Partnership Between the American Antiquarian Society and Gale Provides a Deep History of the American People

Partnership Between the American Antiquarian Society and Gale Provides a Deep History of the American People

8 min read

| By Phil Virta |

The American Antiquarian Society and Gale have embarked upon a partnership that will make more historical American content available to researchers. Gale’s agreement with the Society is to publish new archives based around their growing collection of periodical content spanning the Colonial era on into the 20th Century. But before we get to that, let’s look at a little history…

Isaiah Thomas. Who? Isn’t he a basketball player? No, Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831) the printer, publisher, and patriot; he was a member of the Sons of Liberty with such notables as John Hancock, Sam Adams, and Paul Revere. He fought as a Minuteman at the battles of Lexington and Concord, and published the Massachusetts Spy, a paper “Open to all parties, but influenced by none” in support of the American Revolution. The newspaper staunchly supported freedom from British rule, stirring up the ire of the British and leading to an order from Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson to prosecute Isaiah Thomas for malicious libel in 1771; spoiler alert: a grand jury refused to indict Thomas and he continued publishing against the Tories and in support of revolution. One of Thomas’ quotes is quite relevant to this day: “But, to my great disappointment, I soon found that people were not to be reasoned out of measures, that they never reasoned themselves into.

Oil on canvas by Ethan Allen Greenwood in 1818 (American Antiquarian Society)

Wait a minute, what does this have to do with the American Antiquarian Society? Isaiah Thomas originally published the Massachusetts Spy in Boston, but upon learning that British authorities were planning to move against him, he left Boston in the dead of night with his family and printing press to set up shop in Worcester. This is where the story of the American Antiquarian Society begins.

Following the war, Thomas became one of America’s most successful book publishers. His publishing house produced dictionaries, bibles, children’s books, educational works, magazines, collections of statutes and so much more. Thomas’ lifelong passion was books and printing. To that end, he acquired a vast library of books and newspapers in order to publish his History of Printing in America, with a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers (1810). In 1812, Thomas founded the American Society of Antiquaries, now known as the American Antiquarian Society, to house his extensive library of books, newspapers and ephemera, and to be a learned society and national institution dedicated to preserving the written record of the United States. Thomas’s grandson B. F. Thomas noted the reasoning behind his grandfather’s founding of the American Antiquarian Society. “He saw and understood, no man better, from what infinitely varied and minute sources the history of a nation’s life was to be drawn; that the only safe rule was to gather up all the fragments so that nothing be lost.”

Reading room at the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts

Did you know…the American Antiquarian Society has been in existence longer than Library of Congress, and unlike Washington-based archives, it survived the British invasion of 1812? The Society houses one of the largest collections of Americana in the United States, and its collection of periodicals is second to none. If you want to learn about the development and growth of the American nation, the Society is the place to do it. It should also be pointed out that the Society’s collection is continually evolving and growing far beyond Thomas’ original library. The Society adds new material as often as they can acquire it.

Now that we know the history, let us look at the partnership between the American Antiquarian Society and Gale. The fruits of this cooperative venture can be seen in American Historical Periodicals, Series 6, an archive of unique, newly digitized primary source periodical content. Gale’s American Historical Periodicals, Series 6 provides all newly digitized material, bringing the previously published Series 1-5 more firmly into the 20th century, with titles running up to 1923. The collection contains nearly 200 titles, offering diverse primary source material for studying the thought, culture and life of the United States through contemporary eyes. It includes unusual and short-lived magazines as well as better-known titles with long runs. Topics encompass a broad spectrum including agriculture, anthropology, art, archaeology, education, family life, fashion, industrialization, literature, medicine, music, photography, politics, religion, science, sport, and temperance.

Early periodicals in the collection focus on colonial life and the growing tensions between colonists and their overseas rulers leading up to the American Revolution. An interesting example of this can be found in The Observator, a newspaper written by Roger L’Estrange, a defender of the monarchy.

The Observator, In Dialogue, 20 Aug. 1685.

The Observator was written in the form of a dialogue between a Whig and a Tory, with a strong bias toward the Royalist point of view. L’Estrange was a fervent supporter of the Crown, and a constant thorn in the side of the supporters of Whiggery. Throughout the publication, one may see the term Trimmer (Whig) and Observator (Tory). L’Estrange played these two characters against one another in a rolling dialogue, using his wit and passion to ensure the Observator always came out on top.

Common themes depicted in antebellum periodicals reveal a rapidly growing young nation where industrialization, western expansion, and regional political differences were a daily reality for many Americans. Titles from this time period are as diverse the Southern Cultivator from 1844, a journal for Southern planters; and The Mother’s Book dating from 1839, a publication meant to help mothers raise virtuous youth.

“On the Cultivation of Taste.” The Mother’s Book, Sept. 1841.

The Mother’s Book offers a fascinating review of the manners, culture, etiquette and protocols for raising virtuous children in the 19th century. Periodicals like The Mother’s Book were meant not only to cultivate a cultured and polite youth, but also to promote a more Christian society.

Religion in America is well covered by such titles as the Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, Christian Family Companion, the Catholic Review, The Journal of Presbyterian History, and for a look at a different way of thinking, we have the Banner of Light, a long-running spiritualist journal.

“Working-Girls and Their Rights.” Banner of Light, 17 Sept. 1887.

The Banner of Light presents interesting contrasts in reporting. Alongside a book review on Shakespeare: A Biographic Aesthetic Study and an article titled the Absurdity and Tyranny of Compulsory Vaccination (arguing against a small-pox vaccination law), one can find a message from Philo Temple in the spirit world, courtesy of the mediumship of Mrs. L. E. Ball of Montague, Massachusetts, Jan. 19th, 1880, in which he wishes to inform us, among other things, “Let it be a consolation to all to know that in the Summer-Land youth and beauty will return.” The Banner of Light offered more than just coverage of spiritualist happenings (and a bit of gossip), although that remained its primary focus throughout its publishing history. The paper delved into religion, women’s suffrage, current events, war, politics, temperance, westward expansion, foreign affairs, Indian affairs and much more. One might draw parallels to today’s New York Post.

Early twentieth century titles document the second Industrial Revolution, immigration, women’s rights, World War I, as well as fashion and music during the Roaring Twenties. Titles from this period include Scientific American, The Geographical Review, The American Magazine of Art and the Inland Printer.

The Inland Printer, Sept. 1905, Apr. 1903 and July 1901.

One might wonder why a magazine devoted to the art and science of printing would be interesting, but consider the time period. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were the era of the telegraph and early telephone. Radio was still in its infancy in the early 20th century. Cinematic film started in 1895 and everything was black and white and silent until The Jazz Singer, the first “Talkie,” released in October 6, 1927. This was the era of print, newspapers, magazines, broadsides, etc., and The Inland Printer was the bible of the printing industry. It used vivid color, displayed gorgeous art work and covered technological advances and the artistic world throughout its long history. Printers, editors and artists sent their material for review; in turn, the face and visual contents of American magazines were transformed by The Inland Printer’s recommendations and example. The Inland Printer was one of the vehicles that drove American publishing.

Gale’s American Historical Periodicals, Series 6 helps expand our knowledge of American history with newly digitized periodicals. The collection helps researchers make connections in American history from a range of perspectives. Besides covering a variety of subjects, there are numerous periodicals aimed at specific audiences based on factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, politics or beliefs. Furthermore, the Gale Primary Sources cross-search environment expands those connections to hundreds of millions of pages of additional primary source materials. Thanks to our partnership with the American Antiquarian Society, Gale is pleased to bring this resource to you.

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