The classiﬁcation system employed in the Social Museum was derived from late nineteenth-century social betterment displays, including social economy exhibitions at world’s fairs. As published in the 1911 “A Classiﬁed List of the Collections,” the twenty-two primary categories represented in the Social Museum are: Anarchism; Charity; Cities; Communism; Crime; Defectives; Education; Family; Government; Health; Housing; Industrial Problems; Liquor Problems; Provident Institutions; Races; Recreation; Religious Agencies; Social Conditions; Social Ethics; Socialism; Social Settlements; and War. Within each subject area, the material is broken down into subcategories, then grouped by geographic location and by institution or organization. This organizational system has been retained in the titling of the exhibition boards in order to contextualize the objects and maintain the identity of the Social Museum collection. For example, St. Patrick’s Orphanage for Girls is described as follows: “Charity, Children: United States. New Hampshire. Manchester. St. Patrick’s Orphanage for Girls.”
Individual objects have been assigned dates based on available information regarding the subjects depicted. When no information is obtainable, dates reference the founding of the Social Museum (c. 1903) and two special exhibitions: William I. Cole’s Motives and Results of the Social Settlement Movement: Notes on an Exhibit Installed in the Social Museum of Harvard University (1908) and James Ford’s The Housing Problem: A Summary of Conditions and Remedies Prepared to Accompany the Housing Exhibit in May, 1911, in the Harvard Social Museum (1911).