Collection Overview

The Columbia Archives collection documents the planning, development and continuing physical, institutional, governmental and cultural growth of Columbia, Maryland, and the life of its founder, James Rouse. Holdings include a wide range of formats with more than 500 linear feet of personal papers and organizational records, 7,000 visual images and graphic materials, more than 300 audiovisual recordings, and numerous books, reports, local newspapers and artifacts. Taken together, the holdings are a rich resource for investigating any question on Columbia.

The collection is organized into seven groupings:

Manuscript and Archival Collections — consisting largely of primary source material covering 62 organizations and individuals in depth, and covering more than 300 organizations to a lesser extent. The James W. Rouse papers and the records of Howard Research and Development Corporation can be found among the rich and broad spectrum of records documenting religious life, governance, health care, education, culture, recreation and leisure, and transportation in Columbia.

Presenting the Columbia Plan November 11, 1964

Presenting the Columbia Plan November 11, 1964.

Visual Materials — consisting of more than 4,000 photographs and prints, including many created by Howard Research and Development Corporation during the early development of Town Center and the village of Wilde Lake; slides, including those from the Columbia Exhibit Center presentation; posters and artwork by Gail Holliday, creator of Columbia neighborhood posters, and popular Columbia artists Wes Yamaka and John Levering; and a limited selection of postcards.

Maps and Graphic Materials — containing approximately 300 sketches, drawings, development plans, land plats and maps, most of which were generated by Howard Research and Development Corporation in the planning and development of Columbia.

Books and Other Printed Materials — includes books on Columbia, New Town planning and community development, many of which were used for reference by Howard Research and Development Corporation; studies on Columbia or some aspect of Columbia life; Columbia newspapers; Columbia magazines; and Columbia telephone books. Additional book sections include a selection of books from the office of James Rouse and a growing selection of works by Columbia authors.

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Audiovisual Recordings — consisting of oral histories, documentaries (from students and public broadcasting), media coverage, interviews, and regular local programming that focus on Columbia, some aspect of Columbia life or on James Rouse. Formats include film, tape, CDs and DVDs.

African Art exhibit

African Art exhibit sponsored by the gallery Ligon Ltd, 1982

Vertical Files – a collection of eight separate subject files: articles about Columbia; Columbia place names; Columbia builders and developers; James W. Rouse vertical files; biographical file; art in Columbia; planned communities; and Howard County history. All files are clippings-based, except for the Columbia builders and developers files, which are brochure-based.

Ephemera, Memorabilia, and Artifacts (EMA) – including historical artifacts such as a suit jacket worn by James Rouse; The Rouse Company headquarters’ groundbreaking shovel; a ColumBus fare box; a whistle used to summon Rouse to his office for meetings; and sails from the Prairie Ship Columbia, a temporary art installation sponsored by the Columbia Forum in 1989. A variety of promotional items created by various Columbia businesses and organizations to celebrate Columbia and special events are collected, including items such as T-shirts, mugs, keychains, etc., many sporting Columbia’s People Tree image.

Our staff is ready to assist you; we invite you to contact us at or 410-715-6781.

Looking for more local repositories with primary sources

The Columbia Archives is an active member of the Maryland History and Culture Collaborative link opens in a new window, a professional organization representing over 50 repositories that collect Maryland history. Click here to view a list of repositories link opens in a new window; and don’t forget to check out other Howard County resources.