blog-post blog-post

Uncommon Sense

By oieahc · March 29, 2016

Discoverability, Edwardian Style

#VastEarlyAmerica 11 min read

Today, Karin Wulf kicks off a new feature on the Omohundro Institute’s Uncommon Sense blog. #vastEAsources will feature early American historians talking about the place of archival work in their own research and about the little-used or under-publicized archives they love. If you are working with an archive you would like to discuss with the wider EA community then consider writing a post. We expect to publish something approximately once each month. Contact Martha Howard at martha.howard(at) for more details.

Discoverability, Edwardian Style: What Early Archive Guides can tell us about Early, Early American History
by Karin Wulf

Discoverability is an essential concept for modern researchers, and a high priority for authors, librarians, and publishers. Making scholarship on particular and usefully related topics reasonably easy to locate, while giving some priority to items of higher value, is the golden ticket. This interest on the part of scholars and those who aim to support their work is hardly a phenomenon of the age of the internet. While in our world “discoverability” usually refers to discovering or making discoverable scholarship, in the first decades of the twentieth century scholars and institutions were focused on locating archival materials to read and then finding ways to circulate information about where and how to use them.

Last month I wrote about the first issue of the William and Mary Quarterly’s Third Series (January 1944) and the vision of early American history articulated there. The Editor, Richard L. Morton centered the work of Charles McLean Andrews in that issue, publishing both reflections on Andrews’ work as well as a posthumous essay, “On the Writing of Colonial History.”  In all of his work and in that issue, I suggested, Andrews displayed a vision of early American history that was attentive to global perspectives. Another hallmark of Andrews’ work was his depth of familiarity with extensive source materials in the U.S. and abroad.

Andrews spent more than a decade, beginning in 1903, working on several volumes of guides to manuscript sources in England for the Carnegie Institution of Washington (now known as the Carnegie Institution for Science). J. Franklin Jameson headed the Carnegie Institution department of historical research, which was a part of the Carnegie Institution for its first five decades and from which he also edited the American Historical Review. Jameson was very keen to promote the production of these guides to locating and using manuscript sources, which he described as work that had to precede monographs and syntheses. The first volumes he supported, promoted and staffed focused on materials in England and Spain, then France and Mexico.

For the first volume, the 1908 Guide to the Manuscript Materials for the Study of the United States to 1783, in the British Museum, in Minor London Archives, and in the Libraries of Oxford and Cambridge, Andrews was joined by Frances Gardiner Davenport. Although there were few women apparent in the early WMQ in the 1940s, in the earlier years of the century there were any number of women who were critical to the field’s development. Davenport graduated with a B.A. and an M.A. from Radcliffe, and then earned her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1904 after also attending seminars at Cambridge and the London School of Economics. A historian of medieval England, Davenport’s dissertation research (“an inspiring year of study abroad”) was supported by a fellowship from the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (which later merged with other groups to form the American Association of University Women) and published by Cambridge University Press as The Economic Development of a Norfolk Manor, 1086-1585. She began as a research assistant at the Carnegie Institution in 1905 where in addition to working on the Guide with Andrews, she was responsible for a project locating and editing “all treaties that have affected the territory now included within the United States and to which the United States has not been a party.”  She reported that she also assisted in editing the AHR “having charge of the department of European Notes and News. The work is congenial—ideally so.”

Archive request 'ticket' from the British Museum

“Reproduction of a ‘ticket’ for requesting materials for use in the reading room of the British Museum,” from Andrews and Davenport, Guide to the Manuscript Materials for the History of the United States to 1783 (Washington, 1908), page 3

Andrews surveyed the British Museum, the libraries at Oxford and Cambridge, and the Public Record Office.  As Jameson noted, “it seemed desirable… that the manual should not be confined to the three repositories.” Davenport travelled to England then to survey and report on twenty-two other repositories that made up about 75% of the total volume, including Lambeth Palace, Fulham Palace, Friends Library and the Royal Society. Andrews and Davenport aimed to provide a general introduction to each of the archives, with information pertinent to researchers including—particularly for the larger collections—how to request materials (with reproductions of the “tickets” for requests in some cases), general descriptions of the collections and specifics, in some cases, even to the item level.  They avoided duplication of effort, noting for example that the Ferrar Papers at Cambridge’s Magdalene College had been recently “so thoroughly searched by Miss Kingsbury for her edition of the Records of the Virginia Company, that no attempt has been made to examine them for description here.”  (Their statement refers to Susan Kingsbury’s 1906 volume for the Library of Congress.)

For Fulham Palace, which included the archives of the Bishop of London, Davenport described that the “manuscripts are uncatalogued and are kept loose in some thirty paste-board boxes” and were “somewhat subject to rearrangement.” She noted the major box labels (basically, by British colony), the contents of which she attempted to describe in some detail, as well as boxes whose contents “it has not seemed important to notice in the same way” (for example, “Application for ordination, colonies”).  The Virginia items she catalogued include a sub-category for the “College of William and Mary” incorporating Francis Nicholson’s original 1697 “Address in favor of founding the college.”

The Andrews and Davenport Guide to the Manuscript Materials for the Study of the United States to 1783, in the British Museum, in Minor London Archives, and in the Libraries of Oxford and Cambridge was followed in 1912 by a two volume Guide to the Materials for American History to 1783, in the Public Record Office of Great Britain. Andrews originally examined these records just before the PRO undertook a major reorganization—and one that required the publication of this Guide to be delayed. Though Jameson asserted that the English materials were “entitled to by far the foremost place,” reflecting a general bias even among early Americanists broad minded about geography, his department continued to enthusiastically support the production and publication of guides for archives around Europe, the North American continent and in the Caribbean.

The Lambeth Palace Library now incorporates the Fulham Palace materials and, like most modern archives, has a website with the kinds of information that was essential to the Carnegie Guides of the early twentieth century. This brief look at Carnegie guides is a reminder, even in the era of wonderfully helpful websites and online search capacities, of how important it is to draw attention to the richness of archival materials in as many ways as we can. It also inaugurates a series of reflections by OI community members about using different archives (#vastEAsources). We will focus on the location, contents, some highlights, and any tips for libraries and special collections libraries. If you have a particular collection or repository you’d like to write about or hear about, please let us know!  We will collect these in a single location on our website for ease of access as well as indexing them on the blog.


[…] become Editor-in-Chief of the Atlas of Early American History at the Newberry Library in 1969), the OI remained a passionate producer of documentary editions and continues to publish collections of great use to the public and historians […]
Lester J. Cappon and the history of the OI - Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture - Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture  •  July 06, 2018

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to the Blog

Related Posts.

Vast Early America: Three Simple Words for a Complex Reality

Read More

Who Lives, Who Dies, and Who Tells Your Story

Read More