Welcome to the Central Library's Frank P. Zeidler Humanities Department, which contains reference materials on the humanities and social sciences, such as history, genealogy, law & political science, psychology, education, philosophy & religion, literature, and more. Additionally, the Humanities reference room is the gateway to several special collections. If you would like additional information on any of these collections, please visit or call (414) 286-3061.
The Humanities collection includes many print and electronic resources to be used to search for one’s family’s history. For example, the library has partnered with the Milwaukee County Genealogical Society (MCGS) who have generously provided funding for the premiere online genealogy resource, Ancestry Library Edition.
Milwaukee history is an area of great focus for the Humanities Department. Materials include books on the history of the City, Milwaukee City Directories, phone books, Milwaukee fire insurance atlases covering the mid-1870s through the 1960s, plat maps and atlases, and City of Milwaukee maps from all decades since Milwaukee’s founding.
Archives and Special Collections
The Humanities Department is your gateway to the following archives and special collections; please ask at the reference desk within the department for more detailed information on:
Original records not microfilmed by the City Records Center are sent to the City Archives at the Milwaukee Public Library. The materials in the City Archives are in a variety of formats.
Historic Photo Archives
The Historic Photo Archives includes over 50,000 photographs of Milwaukee-related places, people, and events dating from the late 19th century to the present.
Local History Manuscript Collections
The Humanities Manuscript Collection contains manuscripts, diaries, correspondence and other primary source material that focus on the City of Milwaukee.
Great Lakes Marine Collection
In affiliation with the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society, the Milwaukee Public Library’s Great Lakes Marine Collection includes books, photographs, ship files, log books, vessel plans, wreck reports and articles that document vessels that sailed the Great Lakes.
Milwaukee Road Archives
The Milwaukee Public Library was designated in 1981 as the official archives of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, a.k.a. the Milwaukee Road. The collection has tens of thousands of items – valuable material for historians and train buffs alike. Milwaukee Road Archives corporate records finding aids and Milwaukee Road Archives employee records indexes are currently available online.
Many of MPL’s Digital Collections are based on collections accessed through the Humanities Department, including:
Milwaukee Historic Photos
The photos from this collection are from the Milwaukee Public Library’s historic photograph collection.
These photographs are from the Port of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Library Historic Photo Collection, and the Great Lakes Marine Collection. A matching grant from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program helped preserve these photographs and make them available on line.
A popular feature of The Milwaukee Journal from 1963 through 1994 prepared by library staff to highlight Milwaukee's past as preserved in the Historic Photo Collection.
World War I Military Portraits
This collection is comprised of more than 32,000 photographs, typewritten volumes, and service records. The items were compiled from collections of the American War Mothers Milwaukee County Chapter and the Milwaukee County Council of Defense. These items contain a wealth of genealogical information and provide a candid look into soldiers’ ideas and perceptions of the First World War.