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Langston Hughes papers

Call Number: JWJ MSS 26

Scope and Contents

The career of James Langston Hughes spanned five decades. He wrote poetry, short stories, plays, newspaper columns, children's books, and pictorial histories. He also edited several volumes of prose and fiction by Afro-American and African writers. Through his writing and through his extensive travels and lecture tours he came into direct contact with an amazing array of writers, artists, activists, and performers. The papers span the years 1862-1980.

The papers are housed in 643 boxes and are arranged in 22 series: Personal Correspondence , Professional Correspondence , Family Correspondence , Third Party Correspondence , General Writings , Poems , Song Lyrics , Newspaper Columns , Translations by Langston Hughes , Printed Appearances of Hughes's Writings , Writings of Others , Photographs , Public Appearances , Personal Papers , Family Papers , Financial and Legal Papers , Printed Ephemera , Clippings , Periodicals and Pamphlets collected by Hughes , Materials Removed from Printed Items , World Festival of Negro Arts [Dakar] , and Graphic Materials , Oversize materials are stored in boxes 588-638.

Series I-IV list the varied types of correspondence in the Hughes papers: Personal Correspondence, Professional Correspondence, Family Correspondence, and Third Party Correspondence. Though these subdivisions indicate the broad nature of the material, there are several characteristics germane to the correspondence as a whole. Because the letters were sorted in Hughes's possession before coming to Yale, and then rearranged several times during the 1970s, it is difficult to trace any true "original arrangement". However, certain categories of letters seem to have been created by Hughes and were respected by earlier Yale catalogers. During the current processing project, efforts were made to keep like items together (if any sense of original order was present), and at the same time, archival principles were applied to make the material fit an intellectual arrangement that would aid researchers. Names have been checked against Library of Congress authority records (while some variants have been kept in parentheses); unidentified letters have been checked against obvious possible matches; some groups of letters have been kept together because they were determined to be most valuable kept that way (instead of being broken up and filed individually); groups of letters listed by genre have appended notes indicating significant correspondents present.

Drafts of letters by Hughes, formerly segregated into a subsection (under "Hughes") have been interfiled into the folders of the party addressed. Several folders of original letters from Hughes which were acquired over the years from other parties have been removed and will be cataloged in a separate Hughes collection, per standard library practice. Researchers familiar with older versions of this finding aid will find that many names have been added, as letters were taken from "letter general" folders and listed separately. A few names may be missing, due to efforts to regularize authoritative names of correspondents. (These should match Library of Congress forms, which provide cross-references.)

Series I, Personal Correspondence , contains the bulk of the letters received by Hughes during his lifetime. They include early items, from childhood friends and classmates, and continue to the end of his life, including letters postmarked the day he died, May 22, 1967. A wide variety of people is represented here, fellow writers; artists; editors; musicians and composers; politicians, and activists such as: Arna Bontemps; Gwendolyn Brooks; Margaret Bonds; Owen Dodson; Jessie Fauset; Dorothy Peterson; Amy Spingarn; and Carl Van Vechten. Hughes took much interest in the careers of younger African-American, African, Caribbean, and Central American writers such as: Leroi Jones; Ted Joans, and Alice Walker. His involvement with writers' groups, civil rights committees, and church organizations is also evident. Publishers and publications with which Hughes had long-term relationships are listed here. (Other publishers are listed in Series II.)

Correspondence with colleges and universities is present here. Schools with which Hughes had a long-term or more involved relationship are listed in individual folders, while briefer, or uncompleted arrangements are housed within "letter general" folders. The same rule applies to civic groups for which Hughes lectured; many are listed individually, while others are to be found in "letter general" folders. While the majority of fan mail is listed in Series II, groups of letters from fans who became friends of Hughes over time are listed here.

The other sections of this series are: Groups, which comprises letters concerning Hughes' 1931-32 lecture tour and letters of introduction for his 1931 trip to Haiti; Drafts, which consists of letters written in shorthand by a secretary, drafts of telegrams, templates for form letters sent by Hughes (such as answers to aspiring writers); and Christmas cards made by or for Hughes. The final materials in Series I are boxes of greeting cards and invitations, which provide snapshots of Hughes's social life and circle from the 1930s through the 1960s.

Series II, Professional Correspondence , contains four subseries of correspondence. Letters in the first subseries, Minor Publishers, Publications, and Agents share the characteristic of being from entities that either courted Hughes to no avail, or only published one or two items by him. Fan Mail relates to published works by Hughes (including many in response to his syndicated columns), general letters from fans, or from special categories of readers, such as members of the armed forces, prisoners, and students. The Foreign Mail subsection is a mixture of many things, in part because it was categorized as such when it was received by the library. The meaning of "foreign" can be: from a foreign writer living in a foreign country; from an American writer living in a foreign country; letters in a non-English language (no matter where they were posted); or concerning a foreign subject (such as a translation of a work by Hughes). This subseries was analyzed and any significant letters have been moved to Series I, where they have been filed individually (such as with several prominent African writers). What remains, then, is a mixture of fan mail and minor publisher correspondence. The final subseries contains Form Letters. These are generic mailings of informative flyers, solicitations, or newsletters. Many of the organizations listed in Series I can also be found here. The difference between the two, to use an example, is this: letters to and from Hughes as a member of The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) concerning particular issues and business are found in Series I; newsletters and general announcements of events are found in Form Letters in Series II.

Series III, Family Correspondence , contains letters to and from Hughes to his relatives as well as exchanges between other family members. Letters are present from his mother, Carolyn Clark, his brother, Gwyn Clark, and his father, James Hughes. One other group of materials present is several folders of sympathy letters sent to his family following Hughes's death. (Letters from Toy and Emerson Harper, who were not in reality his biological "aunt" and "uncle" are filed in Series I.)

Series IV, Third Party Correspondence , consists of various letters between Hughes's friends and acquaintances. The majority of these were likely pulled from incoming letters to Hughes during an earlier processing project. Groups of letters, probably given to Hughes by the recipients, include letters relating to "The Poetry of the Negro", addressed to Arna Bontemps; letters to Hughes's agent, Maxim Lieber; and letters to his speaking tour arranger, W. Colston Leigh.

Series V, General Writings , contains works by Hughes exclusive of poems and song lyrics, which are organized in Series VI and VII. (However, manuscripts of book-length collections of poems are found here.) This series is organized into two subseries. The first, Works by Title, is an alphabetical listing of the major works by Hughes, spanning plays, short stories, autobiographical writings, criticism, reportage, stage shows, anthologies, collection of black folklore, humor, and radio and television skits. There is material intended for a wide audience; children and adults; black and white. Some of Hughes's most well known works are present in several draft stages.

The second subseries, Short Works by Subject, gathers together various works around themes. Among the items found here are reviews (of books, films, film scenarios, and plays), introductions to books, record album liner notes, short story notes, short pieces (recommendations, statements and tributes about books, events and topics, and people). At the end of this subsection are several folders of notes and fragments.

It should be noted that some early writings by Hughes are not present in manuscript form (such as drafts of most of the stories that comprise "Ways of White Folks") in Series V. These were most likely not saved, or given to friends or other libraries with manuscript collections of African-American authors. As well, many typescripts have generally been described as "drafts" though they may well simply be copies made at a later date for presentation to readers.

Series VI, Poems , contains a great number of verses written by Hughes and is organized into Single Poems and Groups, which are both arranged alphabetically by title. Groups of poems are gatherings done either by Hughes under a title (e.g. "Blues and Dixieland Poems") or for a specific project (e.g. "Poems read by Langston Hughes at Carver Program"). (Book-length collections of poems are found in Series V. General Writings). The last section of Groups is made up of translations, arranged alphabetically by language. Versions of most of Hughes best-known poems are included here, many in holograph and typewritten versions.

Series VII, Song Lyrics , contains texts which Hughes intended to be set to music. (Many items, however, began life as poems, but were later revised to be set to music. Therefore, there is a certain amount of duplication of titles between this series and Series VI, Poems.) Hughes wrote in a wide range of idioms: Jazz, Blues, Gospel, and Popular Song. A few of his songs gained wide popularity, mainly those written for stageshows, which got the widest exposure, and remained in repertoire.

The first section of this series consists of Single Lyrics, which are arranged alphabetically by title. The second section is made up of Groups of lyrics, which were gathered together by title (e.g. Tambourines to Glory) and by theme (e.g. Life is Fine (Four Bawling Ballads)). Where known, the name of the musical composer has been listed. Descriptions of musical settings have been written in accordance to musical cataloging standards in use at the Yale Music Library. Many titles, then, appear in parallel listings, with separate entries for song lyrics and for musical settings (indicated by the addition of the qualifier "music" after the title). In this latter category, there also exist several pieces which appear as music only (i.e. no extant lyrics). The Beinecke Library also owns printed sheet music for many of Hughes's songs (many donated by Hughes). These have been cataloged separately as printed items.

Many of Hughes musical projects were for complete shows. The most well-known venture was with Kurt Weill, for the 1947 musical "Street Scene", from which came the hit parade song "Moon-faced, Starry-eyed" and the jazz standard, "Lonely House" (also known as "Lonely Home"). Hughes had two more musicals on Broadway: "Simply Heavenly" (based on his Simple stories) in 1957; and "Tambourines to Glory" in 1963, both of which included original songs. While the songs for these shows are found here, manuscripts of the books for these are in Series V, General Writings. (Texts for longer classical works, such as the cantata "The Glory Around His Head," are also found in Series V, as are all materials for "Black Nativity," since Hughes used traditional spirituals and created a play around them.)

Series VIII, Newspaper Columns , contains drafts and printed versions of the majority of the weekly columns Hughes wrote for the Chicago Defender and the New York Post between 1942-1966. Reprints in several other newspapers are also included. While the columns are best known for the ongoing tale of Jesse B. Semple (i.e. "Simple"), they also comment on social and political issues of the period. Several original clippings from the late 1940s were docketed as evidence in a Chicago court case concerning the origin of the term "Daddy-o". Examples of these can be found in folder 9200a. NOTE: Due to their highly embrittled condition, printed columns have been photocopied onto acid-free paper for research use. Originals have been stored separately.

Series IX, Translations by Langston Hughes , gathers various works translated by Hughes from works by other authors. Many of these are Spanish and French language writers, including: Federico Garcia Lorca ("Fate at the Wedding" and "Gypsy Ballads"); Nicolas Guillèn ("Cuba Libre"); Gabriela Mistral ("Selected Poems"); and Jacques Roumain ("Masters of the Dew").

Series X, Printed Appearances of Hughes's Writings , compiles various published works by Hughes. While printed books are cataloged separately, it is general Beinecke practice to include items clipped from magazines as part of general writings series. However, because these materials from Hughes's papers had been stored separately for years, a decision was made not to interfile them. They have been arranged to mirror the organization of preceding series. This series represents a fair example of printed appearances of Hughes's works, but is, by no means, complete.

Series XI, Writings of Others , is organized into two subseries. The first contains Writings of Others about Langston Hughes, such as critical essays, poems in homage, biographical sketches, and drafts of theses. The second subseries contains General Writings by a wide range of writers, including friends of Hughes, fans, and students. Most materials in this subseries have been identified only by material type [e.g. "poem" or "play"]. Titles of works have been given for well-known writers [e.g. Alice Walker].

Series XII, Photographs , consists of 12 subseries. The first subseries contains Candid Portraits and Snapshots of Langston Hughes, The following subseries, Photographers' Portraits of Langston Hughes, features works by such artists as James Allen, Richard Avedon, Gordon Parks, Irving Penn, and Edward Weston. The third subseries is a folder of photographs showing Langston Hughes in Paintings and Sculpture. Images of Hughes's family can be found in the next subseries.

The bulk of material in this series is found in the fifth subseries, Langston Hughes Chronology, which traces Hughes's life from 1902 through 1967, recording friends, school years, trips, lectures, and appearances. These images were received from Hughes's estate, but were originally filed among general images in the James Weldon Johnson Collection. They were reunited with Hughes's papers and arranged chronologically. Among the best-documented periods are Hughes's trips to Cuba and Haiti in 1931, his trip to the Soviet Union in 1932-33 (which includes many official news agency photos), the Spanish Civil War, and his European trips of the 1960s. A wide selection of photographs of People and Groups of People follow in the next subseries. Next are Productions of Works by Hughes, such as "Black Nativity," "Don't You Want to Be Free," and "Prodigal Son". Art Photographs contains works by Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Griffith Davis, Roy De Carava, and Marian Palfi, among others. The remaining subseries are: Artworks (photographs documenting art in other media); Places; and Other Subjects (such as exhibitions about Hughes).

Series XIII, Public Appearances , is a chronological gathering of materials that document Hughes's frequent lectures and speaking engagements. As noted in Processing Notes, this series was arranged sometime in the past and contains materials that might otherwise have been classed in other series, but was kept in the existing order becasue of its value to researchers. This series, then, is not complete and many other items documenting Hughes's public appearances can also be found in most of the other series.

Series XIV, Personal Papers , is organized into 17 subseries which provide an eclectic view into Hughes's life. The subseries are arranged alphabetically and are: Addresses (on cards, in books and on lists); Bibliographical Material (which serve to document Hughes's publishing history); Engagement Books and Calendars; Journals (mostly from his early life, ca. 1920s-30s); Lists of Miscellaneous Subjects; Memos (which are principally jotted notes and desk reminders, but also include some other types of items, mainly from the 1920s and 1930s); Music Material; Notebooks; Notes (which appear to not be related directly to any specific work by Hughes); Objects (including a fraternity hat, a cigarette case from Carl Van Vechten, and a tambourine used in "Tambourines to Glory"); Project Files (mainly concerning committees and organizations); School Materials (documenting Hughes's education); Scrapbooks; Teaching Materials (Hughes as instructor); Transcripts of Interviews and Roundtables; Travel Documents; and Other Papers (such as an advertisement of Hughes for Smirnoff Vodka, membership and identity cards, rent party cards, and Hughes's will).

Series XV, Family Papers , is divided into 15 subseries, for members of Hughes's family, including Clark, Hughes, Langston, Miller and some general items. Material documenting his mother, Carolyn Clark, and father, James N. Hughes, include a marriage certificate, diaries, passports, and a will. Included here is a "baby letter" written by Langston Hughes to his aunt Carolyn Battle, ca. 1907, and a note regarding genealogy.

Series XVI, Financial and Legal Papers , is organized into 14 subseries for types of records: Checking accounts; Contracts; Copyright and Publication Registrations; Employee Records (persons working for Hughes); Expense Records (for shipping archives to Yale University); Financial Memos; Income Statements; Income Tax; Insurance; Invoices and Royalty Statements; Legal Documents; Loans; Receipts; and Stock.

Series XVII, Printed Ephemera , gathers together items such as theater programs, advertising cards, and flyers and is organized into 3 subseries. The first two are: About Langston Hughes (separated into general mentions and appearances); and About Hughes's Works. The last subseries concerns General Subjects, such as African topics, black subjects, humanitarian committees, newsletters and bulletins, performances (works not by Hughes), and publication announcements (also works not by Hughes).

Series XVIII, Clippings , follows the arrangement of Printed Ephemera, but includes several more subseries, totaling seven. In the subseries About Langston Hughes, general mentions and appearances are interfiled. A small group of Specific Topics involving Hughes follows. The next subseries is About Hughes's Works. The fourth subseries is about People, followed by General Arts ands General Subjects. The final subseries consists of Clippings from Isabella Brown. Brown, a long-time fan, whose many letters can be found in Series I, Personal Correspondence, sent Hughes hundreds of clippings and collages between 1950 and 1967, incorporating advertising and comic book images.

Series XIX, Periodicals and Pamphlets collected by Hughes , consists of issues of magazines which were not cataloged separately. These were retained in the archive to provide a snapshot of some of Hughes's reading interests.

Series XX, Materials Removed from Printed Items , is made up of items (such as publishers' cards) that were formerly inserted into printed works that have been cataloged separately.

Series XXI, World Festival of Negro Arts [Dakar] , is an assortment of printed material collected by Hughes concerning this event, including official committee records and transcripts of speeches.

Series XXII, Graphic Materials , gathers together in nine subseries various image materials collected by Hughes. Among the Artwork Originals are works by such artists as Roy De Carava, Ted Joans, and Prentiss Taylor. Artworks by Langston Hughes are mainly pencil sketches and block cut prints. Images of Langston Hughes contains a painting by Amy Spingarn as well as various printed images of Hughes. Following a group of correspondence cards from the Spanish Civil War is a collection of Images of Famous Figures in African-American History, which were likely used in either Famous American Negroes or Pictorial History of the Negro in America. Two boxes of postcards record Hughes's travels around the world and also contain a group of humorous images of African Americans collected by Hughes. Many of the Posters are for productions of plays by Hughes or for appearances by Hughes, but also include boxing and bullfighting posters from Mexico and a series of posters for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, among others. The final two subseries are groups of printed images, mainly of people, and several printing blocks.

Oversize material is housed in boxes 588-638 and contains items from Series V, VI, VII, X, XII, XIV, XV, XVII, XVIII, and XXII. Restricted Fragile Papers (boxes x-xx) contains fragile originals for which preservation photocopies have been made for reference use and filed in the regular series run.


  • 1862-1980


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Boxes 639-667 and items in cold storage (including box 669): Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Existence and Location of Copies

Microfilm for several items available. Consult Public Services desk.

Conditions Governing Use

The Langston Hughes Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Langston Hughes and bequest of the estate of Langston Hughes, ca. 1940-1967, with additions from other sources, ca. 1940-1980.


305 Linear Feet ((673 boxes) + 1 art, 11 broadside)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Langston Hughes Papers contain letters, manuscripts, personal items, photographs, clippings, artworks, and objects that document the life of the well-known African-American poet.


The Life of Langston Hughes has been written about in a wide range of biographies, which are available at many libraries. What follows is a brief timeline of important dates in his life.

1902: James Langston Hughes born February 1, in Joplin, Missouri, to Carrie Langston Hughes and James Nathaniel Hughes.

1902-1914: Lived in Mexico, Missouri, and Kansas for short periods with his mother and father, then, after they separated, with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas.

1914: Moved from Lawrence to join his mother and stepfather in Lincoln, Illinois.

1916: Elected class poet for grammar school graduation at Lincoln. Moved from Lincoln to Cleveland, Ohio.

1920: Chosen editor of Central High School Yearbook, Cleveland. Graduated from Central High School. Spent the year after graduation in Mexico with his father.

1921: Published juvenile poetry in The Brownie's Book. "A Negro Speaks of Rivers" published in The Crisis. Entered Columbia University in New York.

1922: Left Columbia to take assorted jobs in New York area.

1923-24: Employed as cook's helper on tramp steamer to Africa, Holland, and Europe. Employed as cook in Paris night club; stranded as a beachcomber in Genoa. Returned from Europe to live with his mother in Washington, D.C.

1925: Lived in Washington, D.C. Won first prize for poetry in Opportunity contest. Won second prize for essay and third prize for poetry in The Crisis contest. Carl Van Vechten introduced his poetry to Alfred Knopf.

1926: Entered Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Weary Blues published. Fire published. Won first prize in Witter Bynner Undergraduate Poetry Contest.

1927: Fine Clothes to the Jew published. Traveled in South.

1929: Graduated from Lincoln University.

1930: Not Without Laughter published. Won Harmon award for literature.

1931: Dear Lovely Death and The Negro Mother published. Traveled to Haiti and Cuba. Conducted poetry reading tour in the South and West.

1932: The Dream Keeper, Scottsboro Limited, and Popo and Fifina published.

1933: Returned to California from Russia by way of Japan. Spent year writing at Carmel by the Sea.

1934: Ways of White Folks published. Death of father in Mexico.

1935: Received Guggenheim Fellowship. Lived and worked in Mexico.

1937: Traveled to Spain as correspondent for Baltimore Afro- American. Death of mother.

1938: A New Song published. Founded Harlem Suitcase Theatre.

1939: Founded The New Negro Theater in Los Angeles.

1940: The Big Sea published.

1941: Received Rosenwald Fellowship.

1942: Shakespeare in Harlem published. Founded Skyloft P1ayers in Chicago.

1943: Freedom's Plow and Jim Crow's Last Stand published. Began Chicago Defender columns. Granted Hon. Litt. D. from Lincoln University.

1946: Elected to membership in National Institute of Arts and Letters.

1947: Fields of Wonder and translation of Jacques Roumain's Masters of the Dew published. Appointed Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Atlanta University.

1948: Translation of Nicolas Guillen's Cuba Libre published.

1949: Appointed Poet in Residence at the Laboratory School, University of Chicago. Troubled Island presented in New York.

1950: Simple Speaks His Mind and The Poetry of the Negro published. The Barrier presented in New York.

1951: Montage on a Dream Deferred and translation of Garcia Lorca's Romancero Gitano published.

1952: Laughing to Keep From Crying and First Book of Negroes published.

1953: Received Ainsfeld-Wolfe Award (Best book of year on race relations). Simple Takes a Wife published.

1954: Famous American Negroes and First Book of Rhythms published.

1955: Sweet Flypaper of Life, Famous Negro Music Makers, and First Book of Jazz published.

1956: I Wonder As I Wander, A Pictorial History of the Negro In America, and The First Book of the West Indies, published.

1957: Simple Stakes a Claim and Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral published. Simply Heavenly presented on Broadway.

1958: Famous Negro Heroes of America and The Book of Negro Folklore published.

1959: Selected Poems and Tambourines to Glory published.

1960: Received Spingarn Medal. African Treasury and The First Book of Africa published.

1961: Ask Your Mama and The Best of Simple published. Black Nativity presented in New York.

1962: Fight for Freedom published. Attended literary conference in Uganda and Nigeria. Began New York Post columns.

1963: Something in Common and Other Stories. Poems from Black Africa. Tambourines to Glory (play based on novel) presented on Broadway. Received Doctor of Letters degree from Howard University.

1964: New Negro Poets: U.S.A. edited. Jerico-Jim Crow presented in New York. Helped prepare BBC's The Negro in America series. Granted Hon. Litt. D. from Western Reserve.

1965: Simple's Uncle Sam published. The Prodigal Son presented in New York. Wrote script for WCBS-TV's Easter program. "It's a Mighty World". Lectured in America Houses in Europe for United States Information Agency.

1966: La Poesie Negro-Americaine, and The Book of Negro Humor edited.

1967: The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers, edited. The Panther and the Lash, Black Magic: A Pictorial History of the Negro in American Entertainment, with Milton Meltzer. Hughes died May 22, 1967.

[from Donald C. Dickinson's A Bio-Bibliography of Langston Hughes and James A. Emanuel's Langston Hughes]

Processing Information

This collection has undergone processing at several points over the past three decades. The processing project in 2000-2002 was intended to clarify problematic listings of materials and incorporate previously unprocessed materials, including some groups formerly classified as "printed" (such as newspaper clippings, postcards, and photographs). Due to the number of times the papers were rearranged, much of the original identification and arrangement of materials was lost, making it difficult to recreate associations (such as photographs that were once enclosed in letters to Hughes).

Several of the series included in this finding aid were inherited from these earlier processing projects. Therefore, a series such as "Personal Appearances", which would have been more logically broken into individual components (writings, printed ephemera, clippings, etc.) has been kept intact. Readers should be aware, however, that many other items that document Hughes' personal appearances can, indeed, be found in other series, such as Series XVII. Printed Ephemera. Some other materials, which may have been grouped together before by subject have been placed in appropriate series, so that, for example, one may find material documenting "Tambourines to Glory" in Series II, Professional Correspondence, Series II., Writings, Series XII, Photographs, and Series XXII, Graphic Materials.

Some small groups of materials, primarily letters, that were formerly included here, but which did not come from Langston Hughes' estate, have been cataloged separately. Some other materials from non-Hughes sources have been kept with the papers, since they would be extremely difficult to segregate. One other specific exception to provenance is the presence of items donated by Carl Van Vechten, since many of these were clearly intended for the Hughes papers by Hughes and arrived at Yale by way of Van Vechten.

Guide to the Langston Hughes Papers
Under Revision
by Timothy G. Young
May 2002
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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