The Author’s Corner with Heather Haveman

Heather Haveman is Professor of Sociology at the University of California–Berkeley. This interview is based on her new book, Magazines and the Making of America: Modernization, Community, and Print Culture, 1741-1860 (Princeton University Press, 2015)

JF: What led you to write Magazines and the Making of America?

HHI struggled with the title.  It was hard to encapsulate the main argument of the book and to signal to potential readers why they might be interested in it, because the audience I am hoping for is broad –social/cultural/economic historians, organizational/economic/historical/cultural sociologists, & media scholars.  I asked several colleagues for suggestions.  The final title is a combination of my own words plus suggestions from Cristina Mora and Claude Fischer, both of whom have written historical sociology books.  

JF:  In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Magazines and the Making of America?

HH: Sorry, but it takes 3 sentences.  Over the first 120 years of their history, magazines connected people:  this “old” new media literally mediated between people, facilitating frequent interactions between them even when they were far apart and would otherwise never meet face to face, thus creating many distinct communities whose members had common interests, values, principles, ideas, and identities.  These included communities of faith (religion), purpose (social reform), and practice (commerce and specialized occupations).  Different communities often intersected, which fostered the pluralistic integration that was central to American public culture in this era & helped make an America that was distinct from European societies:  magazines both pushed American society toward a common center and pulled it apart into many distinct subgroups.

JFWhy do we need to read Magazines and the Making of America?

HHYou never HAVE to read anything.  But I hope people do read it because it’s different from most histories of magazines, in that it covers all magazines that I could find any trace of in the first 120 years of the industry’s history, rather than focusing on a short time period, a limited sector of the industry, or particular publishing communities, as previous histories have done.  I provide a picture of the coevolution of the industry and American society at 30,000 feet, rather than close up and on the ground.  Having data on (virtually — you can never be sure) every magazine allows me to draw conclusions that are more truly representative of the industry as a whole than can be drawn from the samples usually studied, which typically include the most prominent magazines. 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (or in your case a sociologist who does history)?

HHI have an undergraduate degree in history from the University of Toronto, where I focused mostly on medieval and early modern Europe.  (So researching the early history of what became the United States was quite an education.)  I have always believed that general theories of social life, such as those developed and tested in sociology, need to be sensitive to history — to particular eras in time and particular locations in physical and social space.  My magazine project, which includes several journal articles in addition to the book, is my most complete effort to do that.

JFWhat is your next project?

HHI’m studying several contemporary phenomena — Chinese firms in the late 20th & early 21st century, the emerging cannabis market in several American states, the careers of American law professors – as well as one study that is historical, on American wineries in the post-prohibition era (1940 onward).  These are all collaborative, with current and past graduate students.

JF: Thanks Heather!

The Astor Place "Bible House"

The Astor Place Bible House

Last week the ABS, for all intents and purposes, left New York City.

In order to remember this historic New York institution, we have decided to do a few posts on the various places in the city where the ABS was headquartered over the years.  Scroll down to see our first entry on 72 Nassau Street.

In 1853 the ABS left Nassau Street and opened its new “Bible House” on Astor Place.  It was a massive building.  It cost $303,000 to build, it was six stories high, and its brick exterior walls fronted four different city streets.  Much of the building would be used for the production of Bibles, but there was also office space for ABS secretaries and staff and additional space for the staff of other New York benevolent societies.  The ABS rented space at street level for “various business occupations.”  The building committee concluded that the new Bible House was built to be “congenial to all who love the Bible, and in themselves a beautiful development of that Christian civilization and ‘good will to all men,’ which is the glorious offspring of that very cause under whose encircling influence they have found a home.”

The impressive new Bible House became the center of print culture not only in New York City, but in the entire nation.  The building became a New York icon.  Over the course of the next thirty years it was a regular stop for tourists.  Mark Twain visited the Bible House in 1867 and claimed that he “enjoyed the time more than I could possibly have done in any circus.”  Its size and facade sent a clear message: Christian civilization in the United States would advance, and the American Bible Society would be leading the way.

The Author’s Corner with T.J. Tomlin

T.J. Tomlin is Associate Professor of History at the University of Northern Colorado. This interview is based on his book, A Divinity for all Persuasions:Almanacs and Early American Religious Life (Oxford University Press, October 2014).

JF: What led you to write A Divinity for all Persuasions?

TT: I wanted to know how early American popular culture reflected or responded to changes in church membership between 1730 and 1820. Of course, much has been written about the causes and consequences of denominational shifts during this period. So I was curious to see if popular culture might add something new to the debate. I turned to almanacs because they were early America’s most widespread genre. I expected to find either critiques of upstart and “unrefined” denominations like the Methodists or populist attacks on Anglicans and other established churches. Instead I found Protestantism everywhere and denominational specifics almost nowhere. It became apparent very quickly that almanacs had much to say about “true religion” but were completely unconcerned with intra-Protestant competition. In fact, they argued that denominational rivalry was antithetical to authentic religion.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A Divinity for all Persuasions?

TT: Early American religious life is best characterized by the pan-Protestant sensibility articulated in its most ubiquitous popular genre. Most early Americans defined and organized their religious lives around Protestant “essentials” and “golden rule” morality rather than denominational specifics.

JF: Why do we need to read A Divinity for all Persuasions?

TT: Early American religious history remains largely centered on what was going on in churches. This book fills an important gap in the historiography by using popular print rather than church-based sources to answer core questions about early American religion. I also hope the book generates new interest in and appreciation of almanacs. Their annual sales figures are astonishing. I think they offer unique insight into the everyday concerns of early Americans and religion’s fundamental role in helping people make sense of life and death.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

TT: Both of my parents were teachers, so I always assumed I would teach something. I began college as a secondary-education/ English major. Around my sophomore year, I realized I was more interested in the context of the literary works I was reading than the content. About the same time, I began taking history classes with some great professors. I remember reading Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity and thinking: “I want to do this.”

JF: What is your next project?

TT: I am working on a history of chance in early America. While researching A Divinity for All Persuasions, I came across an eighteenth-century lottery ticket at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Intrigued, I learned that state and local governments, Ivy League Universities, and churches relied on lotteries to raise funds. The word chance also shows up quite a bit in almanacs as a critique of Atheism—the argument is that Atheists rely on the foolish notion of “chance” rather than God to explain the created order. Some churches condemned card-playing, dice, and other games of chance as an insult to God’s providential oversight of human affairs. At the same time, Moravians and others were casting lots to decipher God’s will. I want to place changing formulations of chance in the context of eighteenth century intellectual, scientific, and religious debates.

JF: Can’t wait to hear more about it! Thanks TJ.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of the Author’s Corner.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #64

Chapter Three continues to move along.  I spent about four hours yesterday morning improving a few sections of the chapter.  This involved learning new things about the book printing business in the nineteenth century and the use of steam-powered presses.  I now know a little bit (just enough to be dangerous) about Daniel Treadwell and his power press.

By the way, if someone knows of a good book that traces–in a step-by-step fashion–the process of book printing in the early republic I would love to know about it.  A YouTube video or a living history museum would be even better.

Our research team has recently had a change in personnel.  Katy Kaslow, who did so much work for us this summer, will be studying in Oxford this semester.  She will be back in January.  We have recently hired Alyssa Vorbeck to replace Katy for the semester.  Alyssa is a junior history major at Messiah College who just finished an exciting summer internship at Morristown National Historic Park and Library.  (She is also the middle hitter for the Messiah College women’s volleyball team!).  Katie Garland has returned to her graduate program at the University of Massachusetts, but she will still be working on the project over the course of the academic year.

Stay tuned.

2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day Five Recap

Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar for K-8 teachers on “The 13 Colonies” is winding down.  The teachers are hard at work on their lesson plans under the direction of Nate McAlister.   Before they leave they are required to post the plans to the seminar blog.  

I am pleased to see the way the teachers have bonded with each other over the course of the week.  Princeton is a great place to hold a seminar like this.  The teachers can spend their evenings shopping, eating, drinking, and walking on Princeton’s Nassau Street.  Popular stops include drinks at Nassau Hall, Labyrinth Books, the Bent Spoon ice cream shop, and the Princeton University Wawa.

On Thursday we spent the morning discussing Pennsylvania.  We tried to look at Penn’s colony from all angles.  I gave them a lecture on Quakers, religious and ethnic pluralism, and the idea of Pennsylvania as a “liberal” colony.  In the afternoon we got started on the American Enlightenment using my four point definition of the Enlightenment in The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

After the session we headed over to the Firestone Library where rare books curator Stephen Johnson showed the teachers a few dozen eighteenth-century volumes that I selected from the Firestone’s collection.  I focused my choices on books that I would be referencing in my lectures and books that were read by Philip Vickers Fithian.  They were also introduced to the Princeton children’s library and shown effective ways of teaching colonial America through objects.

This was one of the highlights of the week.  Dana Sheriden of the Cotsen Children’s Library mesmerized the teachers with her presentation.  Stephen Johnson answered questions about early American books and printing.  And the students got to hold and read books by Phillis Wheatley, John Locke, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Matther, Addison and Steete (The Spectator), Samuel Richardson, and Laurence Sterne.  The room was buzzing with activity as these teachers read, discussed, and wondered over these rare books.  It was fun to watch and experience.

Here are a few pics:

The teachers loved the book of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry


Elissa, Carmen, and Meghan discussing The Spectator
Shawn is really digging in to Jonathan Edwards’s The Nature of True Virtue


Richard S. Newman to Lead Library Company of Philadelphia

Press release from the Library Company:

The Trustees of the Library Company are delighted to announce that Richard S. Newman has been appointed to succeed John C. Van Horne as the Edwin Wolf 2nd Director of the Library Company of Philadelphia. A distinguished historian with research specialties in Early American, African American, and Environmental History, as well as Print Culture and New Media, Dr. Newman has a long association with the Library Company, beginning with the award of a research fellowship in 1995. We believe Dr. Newman has the rare combination of scholarly authority, commitment to public engagement, and passion for our mission that will enable him to bring the Library Company to new prominence.
Currently Professor of History at Rochester Institute of Technology, Dr. Newman is the author or editor of five books—-including The Transformation of American Abolitionism, a finalist for the Organization of American Historians’ Avery Craven Prize; Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers; and Love Canal and the American Dream: 500 Years at America’s Most Notorious Environmental Place, forthcoming from Oxford University Press—-and numerous scholarly articles. He is also co-editor of the book series “Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900,” published by the University of Georgia Press and the Library Company.
As an educational and museum consultant over the past decade, Dr. Newman has worked with research archives, public history sites, and teacher training programs on a variety of outreach initiatives. He is committed to exploring ways that the Library Company can use its collections to empower people in their civic lives and careers while at the same time continuing to foster the best in current scholarship—-and he sees this as a vital way to connect the institution with Benjamin Franklin’s founding ambitions for the nation’s first successful lending library and now its oldest cultural institution.
Dr. Newman will begin in his new role in June 2014.

Ben Franklin’s "Pennsylvania Gazette" is Rolling Off the Press Again

Get your copy of the October 6, 1743 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the first edition published by Benjamin Franklin, at the Independence National Historic Park printing office before December 18, 2013.  From the National Park Service:

Philadelphia – For the first time since the printing office opened in Franklin Court, park rangers at Independence National Historical Park are printing a copy of Benjamin Franklin’s original Pennsylvania Gazette. The Gazette of October 6, 1743 will be featured on the Franklin Court printing presses until December 18, 2013. Copies are available for purchase by park visitors.
Franklin took over the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729 when it was still an ailing paper, dull and poorly managed. Franklin applied his signature wit, intelligence and determination and soon the Gazette was recognized throughout the colonies as an informative and entertaining paper. Franklin’s publishing credits went beyond the news, as he innovated the publishing industry. He used cartoons and maps to illustrate his articles. He printed his political theories to gain public support. He shared his witty and wise sayings in Poor Richard’s Almanac. While Franklin’s printing office at 2nd and Market no longer stands, visitors to Franklin Court can see what his office might have looked like and see demonstrations of 18th century printing.
Using a replica 18th century printing press, park rangers are recreating the October 6, 1743 Gazette owned by the Library Company of Philadelphia. Along with local news and advertisements, the Gazette features a letter from a lieutenant on board HMS Centurion with news about Commodore George Anson’s circumnavigation of the globe in pursuit of enemy ships and Spanish treasure.
Thanks to the craftsmanship of Richard Hopkins of Hill & Dale Typefoundry in Terra Alta, WV, rangers are printing from type almost identical to Franklin’s original.Using equipment that had been disposed of by other typefoundries as “obsolete,” Hopkins hand crafted each piece of type into the Caslon font. The font used to print the Dunlap broadside (the first printed edition of the Declaration of Independence), Caslon was a font favored by Franklin and is still available in some programs today.
The Gazette is a complete printing of all four pages included in the original. Due to the staffing and resource intensive nature of the work, the park does not usually recreate entire newspapers. This unique creation will only be printed through December 18, 2013 at which time the printing office will once again produce copies of the Declaration of Independence and famous Franklin quotes.

Why Do Evangelicals Have All the Religious Bestsellers?

Mickey Maudlin, who is VP for Bible Publishing at HarperOne, believes it has something to do with the fact that evangelicals have done a better job of accommodating to consumer culture than mainline Protestants and Catholics.  He writes:

Because the most important agent in this world is the individual consumer, and because of the sheer size of this demographic, books, music and programs are marketed to these individuals, which has allowed for the rise of mega-churches (guaranteed quality programming), a network of Christian bookstores and a panoply of media offerings (TV, radio, websites, DVDs, etc.) targeted to these believers. So when an unknown author catches on in some circles — such as happened with Sarah Young’s devotional “Jesus Calling” — there is a system in place to respond (Young’s book has sold more than 2 million copies). There are a variety of ways to market effectively to their audience. Yes, those bestsellers break out into the general market, rising in rankings on Amazon and sold in stacks at Barnes & Noble, but often half the sales of these blockbusters are from specifically evangelical distribution channels. This is a huge advantage.

Now imagine the Catholic consumer, who typically does not see himself or herself as the deciding agent. Spend time with Catholic customers and you will hear questions like, “Which one is approved by the church?” — or by “my bishop” or by “my priest.” This is why there are so few Catholic bookstores despite there being more Catholics (about 75 million) than any other one church group. The biggest players in this world are those Catholic publishers who sell directly to Catholic institutions — such as schools and parishes — not to individual Catholic consumers. And even if a Catholic author catches on with consumers, there is no real distribution system directly to Catholics except for mainstream bookstores. 

That leaves mainline Protestants, a still sizable group (around 53 million), characterized by their diversity, tolerance and commitment to social justice but also by their weakening institutional ties. Everyone recognizes the significant weakening of denominations’ ability to impose an agenda on its constituency, but these affiliations retain a significant pull in shaping their clergy’s and their churches’ time and energy. At the same time, the denominations have almost no direct relationship with their lay members. This is why so many denominational publishers have struggled financially and shrunk their lists. The largest mainline denomination, the United Methodists, has often done the best job of reaching out to consumers through its Cokesbury bookstores and website, but even they have announced the closing of their remaining 50-plus stores after April of this year. Because of the split, diverse interests of these churches, there is no one place online or physically where these Christians come together. Few leaders rise up and are known outside their denomination; no website or magazine can claim to draw significant numbers (though The Christian Century comes closest). If a publisher wants to reach out to this constituency, there is no direct way to reach the masses in the same way evangelicals can to their constituencies.

Evangelical print culture in the early nineteenth century was popular for the same reasons.  I seem to remember Nathan Hatch having something say about this in The Democratization of American Christianity.

Cronon: Books and the Historical Discipline

As AHA president William Cronon notes in his October 2012 column in Perspectives on History, history is one of the “few remaining book-based disciplines in the modern academy.”  Unlike other fields, where the article is most important (and academic mentors encourage graduate students to think about their dissertations in terms of “least publishable units“), historians still value the book as the highest form of scholarly achievement.

Though Cronon has been a cheerleader for many of the recent changes in the profession, especially as they relate to digital history, he does not seem willing to let go of books.  Here is a taste:

The challenge for books, then, is not just that most are still printed on paper when the world is moving so quickly and irresistibly toward pixels on screens. Imperfect though they still are, e-book readers (about which I will have much more to say in my next column) may yet enable books to survive in the digital age. The much bigger problem is that the long arguments and narratives on which the best history writing has always depended require many pages—many screens—to be absorbed, understood, and appreciated. More important still, they require well-stocked minds with the patience and discipline to pay attention for many hours to complicated webs of actors and actions, causes and effects, events and contexts, ideas and meanings, without which we cannot hope to make sense of what happened in the past or why it mattered. Good history needs time and space to be grasped in all its richness. If journal articles aren’t long enough to do the job, then what are we to do if blogs and text messages and tweets are the media our audiences prefers to read?

Please do not misunderstand me. I embrace and celebrate the digital age. I believe historians should use blogs and tweets, Wikipedia entries and YouTube videos, web pages and Facebook postings, and any number of other new media tools to share our knowledge with the wider world. But I also celebrate complicated arguments that need space to develop and patience to understand. And I love long stories that can only unfold across hundreds of pages or screens. What I most fear about this new age is its impatience and its distractedness. If history as we know it is to survive, it is these we most need to resist as we practice and defend long, slow, thoughtful reading.

Books That Shaped America

Over at U.S. Intellectual History, Tim Lacy reflects on the Library Congress exhibit: “Books That Shaped America.”  The exhibit includes 88 books that have been important to Americans.  It is based on an online survey in which participants are asked to choose three books “written in America by Americans, and had a profound impact on our nation.”

Check out the survey and get back to us.  Which books did you choose?  

I picked Common Sense, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and The Private Life of Benjamin Franklin (also known as Franklin’s Autobiography.

T.J. Tomlin’s Writing Shed

Ever since I began sharing my desire for a writing shed with the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I have learned that I am not alone in my dream of one day working in a backyard shed.

It also seems that many of my readers are better than I am at making this shedworking dream a reality.

One such person is T.J. Tomlin, assistant professor of history at the University of Northern Colorado.  T.J. is at work on what promises to be an excellent book that examines early American religion through print culture, particularly almanacs.  I have read his dissertation and it has much potential to reshape how we think about American religious history and popular religion.

When I learned that T.J. bought a writing shed (on Craigslist!) I had to feature him and his shed at the blog.  Here are some pictures of his shed and a short interview.

JF: Why a writing shed?

TJT:  I first encountered (and was an instant convert to) the concept of “shedworking” about five years ago. The cost kept me from going for it until this past spring, when I found my shed on craigslist. I prefer to work in a quiet, private space rather than in public or with any kind of background noise. I also have three-year old twins. They make my life far richer and my house far noisier. Although I have a comfortable office at my university, it is 40 minutes away. Many of my days, nights, and weekends are spent writing, grading, and preparing courses from home. Working from a shed offers a clear, physical separation of work from the rest of my life that has been very refreshing.


JF: How has having the shed changed or sustained your writing habits?

TJT:  By offering an attractive, quiet, and convenient workspace, the shed has made it easier to structure my days around writing. I typically do two sessions: an early morning and an afternoon, with reading and other tasks in-between. It has also been far easier to remain focused on my work and not drawn away by, say, laundry or other in-home distractions. For me, shedworking really does feel like “going to the office.”

JF: Do you plan to write in the shed year-round?

TJT: Yes. In fact, I’m looking forward to the winter. We get a lot of snow and consistent sun. I’ll use a space heater or a patio heater in the winter months, but the shed is well insulated. Thus far, I’ve been able to work in the summer by using curtains during the heat of the day. At some point, I may need to purchase a portable evaporative cooler or air conditioner.

JF: Any drawbacks to working in a shed?

I would prefer to use my desktop PC rather than my laptop. However, I am afraid that the lack of climate control could damage it. In time, I suspect I could find a solution. Otherwise, I have not discovered any major drawbacks. Shedworking has been every bit as enjoyable as I had hoped it would be.

Thanks, TJ!  I am officially jealous.  Maybe someone will read this post and my other posts on writing sheds and build me a shed in exchange for free publicity for his/her shed building company at The Way of Improvement Leads Home!  Let’s work out a deal.  Any takers?  (OK–enough wishful thinking!)

Do you work in a writing shed?  We would be happy to consider featuring you here at the blog.

What Do You Think About the End of the Print Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica?

I was always a World Book Encyclopedia guy myself.  (I wrote about the role that the World Book played in my life here).  I could be wrong, but I think World Book is still coming out in print.

I can’t remember the last time I used the print edition of an encyclopedia.  When I was in graduate school and early in my career I wrote a lot of encyclopedia articles (never wrote for World Book or Brittanica), but I always wondered if anyone actually read them or ever will.  I don’t even know if I should keep them on my vita.

The New York Times has gathered some writers to reflect on the end of the print edition of Encyclopedia Brittanica.  A.J. Jacobs, who has read the entire EB cover to cover, is sad.  John McWhorter, who bought a full set in 2000, admits that the print edition is a “relic.”  Phoebe Ayers takes the opportunity to promote Wikipedia.  Alexander Chee will miss wandering through the pages of the EB in a way that we just can’t do with online versions. Stephanie Rosalia, a K-12 librarian, discusses how the end of the print EB will affect schools.

Do you own a hard copy of the Encyclopedia Brittanica?  What are you going to do with it?

Newspapers as Social Media During the American Revolution

Rag Linen discusses the powerful role that newspapers played in the coming of the American Revolution.  Here is a taste:

Considering the combined impact of traditional and social media on 21st century politics, it is difficult to imagine a time when media were more important. However, 250 years ago, newspapers were the fundamental form of media and arguably more important than any other time in history. Just as social media is helping to ignite and organize the Arab Spring, printed newspapers fanned the flames of rebellion in colonial America, provided critical correspondence during the Revolutionary War, sustained loyalty to the cause and ultimately aided in the outcome.

Through vivid eyewitness accounts, battlefield letters and official dispatches, American Revolution era newspapers were filled with raw, breaking news, full of intense action, drama and suspense. Americans maintained “Liberty or Death! Join or Die!” attitudes with blood as well as ink on their hands. It was a printer’s revolution and these frontline newspapers delivered the 18th century equivalent of Facebook and Twitter.

Mark Twain wrote “of the wide difference in interest between ‘news’ and ‘history;’ that news is history in its first and best form, its vivid and fascinating form; and that history is the pale and tranquil reflection of it.” For that, we look to contemporary newspapers to better understand events of the American Revolution, such as the Boston Massacre.

Robert Darnton on the Recent Google Books Decision

In case you are unaware of this case, here is Darnton’s description from his op-ed in today’s New York Times.  Darnton is a well-known historian of print culture and the book who currently serves as the director of the Harvard University Library.

ON Tuesday, Denny Chin, a federal judge in Manhattan, rejected the settlement between Google, which aims to digitize every book ever published, and a group of authors and publishers who had sued the company for copyright infringement. This decision is a victory for the public good, preventing one company from monopolizing access to our common cultural heritage. 

Darnton takes advantage of this decision to tout his own digitization project:

Nonetheless, we should not abandon Google’s dream of making all the books in the world available to everyone. Instead, we should build a digital public library, which would provide these digital copies free of charge to readers. Yes, many problems — legal, financial, technological, political — stand in the way. All can be solved. 

and…

Through technological wizardry and sheer audacity, Google has shown how we can transform the intellectual riches of our libraries, books lying inert and underused on shelves. But only a digital public library will provide readers with what they require to face the challenges of the 21st century — a vast collection of resources that can be tapped, free of charge, by anyone, anywhere, at any time. 

Randall Stephens Interviews Robert Darnton on Digital Books

Over at the blog of the Historical Society, Randall Stephens sits down with distinguished intellectual historian Robert Darnton to discuss the Digital Public Library of America.  This is an attempt to create “something bigger than the Library of Congress and make it free of charge to everyone.”

Darnton discusses the various possibilities and obstacles to this project.

Watch the video of the interview here.

Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Books Have Been Found…

…in the rare book division of the library at Washington University in St. Louis.  The Associated Press reports:

Dozens of Thomas Jefferson’s books, some including handwritten notes from the nation’s third president, have been found in the rare books collection at Washington University in St. Louis.

Now, historians are poring through the 69 newly discovered books and five others the school already knew about, and librarians are searching the collection for more volumes that may have belonged to the founding father.

Even if no other Jefferson-owned books are found, the school’s collection of 74 books is the third largest in the nation after the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia.
“It is so out of the blue and pretty amazing,” said Washington University’s rare books curator Erin Davis of the discovery that was announced on President’s Day.

The books were among about 3,000 that were donated to the school in 1880 after the death of Jefferson’s granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge, and her husband, Joseph Coolidge.

There was no indication at the time that any of them had belonged to Jefferson. But it turns out that 2 1/2 years after Jefferson’s 1826 death, his library of 1,600 books was sold to settle debts. Ellen Coolidge’s grandfather helped oversee her schooling when she lived at his mountaintop estate at Monticello when she was a teenager and young adult.
Dozens of Thomas Jefferson’s books, some including handwritten notes from the nation’s third president, have been found in the rare books collection at Washington University in St. Louis.

Now, historians are poring through the 69 newly discovered books and five others the school already knew about, and librarians are searching the collection for more volumes that may have belonged to the founding father.

Even if no other Jefferson-owned books are found, the school’s collection of 74 books is the third largest in the nation after the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia.
“It is so out of the blue and pretty amazing,” said Washington University’s rare books curator Erin Davis of the discovery that was announced on President’s Day.

The books were among about 3,000 that were donated to the school in 1880 after the death of Jefferson’s granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge, and her husband, Joseph Coolidge.

There was no indication at the time that any of them had belonged to Jefferson. But it turns out that 2 1/2 years after Jefferson’s 1826 death, his library of 1,600 books was sold to settle debts. Ellen Coolidge’s grandfather helped oversee her schooling when she lived at his mountaintop estate at Monticello when she was a teenager and young adult.

Read the rest here.

According to this article on the Monticello blog, the books found include copies of Aristotle’s Politica, and several architecture books that he probably consulted when he designed the Lawn at Monticello.

Research in Library Borrowing Records

Elizabeth D. Samet teaches English at West Point.  In her recent book, Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point, she studied library borrowing records from some prominent 19th century students at the military academy.

Here is a taste of Samet’s recent article in The New Republic:

Throughout much of the nineteenth century, West Point cadets were permitted to check books out of the library only once a week: “On Saturday afternoon,” the 1857 regulations state, “any book that a Cadet may have been reading during the week, may be taken to his quarters, on the approval of the Librarian, and shall be returned on the succeeding Monday. If not then returned, he shall be reported by the Librarian.”

Decades of Saturday borrowing activity are recorded in handwritten ledgers now preserved in the archives. I’ve spent a fair bit of time looking through them, following the activity of a given title or tracking the reading habits of an individual cadet. There are storied names in the books: Lee, Sherman, and Grant, who refers in his memoirs to the “fine library connected with the Academy from which cadets can get books to read in their quarters. I devoted more time to these, than to books relating to the course of studies. Much of the time, I am sorry to say, was devoted to novels, but not those of a trashy sort. I read all of Bulwer’s then published, Cooper’s, Marryat’s, Scott’s, Washington Irving’s works, Lever’s, and many others that I do not now remember.”

I was recently talking with a student about library borrowing records.  Very few records of this type exist for the eighteenth-century century, but those that they do offer a wonderful glimpse into the intellectual life of ordinary people.  I am no expert, but I imagine that the deeper one gets into the nineteenth century, the more accessible these sources become.