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A Review of the Society's Publications Program


Historical Background

Isaiah Thomas, quite appropriately, established a touchstone for all of the publications of the American Antiquarian Society with his The History of Printing in America, first published in 1810. He defined both the value of and the audience for such an endeavor in his introductory remark that "the art which is the preserver of all arts, is worthy of the attention of the learned and the curious." Indeed, it was Thomas's conviction that detailing the history of printing in America to the time of the Revolution, a field in which he himself had half a century's experience to draw upon, would serve an enduring national purpose. He stated in the preface to the History of Printing that his chronicle could serve to "convey to posterity a correct account of the manner in which we have grown to be an independent people, and can delineate the progress of the useful and polite arts among us with a degree of certainty which cannot be attained by the nations of the old world." This conviction accorded well with Thomas's larger patriotic endeavor, the founding of the American Antiquarian Society as a library that would both preserve America's heritage and provide new perspectives on that national history. Through its publications, the Society continues to fulfill that ideal.

Among the earliest publications by the Society were the records of the annual meetings. The first "Account of the American Antiquarian Society" was printed in 1813. It included a petition to the Massachusetts legislature to establish the Society, the act of incorporation, the laws of the Society, and the record of that first meeting. Subsequent sporadic publication of the records of meetings essentially consisted of votes passed and elections of officers and members; occasionally, activities of the meetings appeared in newspapers rather than as Society-sponsored publications. In 1843, there was a serious effort to issue the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society in a regular series, and two numbers were printed. However, consecutive publication of the formally titled Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society was not firmly established until 1849.

The Society did not ignore scholarly research, however. The efforts of the Committee on Publication in 1819 led to the establishment of the series The Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society. This series bore the subtitle Archaeologia Americana, a reflection of the journal published by the Society of Antiquaries of London, the organization that had been the model for the founders of the American Antiquarian Society. Volume I, printed in 1820, contained accounts of the discovery of the Mississippi and "Conjectures Respecting the Ancient Inhabitants of North America." Volume II appeared in 1836 and presented studies of the Indian tribes in North America by Albert Gallatin and Daniel Gookin. Volume III concerned itself with colonial American history and included the Records of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay and the diaries of John Hull, Thomas Winthrop, and Thomas Lechford. Later volumes reprinted the diaries of Christopher Columbus Baldwin and Isaiah Thomas. This series also reprinted Thomas's "History of Printing" in two volumes in 1874. In all, twelve volumes appeared intermittently until 1911.

The Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society continued to appear alongside the "Transactions," although much more regularly. In part, increasing publishing costs spelled the demise of the Transactions after 1911. After 1849 the Proceedings were published twice each year, keyed to the October and April meetings of the Society, and collected as an annual volume. In 1880, a "new series" of the Proceedings began. With this series the "Proceedings" became primarily a learned journal, a change derived in part from the nature of the lectures delivered at the annual meetings of the Society. An index to each volume appears at the back of part 2 each year. Former librarian and director Clifford K. Shipton compiled a cumulative index to the "Proceedings," 1812-1961, which AAS published in 1978.

Publications Today

In 2009, with the publication of Volume 118, Part 2, the Proceedings of the American Society was suspended by vote of the Council. For more than one hundred years, it had fulfilled the founders' goal by publishing the fruits of scholarly research. Over the years, the journal, once an account of the meetings of the Society--although a summary of Society business was published in each issue—had become transformed into a continuing record of the scholarly endeavors of the Society's members, staff, fellows, and other researchers. The back issues of the Proceedings include articles in the general field of American history and culture through the year 1876, with particular emphasis on bibliographies, primary sources, and basic research tools. In 1990, the subtitle "A Journal of American History and Culture Through 1876" was added to the Proceedings in order to clarify the scope of the publication and its openness to contributions from scholars not affiliated with the Society. The Society routinely issuesd "Proceedings" articles as separate offprints and they remain available for purchase through the AAS website. Offprints are available either directly from the Society or, in selected instances, from the Society's book distributor, Oak Knoll Books.

Books published by the Society tended to deal with the printed record of the United States, and include bibliographies, source documents, and other materials that serve as tools for researchers. A number of these books have become the standard bibliographies in their fields. The Society has published the two-volume History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, by Clarence S. Brigham (1947), volume 13 of Evans's American Bibliography, by Clifford K. Shipton (1955), Vermont Imprints, 1778-1820, by Marcus A. McCorison (1963), A Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America, 1693-1800, by Robert B. Winans (1981), A Bibliography of American Children's Books Printed Prior to 1821, by d'Alte A. Welch (1972), A Bibliography of American Cookery Books, 1742-1860, by Eleanor Lowenstein (1972), A Dictionary of Colonial American Printers' Ornaments and Illustrations, by Elizabeth Carroll Reilly (1975), and American Sacred Music Imprints, 1698-1810: A Bibliography, by Allen P. Britton, Irving Lowens, and Richard Crawford (1990).

This tradition continued with the publication of A History and Bibliography of American Religious Newspapers and Periodicals Through 1830 by Gaylord Albaugh (1994); A Checklist of American Newspaper Carriers' Addresses, 1720-1820, compiled by Gerald D. McDonald, Stuart C. Sherman, and Mary T. Russo (1999); Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States, 1734-1850: A Bibliography by Kent Logan Walgren (2003); and Kate Van Winkle Keller, Printers of Ballads, Books, and Newspapers: Biographical Notes and Checklists for Nathaniel Coverly, Sr., Nathaniel Coverly, Jr., and Joseph White (2008). Two publications that highlight the Society's collections of early American bookbindings are: Bookbinding in Early America: Seven Essays on Masters and Methods, by Hannah D. French (1986) and the revised edition of the 1972 exhibition catalogue Early American Bookbindings from the Collection of Michael Papantonio (1986). In addition, the Society has published collections of monographs in areas relating to the history of the book in American culture. Among these are The Press and the American Revolution (1980), Printing and Society in Early America (1983), and Needs and Opportunities in the History of the Book: America, 1639-1876 (1987). A useful handbook for understanding money values is John J. McCusker's How Much Is That In Real Money?  A Historical Commodity Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (second edition, revised and enlarged, 2001).

While the Society stocks its publications for sale at the library, most orders for books are handled through the Society's book distributor,  Oak Knoll Books, 310 Delaware Street, New Castle, DE 19720 (302) 328-7232. Recent back issues of the Proceedings may be ordered from the Society. A list of the Society's publications in print is available on this website. The 2010 publication of the last in the five-volume series, A History of the Book in America, published by the University of North Carolina Press in collaboration with AAS represents the culmination of years of planning and scholarship under the auspices of the Society.s Program in the History of the Book in American Culture. The series, extending from the earliest publications in colonial America, through 2000, reflects on many of the transformations in book production and distribution, reading, writing, and the role of print and communication throughout the history of the United States. More information may be obtained from the books in print page or the University of North Carolina Press website.

- Marcus A. McCorison, President Emeritus, and John B. Hench, Vice-President for Collections and Programs; revised by Caroline Sloat, Director of Scholarly Programs

Books In Print