Guide to the Research Collections



The collection of materials for the study of history in the Research Libraries numbers some 567,000 books and pamphlets. The holdings of printed materials and manuscripts relating to the Americas, among the strongest in the Research Libraries, include an outstanding collection of early Americana in the Rare Book Division. Materials on English local history are also of importance, as are those on the history of the Negro (with strong resources in both the Central Building and the Schomburg Center). Historical periods with exceptional documentation are the Age of Discovery and World Wars I and II.1 Manuscript resources are strongest for the American Revolution. The collecting policy is generally comprehensive for all aspects of history.

Library participation in the Farmington Plan after World War II has helped to augment already strong resources and build those areas of the collections that were previously weak.2 The New York Public Library has collecting responsibility for the following areas of history and topography: general and universal history; Europe; The British Isles; general works on the Commonwealth of Nations; Algeria, Carthage, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Morocco, Rio de Oro, Somaliland, the Sudan, and Tunisia; Latin America; West Indies; general history of South America and the following individual countries or colonies: Argentina, Guyana, Surinam or Dutch Guiana, the Falkland Islands, French Guiana, South Georgia, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

The growth of the collections in history is indicated by the following:

1854 Astor Library23,350 volumes
1921 New York Public Library188,700


The resources for the study of history derive strength from ancillary subjects in which the library has developed strong holdings. Material on description and travel, for example, has become a most important aspect of the collections; works of description and travel within a particular country or continent are classified with history; other accounts of world travel, including travel in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, are classified with geography, as are guidebooks. Publications on hunting trips are classified with materials on sports and games and are discussed with that subject. Views, another important supportive resource for historical research, are more fully discussed below. Diplomacy in the theoretical sense, international arbitration, and general treaties are assigned to the law class marks. History as a division of the library's scheme of classification includes politics, foreign relations, constitutional history, and constitutional law. Economic history is classed with economics. The library attempts to acquire all bibliographical tools relating to history.

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Subject materials on history are held in the general collections, with certain exceptions: general history of the Americas is administered by the American History Division, and United States and English local history at a town or county level is administered by the Local History and Genealogy Division. Historical materials in the Cyrillic alphabet are held in the Slavonic Division; those in Oriental languages are the responsibility of the Oriental Division. The Jewish Division collects and administers materials on the history of the Jewish people and publications from or about Israel. Early and rare printed materials are kept in the Rare Book Division.

The General Research and Humanities Division provides assistance on reference and research subjects relating to universal and national history, but not history of the Americas or English local history. A collection of standard works suitable for international historical reference is kept on the open shelves of the Main Reading Room. Author and subject catalogs for the entire Main Reading Room collections are at the reference desk in the south hall of the Main Reading Room and at the Information Desk in Room 315.

No statement of numbers of volumes or description of books specifically classified as historical gives an adequate idea of the resources of the Research Libraries for historical study. The literary, political, social, and biographical contributions of the various subject and special collections in the library are apparent. Various types of material merit particular attention. Newspapers and periodicals, of which the library has extensive collections beginning with the late seventeenth century, offer sources for contemporaneous accounts and expressions of public opinion. Public documents are important primary sources; there are more than 352,000 volumes of this material published in various countries by federal, local, and municipal governments. These include, in addition to routine reports, much material concerning economics, sociology, and international affairs. The collection of government gazettes is unusually complete. The publications of learned societies, often more germane to historical study on the local rather than national level, along with the manuscript and map collections, are important resources for scholars of history.

Travel materials are held in strength and are supplemented by holdings in geography and anthropology; the subject of travel may be considered sufficiently well-covered for research in the literature of all countries. Special emphasis has been given to early Latin, English, and French works, and to early Oriental travels, particularly in India.

General and Universal History

The holdings in this field numbered 11,500 volumes in 1941, and had increased to 19,400 volumes by 1966. Entries for general works on history are arranged chronologically in the Public Catalog under headings such as "History, General--17th century." The broad range extends from editions of Ranulf Higden's Polycronicon printed by Caxton (ca. 1482) and four copies of Hartmann Schedel's Das Buch der Chroniken ["Nuremberg chronicle"] (1493) through editions of the works of writers such as Sabellico, Bossuet, Ranke, Laviss, and others. More popular works include Mme. de Genlis's Annales de la vertu (1781) and many printings of Samuel Griswold Goodrich's Peter Parley's Universal History. Among the more famous modern universal histories, H.G. Wells's Outline of History is represented not only by numerous editions in the general collections, but also by four sets of the twenty-four parts as originally issued in 1919-20: one set in the Rare Book Division; another in the Arents Collection of Books in Parts; and two sets in the Berg Collection, one with the author's and Gilbert Murray's manuscript corrections and with inserted typewritten additions. Other studies of history by writers such as Spengler and Toynbee are available in the collections both in the original and in translation, along with many critical works about them. A small collection of these and other standard reference works is maintained on the open shelves of the Main Reading Room.

Another interesting section covers in depth the subject of historical chronology. Eusebius's Chronicon (1483) is one of the earliest works held; a large number of sixteenth-century publications in the Rare Book Division contain early references to America. Thomas Prince's A Chronological History of New-England (1736) is also in the division. More recent works are held in the general collections.

Oriental historians are not neglected, and the holdings of Arabic works in the Oriental Division include many editions of the Ibn Khald[umacr ]n in the original and in translation. Special class marks in the Billings Schedule provide for the ancient historians, among them Herodotus, Diodorus, and Polybius.

Periodicals and society publications range from The Historical Register (1717-39) to Current History (1914-), Foreign Affairs (1922-), Documents on International Affairs (1928-), and Saeculum (1950-).

Of particular interest are the sets of annual contemporary surveys beginning with the seventeenth-century Mercure françois (1605-44), continuing with the eighteenth-century Annual Register (1758-), Magazin für die neue Historie und Geographie (1769-93), and others, including the nineteenth-century Statesman's Yearbook (1864-). The quarto and folio sets of many of the historical collections contain illustrations of artistic, archaeological, or historical interest.


The large collection of views provides an important supplementary source for the student of history. There are two categories of topographic views in the Research Libraries, the collecting policy for which differs slightly. Commercially produced books of views with or without text and without special artistic or other interest are acquired by the General Research and Humanities Division on a selective basis at four-or five-year intervals. This policy reflects conditions occasioned by the vast number of such books currently produced, which are often repetitive in nature or simultaneously issued in a number of different languages. This policy does not apply to older materials; the holdings contain a wealth of items from woodcut delineations through aquatint, lithographic, and photographic depictions. The outstanding exception is in the field of American views, and especially those of the New York City metropolitan area. The Local History and Genealogy and American History Divisions collect comprehensively in this area, building on a strong and extensive collection. The Slavonic Division acquires books of views with texts in the Cyrillic alphabet; the Jewish Division seeks

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to obtain all views of Israel. Books of special artistic, archaeological, geologic, and other interest which include topographic views are excluded from the general policy; such materials are purchased and classified primarily as subject material.

The second category of topographic views includes those in loose pictorial form, such as prints, drawings, photographs, and stereoscopic slides. The Phelps Stokes and Eno collections of American historical prints in the Prints Division and the vast archive of New York City photographic views in the Local History and Genealogy Division are examples of this class of material. For the most part the library acquires views in loose pictorial form only for American scenes, and especially for the New York City metropolitan area. Collections of other views have come as parts of larger gifts, or in the oeuvre of an artist collected by the Prints Division.

Materials may be most readily secured by consulting place headings in the Public Catalog with the subhead "Views": "England--Views," or "Paris--Views." Despite the richness of this material it is not easy to use; the Public Catalog cards seldom contain notes and cannot serve as guides if a particular street, building, or object is desired: for this type of research the collections of guide-books should be consulted.

Significant Collections

Both the Lenox Library and Tilden collection contained important prints holdings which included views. The Emmet collection, received in 1896, was rich in maps, scenes, and views, some in manuscript, some engraved.3 The Rare Book Division holds early books containing views, such as the "Nuremberg Chronicle" and works by Matthaeus Merian, Zeiler, and Braun and Hogenberg. The Spencer Collection has some books of views, including the twenty-eight plates of Scenographia Americana (1768), as well as fifty-four sepia drawings done by Archibald Robertson during the American Revolution.4

American History Division

The American History Division has a large collection of stereopticon views in 1,200 boxes, which derives largely from the Robert Dennis collection. Representations of Niagara Falls are especially plentiful among the American views, and of Central Park among the scenes of New York City. There are also "comics," and other subject collections of views, such as those on the United States Navy. Collector's treasures in this archive include glass views of the period 1854 to 1862. A supplementary collection of postcard views of the United States and other countries numbers thousands of pieces. Check lists and inventories of these two collections are held at the reference desk of the American History Division. A picture index refers to views of American interest, among other items.

Art and Architecture Division

Views to be found in this division are primarily architectural and pictorial. In addition to monograph materials are scrapbooks of pictures on subjects such as monuments, palaces, and military buildings. The Architecture File in the division indexes illustrations and textual materials on architects and buildings, with special emphasis given to those of New York.

Jewish Division

The division has an inactive card file Picture Index indexing pictures in books shelved in the division. The subjects include archaeology of the Holy Land, portraits, and history.

Local History and Genealogy Division

Mounted photographs of views of the five boroughs of New York City fill 49 cabinet drawers in the division. Dating from the late nineteenth century, these are arranged by street name and number. The Armbruster collection of 14,000 photographs of buildings and their surroundings in Long Island, greater New York City, and Westchester County made during the period 1890 to 1930 is also in the division. The division has, in addition, thousands of contemporary views of New York City arranged by subject, and maintains a card index to New York City views arranged by subject groups, such as hotels or schools.

Prints Division

Here are found the two major collections of prints and drawings of views in the Research Libraries: the Eno collection of prints and other material relating to New York City from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, and the Phelps Stokes collection of American historical prints, which includes early views of American cities. The division maintains a subject index to single prints of views in the Prints Division arranged by town or geographic locality; this contains references to a large number of views of New York City subdivided by subject groups, such as churches or hotels. Another subject index in the division locates foreign views in books shelved elsewhere in the Research Libraries.

Theatre Collection

The Theatre Collection has views of theatre buildings, opera houses, and related structures, both in its vertical files and in its iconography files. Such material, consisting of prints, drawings, photographs, and reproductions, is located by consulting the Nonbook Materials Catalog of the collection under headings such as "Theatres-- U.S.--New York--Vivian Beaumont." In addition are views of theatre buildings as illustrations in books on the theatre, which are not, however, indexed in the card catalogs but must be located in the books themselves.

The Picture Collection of the Branch Libraries

This is an excellent source for views of all kinds. The pictures in the collection are arranged by subject. This resource is discussed at length in chapter 29 of this Guide.

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The library comprehensively acquires the directories, governmental and nongovernmental, of international agencies, and of national, state, and provincial governments, as well as of capitals and large cities of the world (cities of 100,000 or more population in the United States, and 200,000 or more abroad). The library has a representative collection of the directories of national and international banks and other businesses, and at least one directory for each large professional, religious, or other group. Domestic and foreign telephone directories are generally acquired from those listed in the Bell System Telephone Directory Price List. The library has acquired on a selective basis United States city directories, the social registers of major cities in all countries, and alumni directories for major universities and senior colleges in the United States.

City Directories

In addition to the city directories of selected major cities of the United States (46 at present), there is an exceptionally complete collection of United States city directories from the earliest periods up through 1869 in the Local History and Genealogy Division. New York City directories for the years 1786-1933/34 are available on microfilm for public use. The collection of city directories after 1870 is kept in the Research Libraries Annex at 521 West 43rd Street. The General Research and Humanities Division administers a representative current group of United States city directories in the Main Reading Room.

Special Indexes and Files

There are three special indexes and files to the directories in the Research Libraries. The most complete file, in the General Research and Humanities Division (Room 315), contains approximately 12,000 cards covering all the divisions of the Research Libraries including those at Lincoln Center. The Economic and Public Affairs Division keeps a file for directories of economic, sociological, and governmental interest (approximately 8,000 cards) and the Science and Technology Research Center keeps a file for directories of scientific or technological interest (approximately 3,500 cards).