Guide to the Research Collections



Geography has been an important subject in the Research Libraries since their inception. Both the Astor and Lenox Libraries contained rich holdings of the literature of exploration and travel. As early as 1851, Dr. Cogswell expressed interest in securing accounts of voyages and travels for the collections of the Astor Library. James Lenox's biographer Henry Stevens remarked that "his first absorbing penchant was for collecting early editions of the Bible and parts thereof in all languages. Then he took to books relating to North and South America, including all the great collections of voyages and travels, as well as the prior or original editions of which they were composed. This soon led to collecting everything pertaining to the great 'Age of Discovery,' whether in Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, Dutch, Italian or German. In this way he soon had more pet-lambs than he could well watch, such as De Bry, Hulsius, Ramusio, Purchas, Thévenot, Haertgerts, Saeghman, etc."1

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Voyages and travels, including early documentation on the search for a Northwest Passage, are very well represented. Geographical periodical holdings are of great importance. Some aspects of geographical literature, including early imprints and rare works, are noted in the sections of this Guide dealing with history; maps and atlases in the Map Division and elsewhere in the Research Libraries are treated in chapter 43.

The following table illustrates the growth of the resources in geography:

192112,333 volumes



A small group of bibliographical works, mainly of historical interest, is held in the general collections; this includes such early publications as J. G. Hager's Geographischer Büchersaal (1764-78). There are other working lists in the reference collections throughout the library; compilations of bibliographic interest are also to be found in the Rare Book Division.


The holdings of geographical serials are extremely strong. They include the periodicals of geographical societies such as the Geographical Review (1916-) of the American Geographical Society, the Geographical Journal and its predecessors (1893-) of the Royal Geographical Society, Boletín (1839-) of the Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística. Izvestiia (1865-) of the Vsesoiuznoe Geograficheskoe Obshchestvo of Leningrad, and others. There are also the proceedings of geographical congresses, including those of the International Geographical Congress (1871-), of the Deutscher Geographentag (1881-), and of the Congresso Geografico Italiano (1892-). Additional materials include the periodicals published by independent geographical societies such as the Petermanns Mitteilungen aus Justus Perthes's Geographischer Anstalt; annals such as the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (1911-) and the Publication of the Institute of British Geographers (1935-); and periodicals issued by associations of teachers of geography such as Journal of Geography (1902-). Holdings in the scholarly series published by universities are extensive. Specialized geographical serial bibliographies are well represented.

The rich international collection of publications of the geographical divisions of learned societies and institutions in other fields should be associated with these titles. Additional important sources of geographical literature are the publications of local history societies, especially those of North America and Western Europe. Serial articles on those aspects of geography of particular interest to the library are indexed in the Public Catalog and in appropriate division catalogs. For general purposes published subject bibliographies and cumulated serial indexes should be consulted.


There is a strong collection of early imprints in the Rare Book Division. The Ptolemy and Ortelius holdings and other notable map resources are treated in detail in chapter 43. Apianus and other geographers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are well represented. The library has four fifteenth-century editions of one of the most celebrated ancient works on geography, Pomponius Mela's De Situ Orbis, as well as many sixteenth-century editions.

History of Geography, Coast Pilots, and Related Materials

A large and interesting section on the history of geography includes formal studies of the subject in addition to works, such as Strabo's Geography, which are important historically.

Coast pilots and similar mariners' guides constitute a significant feature of this general collection. The United States, England, and Germany are the most comprehensively represented; the library has long files of "Notices to Mariners" and similar series from these countries. There are also publications from most of the other countries which issue such material. Publications of the U.S. Hydrographic Office (now U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office), Coast and Geodetic Survey,2 and Light House Service are extensively represented. Significant current series of most countries are received. Since 1929 the library has made a particular effort to complete its files of the English-language classics in this field. An outstanding collection includes various editions of Bowditch's The New American Practical Navigator, W.N. Brady's The Kedge-Anchor, Darcy Lever's The Young Sea Officer's Sheet Anchor, Joseph Blunt's The Merchant's and Shipmaster's Assistant, and The American Coast Pilot.

Systematic works include strong holdings in imprints of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries; many of the earlier works are historically interesting. There are several thousand pamphlets and a number of volumes in the "n.c." classmark (material retained but not individually cataloged), the majority of which are pamphlet guides and ephemeral publicity materials of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These relate to various localities and are of historical as well as geographical interest. A dated file of textbooks contains examples from 1784 in the United States, 1757 in France, and 1630 in England.

Place Names

A large and rapidly growing section relates to geographical onomastics, the study of place names. More than 3,300 entries in the Public Catalog show extensive coverage for the United States and Europe, although all areas of the world are represented. Many entries are index references to periodical articles on such different aspects of the subject as dictionaries, studies of origin, pronunciation, and etymologies. Periodicals include complete holdings of Onoma (1950-) and proceedings of most of the international congresses on onomastic sciences.

The collection on place names is to be found in several locations in the Research Libraries. The larger part of the holdings is in the general collections, but the gazetteers of the United States Geographical Names Board are in the Map Division;

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there is much information in the local histories of the United States and England in the Local History and Genealogy Division.

Voyages and Travel

The material described in this section documents travels that cover a number of countries; voyages to or travel within single countries are described in the chapters of this Guide dealing with the history of specific countries. Periodicals include the older Tour du Monde (1860-1914) and such current publications as Hotel Monthly and Holiday. Collections of travels from the earliest dates are available in various editions. Society publications include those of the Hakluyt Society, the Linschoten Vereeniging, and others.

Dr. Cogswell of the Astor Library and James Lenox established remarkable pioneer collections of voyage and travel literature. The Lenox Library's collection of the De Bry "Great Voyages" to the West Indies and America and "Small Voyages" to the East Indies is among the finest in existence; in addition to numerous variant copies and editions, it contains a set with the extremely rare Elenchus of 1634.3 Other copies of the "Great Voyages" are in the Arents Tobacco Collection. There are remarkable sets of the collections of travels made by Hakluyt, Hulsius, Purchas, Prévost, Thévenot, and others. The library has all the known editions of James Cook's voyages and a number of those of William Dampier.

The very rich and extensive literature of American exploration includes one of the finest collections of the contemporaneous editions of the letters of Columbus, more fully described in chapter 52, and important groups such as the sixteenth-to eighteenth-century accounts of European voyages in search of the Northwest Passage. Many works generally related to the New World have more general relevance; for example, the "Jesuit Relations" and the accounts of De Bry also relate to the Far East.

Notable among the volumes of travel literature bearing upon the Far East is a first edition of Marco Polo's De ... orientalium regionum (ca. 1484) which is bound in with Ludolphus de Suchen's Iter ad terram sanctam; associated with these works, and possibly published at the same time, is Mandeville's Itinerarium. Five fifteenth-century editions of Mandeville are in the Rare Book Division and the Spencer Collection, and there are many later editions. Of great rarity are two 1614 printings of Fern[amacr ]o Mendes Pinto's Peregrinacam.

Voyages Around the World

Some 1,400 entries in the Public Catalog provide a dated guide to ancient as well as modern world voyages. Early accounts present in the Rare Book Division include the first account of Magellan's voyage around the world in Antonio Pigafetta's Le Voyage et navigation faict par les Epaignolz es isles de Mollucques (ca. 1526), Oliver van Noort's Beschryvinghe van de voyagie (1601), Willem Schouten's Australische Navigation (1619), Sir Francis Drake's World Encompassed (1628), and voyages of later centuries including those of Laperouse, Krusensten, Kotzebue, Langsdorff, and many others.

Polar Exploration

The very extensive arctic holdings are recorded by some 1,400 dated entries in the Public Catalog. Under the heading "Arctic Expeditions" is found the library's copy of Dionyse Settle's A True Reporte of the Laste Voyage ... by Capteine Frobisher (1577). Arctic voyages of this period made in search of a Northwest Passage to Cathay include the voyages of Gerrit de Veer, William Barendz, Jan Huygen van Linschoten, Hessel Gerritsz, and Luke Fox. The chronicle of the search continues through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the descriptions of the voyages of Vancouver, Sir John Franklin, and others. Modern arctic exploration is equally well covered; there is much documentation of the Peary expedition to the North Pole and the controversy that surrounded it, as well as accounts of flights over the pole by Amundsen, Ellsworth, and others. There are extensive holdings of the publications of bodies such as the Arctic Institute of North America, the Expéditions Polaires Françaises, and the Arkticheski i Antarkticheski Nauchnoissledovatel'ski Institut of Leningrad.

Antarctic exploration, beginning with the voyage of Captain Cook in the eighteenth century, is covered by more than 500 entries in the Public Catalog. The library has one of the most complete files in existence of the reports of the United States Exploring Expedition to the South Pacific and Antarctica, and a set of the scientific reports (1897-99) of the Commission de la "Belgica," published between 1901 and 1938. An excellent scrapbook series and the commercially produced editions of the Little America Times (1933-35) document the various expeditions of R. E. Byrd. A similar edition of the South Polar Times (1902-03, 1911) relates to the Scott expeditions.


Guidebooks and similar publications are a significant feature of the geographical resources. Up-to-date editions of guidebooks for many countries are available in the Research Libraries collections to provide current information for the traveler. The main value of the library's holdings, however, is historical. The reader using the Public Catalog and division catalogs should be aware that "Guidebooks" is used as a sub-heading under the name of a country, for example, "England--Guidebooks." Under this general heading are found guidebooks that describe all of England; guidebooks for a specific area or county, such as Yorkshire, are cataloged under "Yorkshire--Guidebooks." Entries for guidebooks form a dated file (such as "New York City--Guidebooks, 1846").

The Local History and Genealogy Division maintains the major holdings of local guidebooks, both cataloged and uncataloged and including vertical file material, for the United States and England. Material for the United States emphasizes national parks and monuments and other notable areas as well as the larger cities. New York City is exceptionally well represented with more than 300 catalog entries from 1807 to the present. At the Information Desk in Room 315 an additional group of historic and current New York City guidebooks is kept for ready reference.

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Guidebook material for England emphasizes historical places, abbeys, castles, and the larger cities, especially London.

There is a complete set of the WPA Federal Writers' Project American Guide Series in the Main Reading Room; another complete set is held in the American History Division, where studies including guidebooks for the United States, Canada, and Latin American countries are also kept. Materials in the general collections are of considerable historical importance and cover all countries. The holdings are extensive from the period since the early nineteenth century and include series such as Baedeker, Appleton, Murray, and Guide Bleu. United States materials, particularly those for New York State, are more complete.

About 100 of the latest guidebooks are held at the reference desk in the south hall of the Main Reading Room for public reference use. The larger number of the books cover whole countries rather than small areas, although some are devoted to major cities and such important geographical sections as the Riviera. The present policy of the General Research and Humanities Division is to purchase standard guides for each country or area at five-year intervals. A particular attempt is made to include exotic or out-of-the-way places.

The Art and Architecture Division has a small group of older guidebooks from all countries, particularly Baedekers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, retained for information on the art treasures of the world.


In the Manuscripts and Archives Division materials related to the subject of geography include a vellum copy of Ptolemy's Geographia, dated 1460,4 "An account of the different geographical systems taught in Hindoo writings" by Roy Radhaprusal (1838), and explorers' correspondence in the papers (1899-1939) of Constance Lindsay Skinner. Accounts of travel from the eighteenth century to the present are found in the division's collection of diaries. Examples of such materials are the diary of Fred C. Bond5 and the diaries of Fred G. Blakeslee kept during the period of his world travels (1931-38) made to collect materials for his books on costumes and uniforms of the world. Further examples may be cited in the Seligman collection of Washington Irving materials, which includes Irving's manuscript journals covering his travels in Europe and the United States between 1804 and 1842.6

Additional Resources

Geographical literature on Central Asia is strong; a set of the District Gazetteers of the Provinces of India is of interest. One of the most extensive sections of geographical materials is devoted to Europe. Besides guidebooks there is much miscellaneous material of interest in geographical studies of the United States, such as the Massachusetts Harbor and Land Commission publications. The collections on the Middle and Far West of this country contain important titles.

Publications on legendary and mythical geography are acquired comprehensively by the General Research and Humanities Division; there is much material on Atlantis, Lemuria, and other mythical regions.

The collections provide strong resources for the study of modern developments in geography such as economic geography, economic zoning, industrial surveys, market surveys, and physical geography: material on the science of geopolitics is best located under headings such as "Imperialism" and "Territorial Expansion" in the Public Catalog. Among current periodical titles covering this topic are Geopolitica (1939-41) and Zeitschrift für Geopolitik (1924-43, 1951-68, incomplete).

Other related materials include the extensive collection of maps in the Map Division and in other parts of the library. Much material in the science class marks such as scientific expedition reports, or studies of mountaineering, applies to the study of geography.