Foreign History and Travel

As suggested by titles included in booksellers' and library catalogs, works of foreign history and travel were very popular with the American reading public during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While the American Antiquarian Society does not attempt to be comprehensive in this area and does not regularly add to this classification, it does house a well-established collection that includes most of the standard works of history reprinted in this country prior to the Civil War, among which are numerous editions of Rollin's Ancient History, Lectures on Modern History by William Smyth, as well as copies of many of the original editions imported from Europe, among which is the forty-four volume set of The Modern Part of an Universal History, from the Earliest Account of Time (London, 1759-66). The collection includes a preliminary section encompassing general works of history and travel as well as secondary sources on historiography. Following this are separate classes for ancient history, each of the European countries, and other countries and regions.

Because of the close ties between English and American history, the collection is particularly strong in the area of English history and description. Students of British colonial history can find at AAS such primary source materials as the Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and the West Indies (London, 1893-1969) and the Journal of the Commissioners for Trade & Plantations (London, 1920-38). Other useful sources of British history and description are the many parish registers and travelers' guidebooks.

The China trade aroused considerable interest in Chinese history and culture. One unusual item in the AAS collection relating to China is A Guide to, or Descriptive Catalogue of the Chinese Museum, in the Marlboro' Chapel, Boston by John R. Peters, Jr. (Boston, 1845). During the antebellum period, the movement for the colonization of Liberia gave rise to a body of literature describing that country and Africa in general. In 1852, for example, the American Colonization Society published Information About Going to Liberia, with Things Every Emigrant Ought to Know.

The missionary movement was also responsible for producing a variety of works on some of the more remote regions of the world. In 1836, the second edition of David Abeel's Journal of a Residence in China was published in New York. And during the 1870s Samuel Colcord Bartlett wrote a series of historical and descriptive sketches of the missions under the control of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, including those in Africa, Ceylon and India, and Turkey. Like the missionaries, British officers wrote accounts of their experiences and many of these narratives were reprinted in the United States. Examples included in the Society's collections are Cabool, a Personal Narrative of a Journey to, and Residence in That City in the Years 1836, 7, and 8, by Lieut. Col. Sir Alexander Burnes (Philadelphia, 1843) and The Opium War, Being Recollections of Service in China, by Capt. Arthur Cunynghame (Philadelphia, 1845). The American seaman James Riley's An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce, Wrecked on the Western Coast of Africa, in the Month of August, 1815 which gives an account of the enslavement of the survivors by the Arabs, was first published in 1817 and remained popular until mid-century.

Of particular interest, and actively collected by the Society, are the accounts and journals of American travelers abroad. Unusual examples of this genre include Running Sketches of Men and Places, by George Copway, chief of the Ojibway Nation (New York, 1851), David F. Dorr's A Colored Man Around the World (Cleveland, 1858), Correspondence of Palestine Tourists (Salt Lake City, 1875), a series of letters describing the pilgrimage of a party of influential Mormons, among whom were George A. Smith and Lorenzo Snow, and United States Girls Across the Atlantic (Syracuse, 1876), by Maria Welch Harris, of Homer, N.Y.

About 5,550 titles are included in the Society's collection of foreign history and travel. Additional and related materials are found in the Early American Imprints, the Reserve, the Latin American, and the Canadian collections. Also of interest are a series of catalogs issued by the governments of Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland that describe their exhibits at the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876. Although these catalogs are classified and shelved with other materials relating to that exhibition, rather than with the history and description of the countries they represent, they are a wonderful source of historical and descriptive information. In all cases, subject access is provided by the geographic place name followed by the subdivisions "Description and travel" and "History."

- Doris O'Keefe, Senior Cataloger

Quick Links
Catalog | Login | Digital A-Z

Mon, Tu, Th, Fri: 9 am - 5 pm
Wed: 10 a.m. - 8 pm

Facebook logoBlog logoTwitter logoInstagram logo