American History, 1493-1945

From the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, New York

From a voyage of discovery to a nuclear blast, experience the epic vista of over 400 years of American history through thousands of primary source documents.

This collection traces the progress of American History and extensively covers the major themes of the period from colonisation and settlement through the revolution, expansion, politics, slavery, the Civil War and reconstruction, to World War II.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History holds one of the outstanding collections on American History. It is full of individual items, but it also has rich veins of manuscript research material. This makes it ideal for teaching survey courses on American History, but equally valuable as a platform for undergraduate essay work and postgraduate research.

  • Over 60,000 primary source documents; the majority is unique manuscript material
  • 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
  • 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
  • Federalism and American expansion – There is much important material on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and subsequent Amendments
  • 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
  • Slavery and Abolition
  • Thousands of individual diaries and letters from combatants on both sides of the conflict
  • 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
  • Translations and transcriptions for many manuscripts
  • Features from partner organisations Mount Vernon and the Gettysburg Foundation.

Modules include

Module Summary Date
Module I: Settlement, Commerce, Revolution and Reform, 1493-1859

This module focuses on the documents of colonial history, the revolutionary era, the formation of the United States, westward expansion, and Indian relations as well as slavery, abolition, and the fierce debates that led to the Civil War.

It includes highlights such as Columbus’ description of his voyage, annotated first-draft printings of the Constitution, the correspondence of crucial political figures, and Frederick Douglass’ writings to his former master. The Knox Papers give a key insight into Knox family life, while the Livingstone Family Papers provide a detailed look into merchant family life.

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

From the time of Lincoln’s election, this module focuses on the Civil War told through thousands of soldiers’ letters. It then moves to Reconstruction, America’s nineteenth century growth, the World Wars, and the inter-war years.

Highlights of this module include over 17,000 letters, diaries and documents from the Civil War, most of which have never been published before, alongside images from the war and previously undigitised Civil War newspapers and magazines. The documents, which cover the era of Reconstruction up until the end of the Second World War, include correspondence of various presidents, the rise of industrial America, chilling missives from the Ku Klux Klan, and World War II action.


Key data

Period covered


Source archive

  • The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, New York
  • The Americas to 1620
  • Colonisation and settlement, 1585-1963
  • American Revolution, 1763-1983
  • The New Nation, 1783-1815
  • National expansion and reform, 1815-1860
  • Banking and economics
  • Children and family
  • Creating a New Government
  • Education
  • French and Indian Wars
  • Government and politics
  • Health and medicine
  • Law
  • Literature, language and arts
  • Presidents
  • Science, technology and invention
  • Slavery and abolition
  • The Mexican Wars
  • The War of 1812
  • Westward expansion
  • Women in American history
  • The American Civil War
  • The Great Depression
  • The Gilded Age
  • World War I and II
  • 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
  • Crispin Bates, University of Edinburgh
  • Carol Berkin, Baruch College
  • Emma Christopher, University of Sydney
  • Eric Foner, Columbia University
  • Philip Hamilton, Christopher Newport University
  • Kenneth T. Jackson, Columbia University
  • David M. Kennedy, Stanford University
  • Ellen Pawelczak, Consultant at Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
  • Clement Price, Newark College of Arts and Sciences, University College, Newark
  • Alan Taylor, University of California, Davis
  • Betty Wood, University of Cambridge
  • Communities, Peoples and Nations
  • North American Studies
  • War and Conflict
  • A powerful teaching tool and research guide
  • Interactive maps - experience the famous Civil War Battle of Gettysburg through eyewitness accounts, historic and modern images in ‘Mapping Gettysburg’
  • Mount Vernon and George Washington - Explore Mount Vernon, the family estate of George Washington, through photographs and see a selection of documents written from his beloved home.
  • The History of America in 100 Documents – An interactive selection of 100 documents demonstrating some of the key themes of the period from 1493 to 1945. Each document takes the user back into the full collection.
  • Video lectures from writers and historians discussing various aspects of the period from early Indian conflicts to the founding generation.
  • Essays written by leading academics look in detail at various areas of American history.
  • Thematic guides
  • Visual galleries
  • Chronology


Supporting material


Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of American History, CUNY: Teaching with The Gilder Lehrman Collection

Webinar: Teaching with American History, 1493-1945

Digitising the Gilder Lehrman Collection

Webinar: U.S. Elections Through History Featuring Dr Michael Patrick Cullinane, University of Northumbria

Product Overview: American History, 1493-1945

Webinar: Black History Month (2016)


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