Materials for the study of the United States can be found throughout the British Library. This is an introduction to our resources.
A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition, George III, 1775. [Additional MS. 34412, f. 345.]. Copyright © The British Library Board
Contarini's Map of the World (detail), the first printed map to show North America [Maps C.2.cc.4]. Copyright © The British Library Board
The British Library document supply service acquires some 45,000 books a year, of which a significant proportion are American imprints, as well as holding a vast range of journals. Most academic disciplines are covered, and although novels, poetry and drama are not usually collected, art catalogues and secondary literature are acquired. Document supply volumes appear on the Explore the British Library and are available for consultation in the London Reading Rooms, usually within two days of ordering, or through interlibrary loan.
Materials such as conferences and grey literature - including reports, theses and translations - are also collected extensively. Microforms include American Culture, 1493-1875 [MFR 3008-3019], American Periodicals 1741-1900 [MFR 2740], American Prose Fiction 1776-1905 [MFR 3050-3053], American Statistics Index Microfiche Collection [1742.171F] and the Index of American Design [MFE 569].
See: Reports distributed by US Federal agencies.
Early Printed Collections hold substantial materials relating to the colonial period and books made in or concerning the United States published or distributed in Great Britain before 1915. American eighteenth-century journals, such as the New England Courant, are also to be found in the Burney Collection of Early English Newspapers, of which microfilms are available on open access in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room. Treasures include early books on America, the second printing of the Back Bay Psalms Booke (the first English book to be printed in America), the first Bible translated into a Native American language (1663), and examples of Benjamin Franklin's printing.
An early bibliography of Americana, based on the collections of the British Museum, is Thomas Leman Reed, Bibliotheca Americana; or a Chronological catalogue of books, pamphlets, state papers, upon the subject of North and South America (London, 1789) [G.325]
The riches of the Manuscript Collections include a range of American material, especially that which relates to the colonial period, the American revolution and relations with Britain. The collections are also strong in grants of territories, charters of colonies and papers of the Board of Trade. Numerous examples of correspondence by American authors, artists, bibliophiles and statesmen are also held throughout the collections, along with journals of visits to North America.
- Map of the northern hemisphere, showing the east coast of North America, made by John Dee for Queen Elizabeth I in 1580 [Augustus I i 1].
- Papers relating to early exploration (Frobisher, Drake, Raleigh, Hawkins and others) [Otho E viii].
- The papers of Colonel Henry Bouquet, Brigadier General in the English Army in America, 1757-1765 [Additional MSS. 21631-21660].
- Haldimand Papers [Additional MSS. 21661-21892].
- George III's Proclamation for suppressing rebellion and sedition, 1775 [Additional MS. 34412].
- Correspondence of Lord Shelburne, 1782-1783 [Bowood Papers].
- Correspondence of the Loyalist, Rev. Cooper, with Benjamin Franklin and others, 1769-1775 [Kings 203].
- De Brahm's survey of the Southern District [Kings 210-211].
- Collections of Presidential signatures [Additional MSS. 26054, 39908, 49063].
- The Stevens Transcripts of letters and papers relating to the American colonies [Additional MSS. 42256-42496].
- List of naval claims related to the Jay Treaty [Additional MS. 79526].
- Letters from James Russell Lowell, Ezra Pound, Walt Whitman [Egerton 3247-3248].
- Letters from American musicians, 1902-1929 [Egerton 3301-3306].
- Nathaniel Hawthorn, The Marble Faun, [Additional MSS. 44889-44890].
Charles M. Andrews & Frances G. Davenport, Guide to the Manuscript Materials for the History of the United States to 1783 (Washington, 1908) [MSS 973].
Charles O. Paullin & Frederick L. Paxson, Guide to the Materials in London Archives for the History of the United States since 1783 (Washington, 1914) [MSS 973].
King George III's Topographical Collection is one of the glories of the Library. It includes around 300 maps and views of North America. Some 250 county atlases from the 1870s are also held by the Map Collections, and collections of modern maps include deposits from the United States Geological Survey topographic maps and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Major American map library catalogues and reference works are available on open access, as are numerous electronic resources.
American highlights of the Music Collections include representative collections of nineteenth-century music, including sacred music. The works of major American composers are acquired systematically, as are the major works of lesser composers. Many American scores, including popular music, are published in London and are received through legal deposit.
British Library Sound Archive holdings include extensive collections of recordings of American ethnic, folk, jazz and popular music and literary readings. Series held include The Library of Congress Music of America, New World Records Recorded Anthology of American Music and American Folkways and American Audio Prose. The Archive also holds a comprehensive collection of over 200 American record company catalogues. Private recordings of early broadcasting are held, as are many recordings of American plays. These include Franklin D. Roosevelt's address to Congress, broadcast to the nation, in which he asked Congress to declare a state of war against Japan, which you can hear as part of the Voices of History online exhibition.
Many early and most major American newspapers are held by British Library Newspapers, either in their original format or on microfilm. Early papers include the following:
- Boston Gazette, 1719-1798 (with some gaps)
- Boston News Letter, 1704-1774 (with some gaps)
- New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
- New York Journal and State Gazette
- Dunlap's Pennsylvania Packet
- Gazette of the US (from 1789).
The Stevens Collection consists of 780 single issues of American newspapers and magazines collected by Henry Stevens, the British Museum's agent, in the spring of 1858. Black newspapers include holdings of the Liberator, the Black Panther and a microform copy of Tuskegee Institute News Clippings File (covering the period 1899-1966). The Cherokee Phoenix [a.misc.101] was published from 1828 in English and Cherokee. Many American magazines are also held by the Newspaper Library, including publications produced for the American armed forces, such as Stars and Stripes, which was produced in various European countries. There is also a substantial collection of trade journals on microfilm. Non-English language American periodicals are also received, such as Svobada (Ukrainian) and Nasa Nada (Croatian).
See: Current newspapers received.
There is much Americana amongst the 8 million items of the Philatelic Collections, which includes postage marks and stamps of all kinds. Notable items include registers of dies and stamps intended for use by the Stamp Revenue in America and the West Indies from 1765-66, sets of early Postmasters' stamps and local issues of Confederate states. There is also an extensive reference collection available for researchers.
As well as current scientific, technological, business and social science publications, Science, Technology and Business holdings include primary and secondary materials for the histories of these subjects and a complete deposit of U.S. patents. Extensive collections of U.S. official publications are also available for consultation. Materials on the U.S. health care and environment are also well represented.
Collections from the British Museum formed the basis for the foundation of the Natural History Museum at Kensington, London. Amongst the materials held by the library are extensive American materials relating to the flora and fauna of the United States.
General queries about finding and using printed books are dealt with by the Library's main Enquiry Service.
More detailed enquiries about the U.S. Collections can be made to the address below. We regret that it is not possible to offer general research advice or undertake complex or lengthy research.
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7743
Fax: +44 (0)20 412 7563