Guide to the Research Collections



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.