American History and Culture

In the scheme devised by Clifford K. Shipton to organize our collections, the E and G classifications contain the core of the Society's post-1820 holdings. The E classification provides a chronological arrangement of works on United States history, the G classification a topical arrangement. Each classification contains both primary and secondary materials. Recent estimates indicate that the E class contains 12,500 items, the G class 28,000.

In the E classification, which Shipton conceived as a simplified version of the Library of Congress's E classification, sections are arranged under both general and limited headings, providing what is, in effect, a chronological outline of United States history. Broad topic headings (e.g., E150, the Era of the Revolution, 1764-83) are followed by narrower topic headings (e.g., E170, the Boston Massacre; E220, the Declaration of Independence; E275, Loyalists). In addition to the chronological portion of the classification (E100-E675), space is provided for works whose focus is regional (e.g., E45, New England; E50, the Ohio Valley). The largest of these, E85, is devoted to the West (Plains and Rockies) and contains much of the collection of western Americana given to the Society by Donald McKay Frost.

As noted above, the E classification contains both primary and secondary materials. Since American printed materials for the period through 1820 are located in the imprints collections, this part of the classification generally contains secondary materials, together with some early British and European imprints that pertain to the subject. However for the period 1821-76, E is a trove of historical materials, well supported by secondary works. The collection of primary materials from the Civil War period is especially strong, and includes an excellent collection of regimental histories. The Society is necessarily selective in acquiring modern historical writing on the Civil War, purchasing only the best of the hundreds of titles published on the subject each year. The Society's holdings relating to slavery are also particularly strong, numbering over 4,000 titles.

The G classification accommodates works addressing particular topics in American history. In this classification, Shipton prepared an alphabetical list of 140 topics and assigned each topic a number in the G class. His list reflects AAS holdings and is not an attempt at a hierarchical or universal scheme. Topics range from Advertising (G100), Aeronautics (G120), and Agricultural History (G130), Architecture (G150), through such topics as Indian Languages (G465), Phrenology (G673), and Transportation (G840), to Whaling (G900), the Whig Party (G925), and Zoology (G975). As with the E classification, both primary and secondary works are included. Works of Fiction (G526) and Poetry (G850) are included in this class; (G526) is the largest section in G.

Access to materials in the E and G classifications is provided in the Society's General Catalog. The quality of this cataloging varies considerably. While every item is at least nominally cataloged, some items are represented by no more than the briefest of notes at the foot of a card describing an earlier edition. Many items are represented by a single card, usually (but not always) under author. Subject access often extends no further than a single entry under a broad heading. Other items are fully cataloged. Unfortunately, modern secondary works are likely to be well cataloged, while uncommon primary materials may be represented by cataloging that is nearly as old as the materials themselves. In an effort to remedy this deficiency, the Society is gradually undertaking the retrospective conversion of its older cataloging to machine-readable form. Thus far the Society has recataloged online all the books in these two collections published in the 1820s and 1830s as well as its Architectural works (G150), its collections on Slavery and Afro-Americana (E455, G600), and the preeminent collection of editions of the works of James Fenimore Cooper (G526), regardless of their date of publication.

- Alan N. Degutis, Head of Cataloging

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