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American History, 1493-1945

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FROM THE GILDER LEHRMAN INSTITUTE OF AMERICAN HISTORY, NEW YORK

VIEW AMERICAN HISTORY, 1493-1945

Source Library

The Gilder Lehrman Institute, New York

Nature of the Material

Module 1: Settlement, Commerce, Revolution and Reform: 1493-1859

There are substantial core strengths relating to:

  • Colonial America – The Livingston collection dates from 1666 to 1750 and includes unique material on the Dutch settlement in New Amsterdam, the development of early New York and on mercantile trade. In addition there are papers on the Plymouth settlement and letters of William Byrd, Thomas Dongan, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Grenville, William Penn, Peter Stuyvesant, Stephen Van Cortland, Roger Williams, John Winthrop and others covering all aspects of colonial life.
  • The American Revolution – The papers of Henry Knox, George Washington’s general of artillery and Secretary of War, have long been recognized as a vital source for the study of the American Revolution. In addition to providing a first-hand account of the conflict, there are the remarkable letters of Lucy Knox providing a woman’s view of the war and the key characters. There are also letters and papers of individual combatants, politicians, and businessmen.
  • Federalism and American expansion – There is much important material on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and subsequent Amendments. There is also evidence concerning the War of 1812, Westward Expansion and the Mexican-American War; and significant clusters of material on John Adams, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, John Jay, Rufus King, James Madison, James Monroe, George Washington and others.
  • American Indians – There is voluminous material on early relationships with the Cayugas, Creek, Mohawks, Mohicans, Oneidas, Onondagas, Senecans and many other tribes across North America. Positive early experiences can be contrasted with material on the French and Indian War and on the later Indian Wars.
  • Slavery and Abolition – This has always been a key strength of the Gilder Lehrman Collection and there are many thousands of individual documents ranging from slave sale certificates and accounts of the middle passage, to legal disputes, papers of abolitionists (including John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry), and accounts of slave rebellions (notably the Nat Turner rebellion and the Amistad revolt).

Module 2: Civil War, Reconstruction and the Modern Era: 1860-1945

This section spans the period from the election of Lincoln in 1860 to the end of the Second World War. First and foremost are materials relating to the Civil War. There are:

  • Key papers relating to slavery, the Secession debates and the outbreak of war at Fort Sumter.
  • Hundreds of individual diaries and thousands of letters from combatants on both sides of the conflict.
  • Hundreds of significant documents from individuals such as Lincoln, Sherman, Grant, Davis, Lee and Stuart (including a handwritten letter from Lincoln to Grant predicting a favourable outcome and Robert E Lee’s letter to Grant after Appomattox suggesting a suspension of hostilities).
  • Records relating to the role of African-American troops in the war.
  • Material on women during the Civil War and the impact on Northern and Southern states.
  • Medical guides, papers of surgeons and records relating to prisoners of war.
  • Maps, muster rolls, manuals, engravings, cartes de visite, sketch-books, and photographs.
  • Taken together, these sources will enable scholars to examine the social, political and military dimensions of the conflict.
Reconstruction is also substantially documented both in manuscripts and photographs. There are accounts of soldiers returning to their communities, papers relating to post-bellum plantation life in the South and material on the rebuilding of the economy.

There is a wealth of material on Slavery, Abolition & Race including two letters from Frederick Douglass to his former owner, papers of Freedman’s Bureaus, manuscript accounts of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan and the extensive papers of Blanche Kelso Bruce, a former slave who became the first African-American senator.

Other key topics documented include:

  • The Rise of Industrial America and the Gilded Age
  • Westward Expansion (from Custer’s ‘Life on the Plains’ to accounts of the Alaskan gold rush)
  • The First World War (including the diary of an American nurse and papers relating to the American Pioneer Infantry)
  • Women’s Rights and Women’s Suffrage (including numerous letters by Susan B. Anthony)
  • The Depression and the New Deal (including Hoover’s advice on the New Deal)
  • The Environment (materials on National Parks, vanishing wildlife and the idea of wilderness)
  • World War II (including the Morris Weiner World War II collection and accounts of the Marines at Okinawa)

There are strong clusters of papers relating to Presidents Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Cleveland, McKinley, Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt and a wealth of material by writers, industrialists and activists that help to bring this period alive.

The resource features a wide range of document types:

  • Books
  • Broadsides
  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Financial documents
  • Government documents
  • Land transaction documents
  • Legal documents
  • Maps
  • Military documents
  • Miscellany 
  • Newspapers and Magazines
  • Notes
  • Objects
  • Pamphlets
  • Photographs
  • Prints, paintings, engravings and sketches
  • Private organisation documents

Scope of the Collection

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History’s archive of letters, diaries, maps pamphlets, printed books, newspapers and ephemera sheds light on the political, economic and social history of the United States up until the 20th Century. The majority of the collection is unique manuscript. It is an extensive resource for scholars, educators and students and is considered one of the finest archives for material on the revolutionary, early national, antebellum and civil war eras. This collection allows scholars for the first time to digitally access this important archive.

Some of the historical themes covered are:

  • African American history
  • Banking & Economics
  • Children & Family
  • Creating a New Government
  • Education
  • French & Indian Wars
  • Government & Politics
  • Health & Medicine
  • Immigration and Migration
  • Law
  • Literature, Language, Arts
  • Native Americans
  • Presidents and First Ladies
  • Reconstruction
  • Religion
  • Science, Technology, Invention
  • Slavery and Abolition
  • The American Civil War
  • The American Revolution
  • The Colonial Era
  • The Gilded Age
  • The Great Depression
  • The Mexican Wars
  • Westward Expansion
  • Women in American History
  • World War I
  • World War II

Additional Features:

  • Video lectures
  • Contextual essays
  • Interactive maps
  • Visual galleries
  • Online Exhibitions
  • Chronology