Know Your Archives: American Antiquarian Society Edition

By Jonathan Den Hartog

Those readers who have followed this blog for a while know of a regular feature called "Know Your Archives." I did a quick search and discovered that one of these posts had not yet been devoted to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. If I missed it, please let me know--and link it in the comments.

I'm spending June at the AAS, so I'm not thinking about too many other academic topics beyond getting into the archive and working hard daily. (Now, thinking about other things, like moving my family halfway across the continent, yes. But that would be a different post.) As a result, I thought it would be great to connect the AAS with resources for studying American Religion.

And, perhaps it's obvious to make the point, but there are great resources here. The AAS has dedicated itself to collecting material up to 1876, and they've been at it for 200 years.

The AAS likes to welcome people "under its generous dome."

Not a bad front entry.

Researchers are surrounded by striking physical remnants of religion in America. The famous portrait of John Winthrop--yes, that portrait--hangs over the Reading Room Desk. There are also several generations of Mather family portraits hanging nearby.  In addition to holding a huge collection of the Mather Family Library, the AAS holds other Matheriana. On this front, my favorite artifact was the Mather Family High Chair, which may have been used by Increase but definitely was used by Cotton. (Here, my imagination wandered, to seeing young Cotton in the high chair. I assume he still has a very large powdered whig on. In asking for milk, his verbosity and prolixity begins early..."Mother, whereas milk is good (just like salt is good), and whereas I trust in your benevolence to your children, wouldst thou kindly fill my pr'offered goblet with some of ye yonder milk? [continuing for several more paragraphs].")

In addition to the Mathers, the rest of the collection is really outstanding. I'm spending the month looking for connections between the U.S., Great Britain, Canada, and the Caribbean in response to (and in  rejection of) the French Revolution. Of this attitude, religion was a key part, since the Jacobins in France had pushed forward a process of de-christianization and since Tom Paine was associated with the Revolution (as he advocated for both The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason).

Understanding these connections has required thinking about a lot of different genres--books, pamphlets, newspapers, music, and personal correspondence. In every case, the curators have been great to work with, often finding other material that is related to the topic but not what I had ordered up.

Because of these great genre collections, the AAS would be ideal to research religion from whatever methodological strategy you chose, from lived religion to high theology.

Browsing one shelf in the reading room, I came across several great bibliographies, all which pointed into the AAS's Collections. For instance, the Society has a collection of Adventist and Anti-Adventist publications. Even more impressive, I stumbled on an AAS Publication: Gaylord Albaugh's History and Annotated Bibliography of American Religious Periodicals and Newspapers, Established from 1730 to 1830. If you can find a resource in there, the Society likely has it, either digitally or in print, and often both.

Similarly, the AAS is expanding its collection of digital images available online. You might want to browse through the Gigi catalog, while setting the filter for "religious." Page 1 brought up some great nineteenth century lithographs, with more pages behind it.

Something that should be of interest to graduate students is that the AAS offers research fellowships, many of which are for dissertating Ph.D. students. Looking over the current year's fellows, several of their research projects deal with religious themes. Further, the Society offers affordable housing for its researchers, just up the street. I think this makes research here possible, even for grad students on a shoe-string budget. If you can get to Worcester, you can research here.

So, perhaps this praise is unnecessary, but if your research touches on religion in the seventeenth through the nineteenth century, you should definitely put the AAS on your itinerary.


I was at the AAS all day on Tuesday (June 4). What a great archive, and such helpful staff members!
One of my favorite places for doing research--AAS is a great place for studying Catholic-Protestant tussles! Also of interest to grad students may be their two week-long summer seminars, one on the history of the book, the other focusing on visual culture. I attended the latter in 2011, on the theme of picturing social reform, and it was a terrific introduction to the AAS staff and collections, with a great group of graduate students and faculty from around the country. Highly recommended!
Jonathan said…
Great Recommendations! Thanks to both of you!

And, I'll be researching at the AAS until the end of June. So, if anyone is coming through Worcester, they should definitely be in touch.
Mr. Sidetable said…
Two other things that scholars of American religion might want to be aware of are AAS's extensive holdings of 19th-century religious periodicals (everything from Sunday School magazines to denominational newspapers, well described in Gaylord Albaugh's 2-volume History and Annotated Bibliography of American Religious Newspapers and Periodicals) and an enormous collection of materials (both manuscript and print) related to American hymnody and sacred music. The printed materials are described in Allen Britton, Irving Lowens, and Richard Crawford's "American Sacred Music Imprints, 1698-1810."
Mr. Sidetable said…
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Jonathan said…
Thanks, Mr. Sidetable!