

Coolidge, Archibald Cary, 1866-1928. Papers of Archibald Cary Coolidge : an inventory
Language of description

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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