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Harold F. Williamson, Sr. (1901-1989) Papers

Identifier: 11/3/10/12
The papers of Harold F. Williamson, Sr. fill seven boxes, and span the years 1926 to 1987. They illustrate the process of writing business histories, from proposal to publication, and the teaching of economic history over six decades from the 1920's into the 1970's. These materials are divided into seven broad categories: biographical materials, education, correspondence, teaching files, speeches and presentations, associations and organizations, and publications.

The largest subseries, teaching files, retains the topical arrangement that Williamson preferred, and is further subdivided into general topics, Europe and Great Britain, United States, and student papers. The lecture notes in these folders and in the education folders document in meticulous detail the teaching of economic history over several decades.

Correspondence with colleagues comprises another large portion of the papers. The warmth of these letters, and the effusive congratulatory notes the Williamson received upon his retirement, build a picture of the man's close friendships and personality that would otherwise not be represented. Little material exists from what must have been extensive correspondence with publishers and coauthors, and even less describes Northwestern University, its economics department, and faculty.

Williamson's vocation as a business historian was reflected in presentations, articles, proposals, notes, and memberships. The process of planning and writing business histories is demonstrated in “Time Capsules” in Box 7, Folder 4, and in proposals for Sears, the petroleum industry, and the Northwestern University Dental School (Box 7, Folders 6, 7, 10, 11). Correspondence with Chester Destler and David W. Lewis gives special insight into the relationships between businesses and their historians (Box 2, Folders 10 and 11). The Business History Foundation correspondence offers a glimpse into a difficult project (Box 6, Folder 14).

Papers from the 1940's are discolored and fragile; those from other decades are in better condition. Handwritten notes are clear and legible throughout. Materials are arranged chronologically unless otherwise noted.

Biographical Materials include several versions of his Curriculum Vitae, biographical sketches, obituaries for Harold Williamson and his wife Arline, and correspondence related to his teaching appointments. There are no complete lists or indexes of his published articles or of his speeches and presentations. The Honors and Awards folder includes press announcements, certificates, and correspondence.

Clippings include announcements of book publication, attendance at conferences, appointments and honors, and the 1960-61 Liberia trip. One clipping quotes an insightful speech at the Institute of World Affairs in St. Paul on the topic of American misconceptions about the economic development of “backward nations.” News Releases from Northwestern University, Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, and other organizations announce publication of books, leaves of absence for research, and presentations.

The Education materials consist of legible handwritten notes. Some of the paper is fragile.

Williamson took meticulous notes during and after graduate school, when he attended lectures by eminent economists Edwin F. Gay and Abbott P. Usher.

Williamson engaged in extensive correspondence throughout his life with numerous colleagues, students, and friends. Many of the letters in the Correspondence files relate to requests to review books, letters of recommendation for academic positions, and arrangements for conferences. In the general and personal correspondence folders, letters are arranged chronologically, but the letters of recommendation (Box 2, Folder 3) are arranged alphabetically by the name of the candidate. Thirteen folders contain letters exchanged with individuals.

Teaching Files are arranged topically. Williamson typically retained several iterations of lecture notes in each of his topical files, spanning decades. Most are undated. Frequent notations of “BKU” refer to the text An Economic History of Europe Since 1750 by Witt Bowden, Michael Karpovich, and Abbott Payson Usher. Published in 1937 by American Book Company, this text was still being used in Williamson's classes in 1961, and was reprinted in 1970. Some teaching files include correspondence, articles by colleagues or newspaper clippings that Williamson found significant in preparing his lecture for a specific educational topic. Williamson also retained some papers written as assignments by his students at Harvard, Yale, and Northwestern.

Williamson frequently made speeches, but only a few are documented as proceedings or typescripts in the Speeches and Presentations folder. He is named in many conference programs as a presenter, moderator of a panel discussion, organizer, or master of ceremonies. The transcript of a 1947 Yale radio interview mentions the implications of atomic energy. A particularly interesting speech from 1932 discusses economic changes in the United States, trade barriers, the economic implications of changes to national boundaries in Europe after World War I, and the new position of the U.S. as a creditor nation. A major address to the Chicago Corral of Westerners International (a history club) was a recapitulation of Winchester: The Gun That Won the West. Williamson spoke to the American Marketing Association, the International Economic History Association, the Ulster-Scot Historical Foundation (concerning the history of Rand McNally and Company), and introduced John Kenneth Galbraith at the Conference on the Evolution of International Management Structures. One speech is a tribute to his friend and colleague Orange Smalley, who died in 1964. Lucid outlines exist from a series of ten lectures on economic history presented at the Kyoto American Studies Summer Seminar in 1971.

Materials filed under Associations and Organizations include correspondence, meeting minutes, and financial reports. The American Economic Association was very important to Williamson, and extensive correspondence describes his successful efforts to transfer organizational records from Nashville to Northwestern University Special Collections Department.

Papers related to Publications consist of correspondence, contracts, notes, drafts, proofs, reprints, photocopies of articles, and reviews. The publishers of two dictionaries and an encyclopedia requested articles on specific topics. Williamson actively sought opportunities to prepare business histories, as demonstrated by his proposals to the petroleum industry, Sears, Roebuck and Company, and Northwestern University Dental School. The materials related to Northwestern University: A History include correspondence, press releases, reviews, and letters from Curtis D. MacDougall, an N. U. journalism professor, criticizing the book's handling of McCarthy-era persecution that took place during MacDougall's 1948 U. S. Senate campaign. Transcripts of interviews with Donald Jacobs, Herbie Juris, Gene Lavengood, and James Allen provide some insight into the writing of the Kellogg Graduate School of Management history.


  • 1926-1987


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is stored off-site and requires 48 hours advance notice for retrieval. Please contact us at or 847-491-3136 to schedule an appointment to view the collection.


7.00 Boxes


The papers of Harold F. Williamson, Sr. fill seven boxes, and span the years 1926 to 1987. They illustrate the process of writing business histories, from proposal to publication, and the teaching of economic history over six decades from the 1920's into the 1970's. These materials are divided into seven broad categories: biographical materials, education, correspondence, teaching files, speeches and presentations, associations and organizations, and publications.

Method of Acquisition

The Harold F. Williamson, Sr. Papers comprise five accessions. Three accessions were donated by Harold F. Williamson, Sr: #79-222, received October 3, 1979; #84-124 received August 3, 1984; #85-27 received February 15, 1985. Additional materials found in Williamson's workroom were received March 14, 1994 as accession #94-38. Sam Williamson donated materials on March 24, 2004 in accession #04-45.

Related Materials

Extensive information is available about the Liberia Project in Series 35/19, “Records of the Economic Survey of Liberia, 1956-1962.” Williamson's correspondence as Campus Coordinator for the project is in Box 2, Folders 2-7.

The Curtis MacDougall Papers, Series 16/13, provide more information about MacDougall's politics in Box 2, Folder 2, entitled Political Campaigns.

American Economic Association (AEA) records are in Special Collections.

Separated Materials

Twenty-three inches of duplicate and extraneous materials were discarded. Three audiocassettes were separated from accession #79-222, and a photograph of Williamson and one of Orange Smalley were separated to the University Archives Photographic Collection. Other separations included several papers returned to their authors or institutions.

Processing Information

Janet Kerschner, November 2004.
Guide to the Harold F. Williamson, Sr. (1901-1989) Papers
Janet Kerschner
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Repository Details

Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US