Mississippi Department of Archives and History

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) is the state repository charged with collecting, maintaining, preserving, and managing the state’s official records, a vast collection of materials that pertain to the history of the territory and state. Located in Jackson, the state capital, and officially established by an act of the Mississippi legislature on 26 February 1902, MDAH is the second-oldest department of archives in the nation. While offering public access to its archives and library, MDAH also oversees the Old Capitol Museum, Historic Jefferson College, the Eudora Welty House, and other historical sites. In addition, MDAH administers historic preservation programs, public records management, and a publication program. The department’s holdings document Mississippi from prehistory to the present, including more than sixty thousand cubic feet of records. Among its notable holdings are the papers of civil rights activists Medgar and Myrlie Evers.

In addition to its manuscript records collections, the department holds a variety of electronic records as well as books, illustrations, maps, oral histories, photographs, microfilm, and video and audiotapes. Some collections have been digitized and are available in their entirety at the MDAH website, including the records of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission and of Jefferson Davis’s estate, Confederate Pension applications, and numerous photographs, including those of the 1927 Great Mississippi Flood and Hurricanes Camille and Katrina. Finding aids, indexes, and archivists and librarians facilitate access to these materials by researchers, scholars, genealogists, and anyone else who is interested. MDAH is affiliated with the Mississippi Historical Society and holds institutional membership in the American Association for State and Local History, the American Association of Museums, and the Mississippi Museums Association.

The 1902 legislative act authorized the appointment of a five-member Mississippi Historical Commission, which recommended the department’s creation. A board of trustees was then appointed, and shortly thereafter Dunbar Rowland was named the agency’s first director. His successors have included William D. McCain (1938–55), Charlotte Capers (1955–69), Richard A. McLemore (1969–73), Elbert R. Hilliard (1973–2004), Hank T. Holmes (2005–15), and Katherine Drayne Blount (2015–).

Prior to MDAH’s creation, Mississippi’s official records were housed in several different locations, including Old Concord (the residence of the Spanish governors); Natchez and the Natchez District (1798); Jefferson College in Washington, Mississippi (1819); Columbia (1821); and Jackson (1822). During the Civil War the records bounced from Meridian to Enterprise to Columbus to Macon. In 1865, in accordance with orders issued by Gov. Charles Clark, the records were returned to the Capitol in Jackson, along with additional records that had been hidden in the Jackson City Hall. They remained there until 1896 when they were relocated to the State Penitentiary. By 1903 the new capitol building on Mississippi Street was completed, and the department moved into the first floor. In 1941 the archives were transferred to the War Memorial Building. In 1971 the department moved into the new Capers Building (which was designed and constructed specifically to serve as an archival repository) on South State Street. MDAH remained at that location until September 2003, when the administrative offices, collections, library, and research facilities moved to their new and present location in the William F. Winter Archives and History Building on North Street in Jackson. The Historic Preservation Division remains in the Capers Building.

In October 2013 the Mississippi Department of Archives and History broke ground on the 2 Museums Project. The Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opened to much excitement in downtown Jackson in December 2017. The Civil Rights Museum is the first state-constructed and state-operated civil rights museum in the nation.

Further Reading

  • Charlotte Capers, in A Mississippi Reader: Selected Articles from the Journal of Mississippi History, ed. John Edmond Gonzales (1980)
  • Anne S. Lipscomb and Kathleen S. Hutchison, Tracing Your Mississippi Ancestors (1994)
  • Mississippi Department of Archives and History website, www.mdah.state.ms.us
  • Dunbar Rowland, History of Mississippi: The Heart of the South, 2 vols. (1925; reprint, 1978)
  • John Ray Skates, Mississippi’s Old Capitol: Biography of a Building (1990)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Mississippi Department of Archives and History
  • Author
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date June 7, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update June 6, 2018