The American Antiquarian Society's collection of almost 30,000 biographies is a major resource for scholars. Generally speaking, the collection consists of two types of biographies. First are the "traditional" biographies of prominent historical and contemporary world figures published in the United States and Canada between 1821 and 1876. The second type is composed of sources generally considered ephemeral: funeral orations and sermons, commemorative memorials, masonic tributes, and privately printed tributes of individuals not sufficiently well known to warrant more standard biographies. Represented in this group are individuals who were resident in the United States or Canada and who were born before the year 1851.
Historically, AAS cataloging mirrored practices at other research libraries with access under the author and the subject of the biography. As new acquisitions are added to the Society's collection or long-standing holdings converted to the online catalog, current practice calls for additional subject access under topical and geographical headings subdivided by the term "Biography." Thus A Discourse on the Life and Character of the Rev. Aaron Bancroft, D.D. Senior Pastor of the Second Congregational Society in Worcester (Worcester, 1839), by Alonzo Hill, is accessible not only under Hill as author and Bancroft as subject, but also under the headings "Clergy--Biography" and "Worcester (Mass.)--Biography." As appropriate, current cataloging practice also calls for access under genre terms "Autobiographies," "Biographies," "Eulogies," "Funeral addresses," "Funeral sermons," "Memoirs," and "Memorials (Commemorative)."
There are also collective biographies in the Society's holdings, designated as "Biography, Collective" (RC) and "Biography, Collective, by subject" (RCS). Among the former are standard national biographical dictionaries including the Dictionary of American Biography, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and the Dictionary of National Biography. The collective biographies in RCS are arranged under such headings as artists, educators, literary persons, women, and eccentrics. Included among this genre are Experience Mayhew's Narrative of the Lives of Pious Indian Women, Who Lived on Martha's Vineyard (Boston, 1830), The Life and Sketches of Curious and Odd Characters (Boston, 1840), and Alan Schroder's Directory of 19th Century Iowa Architects (Iowa City, 1982). A few collective biographies, such as William B. Sprague's multivolume Annals of the American Pulpit (New York, 1857-69), have been indexed by Society staff to provide easy access to individual entries, and the American Biographic Index (ABI), 2nd edition, published by K.G. Saur in 1998 is an invaluable tool providing access to individual entries in more than 500 sources.
- Doris O'Keefe, Senior Cataloger