The papers comprise correspondence during Ryan's time as Director of Melbourne University Press (1962-1988), newspaper cuttings, talks, photographs, articles, research notes, reviews, handwritten notes, legal documentation, patrol reports and conference papers. There are papers on Alfred Conlon, head of the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs during World War II, and Ryan's article on Conlon for the Australian Dictionary of Biography, as well as copies of early Papua New Guinea patrol reports. The largest series relates to Manning Clark and consists of extensive newspaper cuttings, correspondence, drafts of articles and notes covering the controversy generated by Ryan's criticisms of Clark and his History in 1993; and claims by the Brisbane Courier Mail in 1996 that Clark received an Order of Lenin medal during the Cold War.
Correspondents include Manning Clark, Sir Zelman Cowen, Geoffrey Blainey, L. F. (Fin) Crisp, Beatrice Davis, Geoffrey Dutton, Tom Fitzgerald, Bill Gammage, Alec Hope, Sir Paul Hasluck, Ken Inglis, John La Nauze, Alan Marshall, Susan Ryan, Blanche D'Alpuget, B. A. Santamaria, Kenneth Slessor, Gavin Souter, Patrick White, William Macmahon Ball, Hilary McPhee, Stuart Macintyre, Hugh Stretton and Maslyn Williams.