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About the Collections

Guidebook to Collections


T he staff of the American Antiquarian Society chose to prepare the first edition of this guide for researchers as our contribution to the Society's 175th-anniversary celebration in 1987. We present this revised edition five years later as a tribute to our leader, Marcus A. McCorison, upon his retirement after more than three decades of distinguished service to the Society. AAS is not a library whose directors and staff have been anonymous and self- effacing types. From the beginning with Isaiah Thomas to the present with Marcus McCorison, our staff members have been noted as strong advocates of and important contributors to the study of American history and bibliography. Also, AAS staff members know the collections thoroughly and work continually to understand the pertinence of that material to new lines of historical inquiry; hence they often become active participants in the scholarly research of our readers. The main title of this book, "Under Its Generous Dome," is a quotation taken from Esther Forbes's acknowledgment of the AAS library and staff in the preface to her Pulitzer-Prize-winning book "Paul Revere and the World He Lived In" (1942). It gives the Society's staff great pride and considerable pleasure to know that Esther Forbes and countless readers before and after her understood that the generosity of the Society was both material and human: its exceptional collections and its dedicated, talented, and caring staff willing and able to collaborate with visiting scholars in the creation of historical meaning.

As we hope this book will make clear, we regard AAS more as a research library than a rare book repository. We do not acquire materials solely for their prestige or bibliographical points, but for their historical importance and their potential usefulness for scholarly research. The Society's librarians have long been known for their prescience in acquiring certain genres, such as newspapers, almanacs, children's books, and women's diaries long before they became `legitimate' or popular fields of collecting. In this vein, they have often demonstrated a preference for the homely broadside or pamphlet over a bibliographically elegant work by some literary lion. For this reason, the AAS collections are remarkably rich in the stuff of social history, the story of ordinary people in that experiment called America. Our collections are part of our civilization's common heritage. We do not `own' them the way an individual owns a book or a painting; we hold them in trust and accept the responsibility to preserve and then conserve and make them available to successive generations of scholars.

In preparing this guide five years ago, we followed in the tradition of two previous books by Society staff members: R. W. G. Vail's "A Guide to the Resources of the American Antiquarian Society" (Worcester, 1937) and Clarence S. Brigham's "Fifty Years of Collecting Americana for the Library of the American Antiquarian Society" (Worcester, 1958). Vail's book is interesting as a record of its time but it is no longer useful to today's readers. Brigham's is a memorial to the growth of the library in the first half of the twentieth century and to his own legendary genius for collecting, but it also is no longer pertinent to library patrons because there have been many significant changes in our collections and in their arrangement over the past thirty-four years. This second edition provides us with the opportunity to correct some errors, clarify a number of points, expand and update certain sections, add a few wholly new articles, and provide a new, enlarged, and more useful index.

This book serves one principal purpose. As a guide for our readers, it seeks to illuminate the rich variety and depth of our holdings and to explain how readers may gain access to them.

The articles in this guidebook describing the Society's collections are divided into two main sections, General Collections and Topical Collections. Wherever possible, collections of related content or related scholarly application are grouped together. We urge all researchers to read the section `Catalogues and Arrangement of Collections,' even if they read the corresponding section in the first edition, because so much has changed. The index at the end of the volume provides cross-references from articles.

The initials within brackets, scattered throughout these pages, identify the authors of the articles or groups of articles. The key to their identity lies in the list of contributors at the end of the volume. The editors wish to thank all the staff members, past and present, who so willingly contributed essays or helped revise them for this second edition. Special thanks are owed Diane Schoen for her excellent support in readying this new edition for the press. [N.H.B. and J.B.H.]


Under Its Generous Dome

Index for the Guidebook to Collections

Under its Generous Dome:
The Collections and Programs of the American Antiquarian Society


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