The Edward Sylvester Morse Papers were given to the Peabody Museum in 1926 and consist of 99 boxes of personal and professional papers including diaries, correspondence, research files, drawings, lecture notes, publications, scrapbooks and manuscripts. The collection spans the full range of Morse’s interests from his career as a natural historian to his life-changing experiences in Japan. The Phillips library prepared a listing of the Morse collection comprising a biography, a scope and content note, a brief bibliography and a list of contents; the scope and content note is reproduced here. An amended version of Morse's Biography can be found in the Research Tools section of this resource; for a detailed examination of Morse, see Professor Robert A. Ronsenstone's contextual essay, Edward Sylvester Morse: Scientist and Japanologist.


The Edward Sylvester Morse papers (ca. 1858-1925, 40 cubic feet), document the numerous and valuable contributions made by Morse to the areas of malacology, zoology, ethnology, archaeology and art history. The range and depth of his interests are reflected in the complexity of the papers. Included are diaries, scrapbooks, correspondence, research files, drawings, manuscripts, publications and teaching materials. Morse utilized his artistic abilities to illustrate his research as well as daily observations and correspondence. Drawings which were particularly fragile and/or on odd shaped pieces of paper have been encapsulated in polyester.

This collection consists of content from fifteen archival series:

Correspondence; Diaries; Scrapbooks; Natural History; Archaeology Field Work; Ethnology; Japanese Pottery; Lectures; Publications; Inventions; Materials Collected by Morse; Financial Records; Noise Abatement; Biographical and Personal; and Miscellaneous. The papers were given to the Peabody Museum in 1926 and processed in 1984 under a grant from Skogakukan of Tokyo, Japan.

Some documents in this collection contain outdated, biased and offensive views, and terminology that is no longer deemed acceptable. Documents identified as including such content include a warning; further content which expresses such views may be found within other documents included in the collection.

Significant areas of the collection are described below, in the order in which they are arranged.


The Correspondence series consists of family, general and professional correspondence dating from 1862 to 1925. Incoming correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent. Outgoing correspondence is arranged chronologically. Note: the majority of correspondence located in scrapbooks and elsewhere in the collection has been photocopied and integrated in the Correspondence Series. However, particularly fragile correspondence has not been photocopied and may be found in the Scrapbook Series.

Correspondence between Morse and members of the American and international scientific community is extensively documented. Among the prominent scientific correspondents are members of Morse’s class at Harvard: Addison E. Verrill, Alpheus Hyatt, and Frederick W. Putnam. Correspondence between Morse and the astronomer Percival Lowell documents their thirty year friendship and scientific collaboration on the study of Mars.

Correspondence between Morse and John M. Gould offers a rich account of their long friendship. The letters form a continuous, detailed and intimate record which is interrupted only during the period of Gould’s enlistment in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Morse was instrumental in introducing prominent collectors to Japanese art and culture as revealed in correspondence between Morse and William Sturgis Bigelow, Ernest Francisco Fenollosa and Charles Goddard Weld. Through his influence and encouragement, Morse contributed to the systematic preservation of Japanese material culture and art history.

Morse was a dedicated diarist as is evident in the abundance of material in the Diaries series. The series covers the years 1856-1863 with brief entries for the years 1866-1867, and include travel diaries from Japan and Europe in 1877, 1882-1883 and 1887-1889. All the diaries are extensively illustrated.


Japan Diary, 1877 Pages 1000-1200, Sketches 225-291 © Peabody Essex MuseumJapan Diary, 1877, pages 1000-1200, Sketches 225-291 © Material sourced from the Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem

The journal which he kept from 1856 to 1863 provides an excellent record of Morse’s years as a student and assistant to Louis Agassiz. Of interest are humorous sketches of members of the “Agassiz Zoological Club,” an informal organization formed by Morse and his fellow students. In his entry of January 1, 1860, Morse notes his academic improvements over the past year and dedicates the remainder of his life to the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

The supersedence of Japan’s feudal culture by westernization and modernization is documented in the journal kept by Morse during his 1882 ethnological expedition. His copious notes and abundant sketches were used to produce books on Japanese architecture and customs, the most notable being his 1917 publication Japan Day By Day.

The Scrapbooks series was compiled and organized by Margarette W. Brooks, Morse’s secretarial assistant from 1878 to 1925. Items in books titled “Personal Notices” include photographs, sketches, newspaper clippings, correspondence and memorabilia. Letters from Morse to his parents, drawings and scientific articles he collected as a youngster are organized in Personal Notices, c. 1859-1894. Brooks continued to update the scrapbooks during Morse’s absences with materials sent to her from Japan and Europe. (Note: some reprints of publications not found in the Publications series may be found in this series.)

The Natural History series includes notebooks of Morse’s boyhood shell cabinet, school essays, lecture notes from Harvard College, illustrations produced for conchologist William G. Binney, extensive notes and sketches relating to mollusks, and research for a proposed textbook entitled Zoology of New England. Included are secondary research materials collected by Morse and filed with his notes. Of interest is a memorandum dated January 14, 1871, in which Morse states his disagreement with Agassiz on the classification of brachiopda and Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Morse’s archaeological work at the Omori Shell Mounds is richly documented in the Archaeology Field Work series. Included are an abundance of sketches and detailed drawings of pottery fragments, extensive notes on his findings, and secondary source research materials. There is also a folder of undated sketches of aboriginal tools from Goose Island, Maine.

The Ethnology series offers documentation of the years Morse resided in Japan as Professor of Zoology at the Imperial University of Tokyo and his 1882 ethnological expedition funded by the Trustees of the Peabody Museum of Salem. Documentation of his university tenure is sparce. Included are student papers and his teaching contract. Morse’s sketches and notes reflect his eclectic curiosity. They include examples of shop signs, fireworks, hairpins and agricultural tools, and views of Noritane Ninegawa’s studio. Materials relating to the Catalogue of Ethnological Objects include a handwritten list of 821 items collected by Morse in Japan and shipped to the Peabody Museum of Salem in 1882.

The Japanese Pottery series documents the acquisition of Morse’s personal collection of prehistoric and modern Japanese pottery, and his curatorial appointment at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Included in this series is correspondence pertaining to the publication of the Catalogue of the Morse Collection of Japanese Pottery, notes and sketches relating to the identification of pottery marks, and information pertaining to the hereditary families of potters. Kwan Ko Dzu Setsu (Illuminating Discourse in Ancient Objects) by Morse’s mentor, Noritane Ninagawa, as well as other monographs relating to Japanese pottery, have been translated and transcribed by hand.

Kamioka © Material sourced from the Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, SalemKamioka © Material sourced from the Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem


Morse was a prolific and versatile researcher as is evident in the variety of subjects found in the Publications series. In addition to some fifty scientific papers relating to mollusca and brachiopoda, he produced numerous monographs on Asian ethnology and art, zoology, archaeology, astronomy, and religion. Related correspondence is filed with the article or monograph. “Traces of An Early Race in Japan” (1879), describes Morse’s identification and excavation of the group of Neolithic shell mounds at Omori. The results of the systematic study of the Omori site were published in Shell Mounds of Omori (1879), the first publication of the Science Department of the Imperial University at Tokyo.

Notes and other materials in the Lectures series are arranged topically and are undated with the exception of the Lowell Institute of Boston lecture series of 1882. Through these popular lectures Morse was able to introduce to his American audience an appreciation of Japanese society and culture. Earlier undated lectures may reflect his itinerant teaching and his efforts to introduce Darwinian evolutionary theory and other scientific topics to academic, as well as popular audiences.

Materials in the Inventions series document Morse’s patented and unpatented inventions, dating from between the years 1860 and 1886. Included are sketches, research notes, and data relating to the application of solar heat for warming and ventilating living spaces. (See also an item in the Publications series, “The Utilization of the Sun’s Rays in Heating and Ventilating Apartments,” 1888).

Morse’s numerous interests are revealed in the series Materials collected by Morse. He perceived the exigency of documenting life in Japan before it was transformed by westernization and modernization, and included are tea ceremony records, genealogies and architectural drawings. Also of note in the series is a group of secondary source materials apparently collected by Morse to be used as an information file. Topics reflect his numerous interests and include vivisection, evolution, museum arrangement and child prodigies. The series includes newspaper clippings, monographs and pamphlets, as well as Morse’s notes and sketches.

Morse retained a meticulous record of his financial accounts as documented in the Financial Records series. In his Account book, Morse kept a thorough register of where he delivered lectures and the renumeration received during the period 1861 to 1870. This series also provides information on purchases made by Morse in Japan for the Peabody Museum as well as for his private collection of oriental pottery.

The series on Noise Abatement reflects Morse’s interest in urban reform, specifically in the area of the control of unnecessary noise. In addition to writing several articles on the subject (see the Publications series), he was also instrumental in the passage of a 1907 Massachusetts law restricting the use of steam whistles and sirens. Materials and notes collected by Morse for his research on noise abatement, including publications of various civic organizations such as the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, may be found in this series. Note: the majority of this material was originally located in the Stephen Phillips collection.

The Biographical and Personal series includes genealogical material and published biographical information concerning Morse’s professional activities. The correspondence and diaries of his wife, Ellen Owen Morse, and some letters written by his children, Edith and John, may be found in this series. Correspondence relating to the disposition of his estate is located with the correspondence of his daughter, Edith Morse Robb.

Materials in the Miscellaneous series offer evidence of Morse’s gregarious nature through his participation in numerous social and professional clubs. Of particular interest are the receipts and invitations pertaining to the Tavern Club, an exclusive Boston men’s club.