Guide to the Research Collections



The collection of approximately 100,000 volumes in the American History Division, in conjunction with allied resources of the library in this field, forms one of the strongest subject areas of the Research Libraries. The American History Division acquires and administers materials on the history of the Americas, along with the national and state histories of the United States. Included in the holdings are works on the political, social, constitutional, military, and religious history of the Americas, as well as travel literature. Thousands of pictures, photographs, postcards, stereopticon views, and scrapbooks are an important part of the American History Division collection, as are other ephemeral materials, many of which never enter the normal channels of

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book distribution.1 The division does not include works on economic history, which are to be found in the Economic and Public Affairs Division. Rare works of Americana are shelved in the Rare Book Division. American town and county histories are held in the Local History and Genealogy Division. Manuscript Americana is in the Manuscripts and Archives Division.

Outstanding aspects of this key division of the Research Libraries are noted in the following paragraphs; full discussions appear with the descriptions of particular fields. Pamphlets, political leaflets, and printed speeches are held in vast number, and there is an important collection of literature dealing with immigration and immigrant life in the United States. The group of state histories of the United States is extensive from the earliest periods. The Elihu Root collection of United States documents dated from 1896 to 1908 provides information on the rise of the United States to a position of international influence, with insular possessions and dependencies. Older materials on the Hawaiian Islands remain in the general collections. The American History Division assumed collecting responsibility for Hawaii only when it became the fiftieth state of the Union.

Holdings on the American Indian are outstanding, covering all phases of Indian history, archaeology, and anthropology, including works in over 300 languages. There is an extensive collection of works relating to the prehistory of America, including reports of expeditions in the Americas made by Europeans.

Of the Latin American countries, Mexico is currently the best represented, while the Cuban collection is the fastest growing. The Mexican materials include a good pamphlet collection relating to the independence movement and the period of Maximilian. Housed in the Economic and Public Affairs Division is a strong collection of Mexican federal and state public documents. There are extensive holdings of materials on South American revolutions.

Pictorial materials include 1,200 boxes of international stereopticon views which come largely from the Robert Dennis collection. In addition to views are files for such diverse subjects as comics, the navy, etc. A supplementary archive of postcard views of the United States and other countries numbers several thousand pieces. A checklist of the stereopticon collection, arranged by broad subject areas, is available at the Reference Desk of the division.


Some idea of the growth of the holdings in American history may be gained from the following:

1854 Astor Library3,407 volumes
1911 New York Public Library14,000

In the first Astor Library Annual Report (1854) it was noted that the American Historical Department was considered of primary importance and expected to grow toward a complete collection. James Lenox brought together in his library a collection of books relating to America in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries that attained a remarkable degree of completeness. This was increased by well-selected purchases in later years and by many gifts from Alexander Maitland.

The Bancroft, Emmet, and Myers collections included works relating to the ante-and post-Revolutionary periods. Materials on the latter part of the eighteenth and the nineteenth century came to the library with the Ford collection, which is rich in contemporaneous writings supporting or opposing the constitution of 1788, works relating to the first years of the Republic, later struggles over internal improvements, the United States Bank, slavery controversies, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the protective tariffs.

The Tilden collection, the third of the library's foundation collections, contained a good selection of the important general works on American history, along with the chief publications relating to political parties, Congress, and political and constitutional conventions, especially those of New York State.

At the time of the opening of the Central Building at 42nd Street in 1911, the American History Division comprised not only 14,000 books on American state and national history, but also the library's collection of maps, manuscripts, and printed rarities which since that time have been organized as separate divisions.

The American History Division has always been sensitive to the contemporary spirit. Although the collecting policy remains comprehensive for all areas within its field, certain segments of the holdings have been acquired with special thoroughness: when folklore became a popular subject after World War II, the division's resources in American folklore grew in response to the public's enthusiasm for materials in that field; more recent special interests include Cuba and the Afro-American. The library collects heavily in the latter field, in response to a need for a strong collection on the Afro-American both in the Schomburg Center and in the Central Building.


It should be noted that all cards in the official catalog of the American History Division are duplicated in the Public Catalog, with the exception of certain cards for periodical articles on the American Indian.

American Historical Maps

This is a card index to historical maps found in the older books in the American History Division (inactive, 1 card drawer). It includes primarily maps of the United States. It does not index historical maps held by the Map Division or other divisions of the library.

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American Indian Design Index

Arranged by author and subject, the index is a working list of books and articles on Indian design found for the most part in the division (inactive, 1 card drawer). It includes materials on the Indians of North, Central, and South America.

Lincoln Quotations Index

The quotations are arranged by subject and catch word (inactive, 1 card drawer).

Military Rosters: Colonial and Foreign Wars, Revolution, War of 1812, Civil War, etc.

The coverage in this file is important up to the Civil War period; after that time few entries are found (inactive, limited, 9 card drawers). It includes payrolls, muster rolls, and the like, arranged for each war by name or number of military unit.

Picture (Illustrations) Index

This is the largest and most widely used of the card indexes (inactive, limited, 45 card drawers). The scope of the index is broad, covering both books and periodicals. It includes references to persons, places, events, and objects of American historical interest. Many references to North, Central, and South American Indians are incorporated.

Quotations and Slogans of United States History Interest Index

This is a card index of quotations and slogans primarily of interest for United States history (inactive, limited, 1 card drawer). It is arranged by catchwords and is supplemented by the separate index to Lincoln quotations.