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Library Journal, November 2015

CONTENT When completed, Colonial America will offer all 1,450 volumes of the CO5 series (records of the British Colonial Office, class 5) from the National Archives, UK, spanning 1606 to 1822. CO5 consists of the original correspondence between the British government and the American colonies. The resource is being released in five modules, the first being Frontier Life, Early Expansion and Rivalries, which chronicles the early history of the colonies. Subsequent scheduled modules will include Towards Revolution (2016), The American Revolution (2017), Legislation and Politics in the Colonies (2018), and Growth, Trade and Development (2019).

 Frontier Life features charters, court records, diaries, financial documents, land grants, maps and building plans, military files, newspapers, petitions, pamphlets, speeches, and public notices. The number of documents per volume ranges from a few to hundreds; each volume has been divided into subsections consisting of an individual document or a cluster of related ones. These can be browsed by title, date, volume, theme, document type, and colony/region. Each document has been indexed by keywords, names, and places, making the manuscript records searchable. A small percentage of CO5 material was originally printed (mostly pamphlets, public notices and newspapers); these items are full-text searchable and indicated in lists with a “printed page” icon next to their titles.

USABILITY The main screen offers a simple search box along with options for an advanced search or popular searches; a toolbar linking to the introduction, documents, explore, map gallery, and help; a list of quick links (such as biographies and a government structure chart); and a window asking: “Not sure where to start? Let us guide you through the documents and features of Colonial America.”

I chose the last option, which led to a five-section introduction, “What Is Colonial America?” This summary explains what users can expect from the documents section, how to use the government structure chart, and how to save documents for later using My Archive and My Lightbox. After going through the tour, I backtracked to the introduction on the homepage, which directed me to other explanatory sections such as Thematic Areas. This area contains key groups of related materials such as Colonial Development, Community Organization, The Frontier and the Expansion of European Settlement, Tax and Finance, Legislation, Trade, and War.
The Explore option in the top toolbar leads to a page offering biographies, the aforementioned government structure chart, and the opportunity to explore volumes, essays, popular searches, and external links.

Biographies is an alphabetized list of brief (one- or two-paragraph) biographical sketches of prominent figures. The government structure chart “lists the holders of key offices in the governments of Great Britain and the colonies, with the dates between which each office was held.” It interacts with a time line (with date slider) and buttons for particular regions in the file. Clicking on an individual’s name lets you view their biography; selecting a date shows all of the office holders for the affected regions. This is a sophisticated feature that provides context to the overall file, giving a larger scope to the historical setting.

Users can further explore individual volumes such as The Acts of Assembly in the Colony of Virginia, 1662–1752. Selecting that volume referenced the 614 Acts. At that point, one is able to read the Act (a thumbnail image popped up that enlarges with one click; the text was clear and readable), search the document, download it as a PDF, export the citation to EndNote or RefWorks in one of three formats, search the volume further, or view the keywords assigned to the document (in this case: finance, government revenue, tax).
The essays are scholarly yet accessible to nonhistorians, while popular searches will assist nonexperts in finding relevant ways to search the database. Included in popular searches are lists of governors, places, keywords, and Indian tribes and nations. External links takes researchers to 19 points of potential interest, such as Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy and the Early Americas Digital Archive.

A final search for Cotton Mather retrieved three results: an April 29 1689 extract of a letter from Bristol in New England unto Mr. Mather; minutes of the Massachusetts Bay council, 26 March–9 September 1696; and a reference to Mather’s father, Increase, in the biography of Sir William Phips, First Royal Governor of Massachusetts Bay.

VERDICT This is not just a digitized record of files from the National Archives; Adam Matthew has considerably enhanced an already rich trove of documents in creating this remarkable, multilayered product. Large research libraries and sizable library consortia should trial this resource among potential users. There should be at least one copy of Colonial America in each state within the United States, accessible to all American history researchers.

Cheryl LaGuardia
Library Journal, November 2015

The Booklist, November 2015

This specialized academic database collects the 1450 volumes of the “CO 5” collection from the National Archives in the UK, covering the period 1606 to 1822. “CO 5” consists of the original correspondence between the British government and the American colonies and offers insight into the different aspects of life in colonial America, from political and military concerns to cultural and social norms of the day.

Material in the collection is expected to be divided into five modules: “Frontier Life, Early Expansion and Rivalries”; “Toward Revolution: Disputes and Origins of the Conflict”; “The American Revolution and its Aftermath”; “Legislation and Politics in the Colonies”; and “Growth, Trade and Development.” (As of fall 2015, only “Frontier Life, Early Expansion and Rivalries” has been released, with the rest to follow between 2016 and 2019). The documents consist of letters, military documents, newspapers and pamphlets, war diaries, and maps. For example, users can view the charters and commissions relating to the founding of Virginia; read an account of capture by Indians and imprisonment in Canada; and view a pamphlet entitled “The Case of the British Sugar Colonies”.

Documents have been indexed by relevant keywords, names, and places, and many of these terms can be found in lists of popular searches, helpfully categorized by “Governors”, “Other Names”, “Places”, “Keywords” and “Indian Tribes and Nations”. Supplementary material includes essays by historians, brief biographies of leading personalities of the time, and an interactive “Map Gallery”. Items can be printed, saved, and shared. As in other Adam Matthew digital products, the “My Lightbox” feature allows researchers to select images to be added to their own slide show presentations. Users can also build their own archives o documents, visual resources and contextual essays, which will be a great assistance in research projects.

This unique scholarly resource is suitable for academic institutions that support researchers working in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American history.

Rebecca Vnuk
The Booklist, November 2015

The Charleston Advisor, January 2016

Colonial America, a primary source database from Adam Matthew, features the entire archive of documents from the agencies that oversaw the British colonies in North America and the Caribbean. The database has rich metadata that allows for powerful searching, high resolution images, and user-friendly functionality. This database is a superb addition to any research collection.

Read the full review here.

Jason Martin
The Charleston Advisor, January 2016

American Reference Books Annual, June 2016

Colonial America is an extensive digital resource built using the Colonial Office document collection (mostly manuscripts) held by the National Archives in London. The collection includes original correspondence between the American colonial governments and the British government agencies responsible for administering them. This relationship dealt with all manner of subjects, and its archive documents a broad scope of issues encompassing political, economic, social, cultural, and military subjects. These topics are represented in both public and private documents ranging from letters and diaries to public notices, newspapers, and printed pamphlets. The collection also includes maps and some architectural drawings. All documents are available as high-resolution scanned images and can be downloaded, saved, and sent via email.

The full collection covers 1602-1822 and will be made available in five modules to be released over the next four years. (This review covers only Module 1 released in late 2015.) Module 1: Early Settlement, Expansion, and Rivalries focuses on the early development of and events in the American colonies including such major events as the 1688 Glorious Revolution and the French and Indian War of 1756-63.

Colonial America’s primary navigation is organized by tabs, and the Document tab provides access to the manuscript collection. The collection has been scanned, indexed, and described at the document level allowing it to be searched and browsed by keyword, people or place name, date, and theme. Dropdown menus at the top of the Document tab help users drill down to specific information and combine multiple search parameters. For example, a user can filter to show only diary entries on community organization in New York. The Popular Searches function provided by the editors highlights interesting topics in the collection.

Each document is described with a title, place name, keyword, people, places, volume name, dates, and theme and is represented by a high-quality scan of the original. Users can zoom in several times without compromising the quality of the image. This is useful as some of the documents are faded or have difficult-to-read handwriting.

The Explore tab includes an interactive Government Chart, Essays, Biographies, Data Associations, and Popular Searches. The Government Structure Chart allows users to connect key information such as date, region, and office to key office-holders in time. This facilitates user’s contextualization of the major players of this time period. Data Associations is a heatmap display illustrating the connections between people, places, and keywords.

The Map Gallery tab provides access to many interesting maps that can be filtered by image type, date, or keyword. Users can view full-size images of the maps, and images can be saved to a personalized collection (using “My Lightbox”) or downloaded as a PDF.

Translating a manuscript archive of this size, scope, and historical importance into a usable online resource is an immense task. Great thought and care has gone into representing this body of material well. Emphasis has been placed on search, discovery, navigation, ease of access, and interpretation. Several different points of access have been provided and various methods have been employed to support specific searching and serendipitous browsing.

This resource is a treasure for scholars. It is immensely important for British and American history scholars, and any library or institution supporting this audience should consider this resource. It also has the potential to inspire young scholars by bringing them close to historical documents through digital media. This is a rich and extensive digital archive enhanced by thorough and thoughtful organization and judicious application of technology.

Kristin Kay Leeman
American Reference Books Annual, June 2016

CHOICE Connect, November 2016

[Visited Aug'16] The Colonial America curated collection is a welcome addition to the growing lineup of digitized primary source materials related to early America. A collaboration between publisher Adam Matthew and the National Archives (UK), the first module, released in late 2015, contains a rich variety of digitized materials (more than 12,500 documents) covering approximately 1606–1776, including manuscripts, maps, broadsheets, official correspondence, and diaries from the Colonial Office series 5 (CO 5) files. Ultimately, the set will be released in five modules spanning 1606–1822 and the full 1,450-volume set of CO 5 files. It is a long-awaited replacement for the 53 reels of microfilm described in Records of the British Colonial Office, Class 5, ed. by Randolph Boehm (1983–84).

The easy-to-use interface allows scholars to search for specific materials via a general search box or browse documents by colony, title, thematic areas, document type, and parent CO 5 volume. In addition, an excellent series of guides under the Help section introduces new users to materials and features of the platform, including My Archive and My Lightbox functions that allow researchers to save search history, documents, and images in personal folders over multiple search sessions. A very useful tool for beginning researchers under the Explore section is the Government Structure Chart, which identifies the major government offices of Great Britain and the colonies. Using the device of a time line, researchers may filter results by region (Caribbean, Canada, New England, mid-Atlantic, South) or office (monarch, ministers, governors, etc.) to identify and find short biographies of officeholders and bureaucrats of the period. The thematic Search Directories section presents tabs with subjects such as Culture and Society, Natural World, Work, Indian Tribes and Nations, etc. with pertinent keywords (e.g., boycott, brothel, burial, climate, drought, flora) linked to associated documents.

As the entire assembly grows to completion in 2019 [Colonial America: Module 2, Towards Revolution was published in August 2016] the resource will make a fine companion to the materials contained in Brill's first release of Prize Papers Online 1: American Revolutionary War and Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (CH, Jan'15, 52-2326), which will also comprise five components when done. Along with Adam Matthew's related American History 1493–1945 (CH, Jun'15, 52-5108), Colonial America is a rich collection of official British and Colonial records characterizing the British Empire in the Atlantic and the events leading up to the American Revolution. Well worth obtaining a free trial to evaluate, these primary sources will be of significant value to researchers at all levels.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Beginning students through researchers/faculty; professionals/practitioners.

R. J. Erlandson, independent scholar
CHOICE Connect, November 2016

American Reference Books Annual, December 2016

This is the second installment of Adam Matthew's prolific database series, Colonial America. This five-module digital series began in 2015 with Module 1: Early Settlement, Expansion, and Rivalries and will add one module annually. This series provides teachers and scholars with primary sources for 1602-1822.

The database structure is extremely solid with access from a variety of standard features such as a search bar, advanced search, and popular search options. There are several main tabs: Documents, Explore, Map Gallery, and Help. Dropdown menus on these tabs have additional query filtering; for example, under the tab Documents are Document Type, Theme, Colony/Region, and Module. Assignments adhering to colonial topics will be listed for further examination. There is also an alphabetical access bar which will be useful to those who want to browse by subject. Another tool that is very effective is the Search Directories tab where overreaching subjects are sorted into smaller subtopics.

With an editorial board of seven (and ensuing essays about how areas of content were developed), Module II: Towards Revolution represents a period of extensive communication between the British government and the government of the American colonies. All of these indexed documents are held at The National Archives in Kew, Surrey, and are primarily found in bound documents. Documentation will be found in the following formats: charters and commissions; court records; diaries; financial documents; land grants and cadastral lists; letters; maps and building plans; military documents; newspapers; orders to officials; printed pamphlets, broadsides, and speeches; public notices and proclamations; shipping lists; and texts of acts of assemblies.

This large collection of colonial documents gives not only a broad range of document type but affords researchers of the pre-Revolution period first-hand access in one place to sources that are fragile and hard to find. Whether government documents from Massachusetts Bay Colony, grants of province, a petition of the Mohawk warriors, or handwritten military journal entries, the breadth of primary documents found in this database is significant.

This database is a revolution of information and is highly recommended to historians, professors, and scholars of the colonial American period (The database series, Colonial America, if as in-depth as the second module, will be a digital series to watch for as each module is completed).

Janis Minshull
American Reference Books Annual, December 2016

CHOICE, March 2017

In addition to assembling for easy access the early documents of the American Revolution, Colonial America: Module 2 also connects scholars to a large cache of British colonial documents concerning Canada and the Caribbean. This release illuminates British efforts to grapple with disparate local interests while maintaining daily control of a far-flung empire. Official treaties between the British Crown and native tribes in both Canada and what would become the US provide a unique vantage point for understanding the early struggles of indigenous peoples trying to deal with invading forces governed from across an ocean. Each module within the series is priced individually with a one-time purchase fee and annual hosting fees providing perpetual access to purchased modules. This newest collection offers libraries a trove of primary source materials for research on 18th-century colonial North America and the British Caribbean.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Beginning students through researchers/faculty; professionals/practitioners.

R. J. Erlandson, independent scholar
CHOICE, March 2017