Guide to the Research Collections



A collection of 41,800 volumes, of which 9,800 volumes are devoted to local and colonial history, provides extensive coverage of all epochs of French history. Literature relating to the periods from Henry IV to Louis XIV is more than adequate; it is not, however, as strong as that for the eighteenth century and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. The growth of the collection is illustrated by the following:

192017,362 volumes

The resources are rich in printed source materials relating to general and local history.16 Among important holdings are: Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France (1738-1904) edited by Martin Bouquet; Les Classiques de l'histoire de France au moyen âge (1923-); and Collection de textes pour servir à l'étude et à l'enseignement de l'histoire (1886-1929). New series are added to the collections as published. One such is the "Série in-87°ree;" issued by the Section de Philologie et d'Histoire of the Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques. The library also has the monumental Collection de documents inédits sur l'histoire de France. Among important collections available are Collection des mémoires relatifs à l'histoire de France, annotated by François Guizot (1823-35), Michaud and Poujoulat's Nouvelle collection des mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de France (1851), and François Guizot's Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de mon temps (1858-67).

Learned society publications include those of the Société de l'Histoire de France (1834-) and other long runs. Strong holdings in French general literary periodicals often contain much of historical interest. Incomplete holdings of the Almanach national (previously Almanach royal ) are available from 1708; a large group of French almanacs documents the period from 1880 to 1898.

Inventories of archives and manuscript depositories comprise another group of value for fundamental research, which includes the publications of the Commission Supérieure des Archives Nationales, Départementales, Communales et Hospitalières. The Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France suggests indexes in other classes which serve as guides to French historical materials. Books of description, travel, and biographical studies are well represented.

Related subject classes contain noteworthy materials. Geography contributes works of importance: the literature of discovery and travel from James Lenox's collection, for example, includes French works on the Age of Discovery; there are also a large number of guidebooks and important topographical works. Source materials in the public documents collection form another rich and extensive archive. Notable materials for the study of French church history center on Jansenism, the Abbey of Port-Royal, and Gallicanism.


Acts of French Royal Administration

This has always been one of the library's strong collections. Dr. Cogswell, reporting on the Astor Library in 1855, noted that "in French law, the library is really rich, beginning with the Ordonances des Reis, and coming down to the very latest volume of the Journal du Palais."17 These and other French royal acts in the field of American interest formed part of a check list published in 1929 and 1930.18 In 1937 an outstanding collection of 15,000 royal French ordinances, edicts, and decrees was purchased. These date from the late seventeenth to the late eighteenth centuries, and contain a wealth of material relating to America. Several thousand additional royal acts were purchased after World War II. The bulk of these later acquisitions (some 20,000 pieces) has not yet been fully cataloged. Preliminary research has revealed that the uncataloged materials contain several individual acts not noted in the Actes royaux of the Bibliothèque Nationale, together with a large number of variant editions which do not appear in that work. In addition, considerable strength is present in such categories as acts of the Conseil d'État, Chambre des Compts, and Cour de Parlement. The original dates of promulgation (as opposed to the dates of publication) of the acts in this uncataloged collection range from the middle of the thirteenth century to the Revolution.


The collection of about 700 mazarinades (pamphlets in prose and verse published in France

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during the Fronde, or roughly in the period from 1648 to 1653) forms a counterpart to the collection of English pamphlets of the Civil War period.19

Revolutionary Pamphlets and Other Materials

In 1937 the library acquired a collection of pamphlets concerning the French Revolution that had formerly belonged to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838). It is bound in 105 volumes and contains 2,027 titles. A wide variety of pamphlets--serious and facetious, official and unofficial--is included. There are nearly 100 cahiers de doléances and issues of various Revolutionary periodicals such as Marat's L'Ami du peuple (and imitations of it), Journal universel, and similar publications. All of the pamphlets, with the exception of a few of earlier date, were published between 1787 and September of 1791. The Talleyrand collection is especially strong in the following subjects: the financial crisis, the calling of the Estates General, the disorders in Brittany, the fall of the Bastille and the formation of the new government of Paris, and the disorders in Paris during the summer of 1789. The material is bound roughly in chronological order and supplements and strengthens the extensive pamphlet and periodical holdings relating to the early phases of the Revolution: the general pamphlet collection numbers some 2,200 pieces in 145 volumes.20

In 1948 the library purchased two large groups of French Revolutionary materials. The first was a collection of more than 13,000 pamphlets from the period 1787 to 1800, of which an estimated 20 percent are not held by the Bibliothèque Nationale. The second purchase brought 371 periodicals of the era, totaling 32,000 issues, providing documentation on all major and many minor issues of this intensely agitated historical period.

In addition to these large pamphlet and periodical holdings is a strong collection of other books and periodicals on the Revolution recorded in the Public Catalog. Approximately 4,800 references are arranged by chronological period. A number of broadsides printed at the time of the Revolution and the Directorate are in the Rare Book Division.

The Napoleonic Period

Almost 500 entries in the Public Catalog refer specifically to Napoleon and his campaigns: additional references refer to battles, personalities, and other aspects of his period. Items bearing on the private life of the Emperor are held in strength, but military campaigns have been given special attention. Related material is found in other subject areas; for example, many works on the Napoleonic period are classified with Spanish history materials.

Special mention should be made of important Slavonic Division holdings for the study of Napoleon. Most of this material is in the Cyrillic alphabet, and cards are found only in the Slavonic Division catalog. The library continues to make important additions to the collection, which includes contemporary works as well as formal studies of later dates. The collection is well provided with reprinted documents and archives, including such interesting compilations as a collection of public notices posted by the governor of Moscow, Count Rostopchin, during 1812. Secondary materials--collections, memoirs, and the like--are also present. Another interesting group is composed of finely bound contemporary pamphlets, primarily belles-lettres, which not only reflect the opinions of the period but also serve as examples of Russian bookmaking from the early nineteenth century.

Modern Materials

A small but important group of works relating to the Dreyfus case includes over 100 contemporary pamphlets. There is important material in the resources on France in World Wars I and II containing not only systematic histories but also collections of documents and archives; these are discussed in chapter 47 of this Guide.

French Local and Colonial History

The collection of materials for the study of French local history, numbering about 9,800 volumes, is stronger than similar collections for other foreign countries, with the exception of Great Britain, and is one of the most important features of the French historical section.

The number of periodicals and historical society publications is very large, with the majority of important sets complete. Serials in other areas important to the study of local history include general French periodicals, the publications of learned societies and institutions, and those of religious societies such as the Bulletin historique et littéraire of the Société de l'Histoire du Protestantisme Français. Many important contributions are indexed in the Public Catalog.

Printed archives appear in the publications of societies, but there are also separate compilations; of special importance are reprinted materials relating to the French Revolution. Additional material is suggested by the Inventaire généal des richesses d'art de la France. A large number of cartularies have direct bearing on local and economic aspects of French history.

The holdings are rich for the histories of larger provinces and towns. Literature relating to Paris, Provence, and some of the cities of southern France (especially Avignon, Bordeaux, Marseilles, and Toulouse) is particularly extensive.21 The notable holdings of works published during the eighteenth century devoted to description and topography are of importance both for their text and early plates and maps.

Associated materials include archaeological studies, both in the general collections and in the

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architectural resources of the Art and Architecture Division. Geography is another important allied class, with an &ering;xtensive collection of guidebooks and such works as the Dictionnaire topographique. Biography is strongest in collective works, including the departmental biographies. The collection of numismatic works contains material of considerable interest.

The comparatively small group of items classed under French colonies and dependencies is largely composed of lengthy runs of learned society and governmental publications such as the Comptes rendus of the Académie des Sciences Coloniales and the Bulletin of the Office Colonial. Among older materials is a good deal on the Compagnie des Indes and the Compagnie d'Occident. With the independence of former French colonies, the library has continued to solicit and receive their official publications as well as studies about them. These may be located in the Public Catalog under the name of the country and under headings such as "The French in Brazil," "The French in Morocco," and "The French in the United States."22

Public Documents

Materials relating to French international affairs are held in strength. Reprints of important documents and many important historical works are present, together with treaties, diplomatic papers, and similar materials. The important "Livres jaunes" ( Documents diplomatiques ), commencing in 1860, are complete; earlier printed French royal acts are discussed above.

Extensive legislative series date from the eighteenth century. The library holds the Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860 as far as the series has been published, as well as an incomplete set of the original proceedings. The Annales of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies are present from their beginning (1870), preceded by a complete file of the Annales du Sénat et du Corps législatif (1861-70).

Laws form an important body of source materials. The Recueil général des anciennes lois françaises depuis l'an 420 jusqu'à la révolution de 1789 is in the collection, as are the Journal officiel (beginning in 1789 as the Gazette national ) and the Bulletin de lois. The Recueil Sirey, with its appendix, Lois annotées, begins in 1789, but is not entirely complete. The various "Collections" of the Assembly and the Convention are complete, as is the Collection général des lois et des actes du Corps législatif et du Directoire exécutif. There are other important series, with many private publications and reprints. An interesting feature of the French law materials is a number of "Coutumes."

In subject materials, the public documents collection is strong in budgetary and financial publications, statistical reports, and in other areas described in the section of this Guide dealing with economics.

Publications of the departments of France are not well represented. The Procès-verbaux de Conseil général and the Rapport du préfet, common to all the departments, are good for Manche, Oise, and Seine; good files of the Annuaire for Marne and Sarthe are also present. The best-represented municipal publications are those of Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, and Le Havre.

A group of related documents of some importance are the reprinted materials concerning the former French colonies in America which appear in Canadian public documents.


An illuminated parchment scroll from the fifteenth century, a genealogy of the French kings containing 64 miniatures, was the gift of Mr. and Mrs. D. Jacques Benoliel and Mr. and Mrs. Somond Benoliel in 1945. The most significant manuscript materials relating to France cover French interest in America during the colonial period and French activities in the American Revolution, although there is representative material on territorial France.

The Hardwicke collection in the Manuscripts and Archives Division includes transcripts of the papers of French ministers in England during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. The Bancroft collection contains transcripts of the papers of Vergennes and Gérard, Marbois, Luzerne, and others on American affairs from 1776 to 1786. There are also transcripts of official correspondence on Louisiana, Pontiac's War (1754-65), and other matters. In the Ford collection approximately 1,200 transcripts record the correspondence of French ministers in the United States during the period 1791 to 1797. The Myers collection includes autographs of French officers who served in the American Revolution.

There are signed documents of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI, Robespierre, and others in the Montague collection, together with nine letters and three documents signed by Napoleon and letters of his family and marshals; there are also twenty-five Talleyrand letters. The Harkness collection includes letters of the Empress Marie Louise to her aunt during the period 1816 to 1821, with additional French royal and historical autographs.


The many portraits of French historical figures and events in the Prints Division must be located primarily through the name of the artist or printmaker, for the subject index is not inclusive. Among the periods particularly well represented are the French Revolution, the revolution of 1848, and the Franco-Prussian War. A sizable collection of pictorial material on the Commune, including caricatures, was in large part the gift of John Bigelow in 1903.