American History


Every period of the history of the United States—from New World encounters to the Civil War to the Chicago literary renaissance and beyond—is well represented in the Newberry’s collections. The Newberry has an extensive array of archival materials; monographs; periodicals; ephemera; and rare, idiosyncratic works.  Particular subject strengths include:  

Searching the Catalog 

To find books on American history in our collection, search by Subject in our catalog in combination with other keywords or subject words of interest.  The following subject headings are particularly useful as places to start:  

United States—History 

Great Britain—Colonies—America (adapt this formulation for other colonial powers such as Spain or France) 

Indians of North America—History 

African Americans (adapt this formulation for other racial and ethnic groups, e.g. Mexican Americans, Irish Americans, Chinese Americans) 

Reference Sources  

Garraty, John A., and Mark C. Carnes, eds. American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Location: 3rd floor Reference. Call number: Ref CT213 .A68 1999 

Dictionary of American History. New York: Scribner, 1976-1978. Location: 3rd floor Reference. Call number: Ref E174 .D52 1976 

Carter, Susan B., et al. Historical Statistics of the United States: Earliest Times to the Present. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Location: 3rd floor Reference and online (subscription database, available only in Newberry building). Call number: Ref HA202 .H57 2006  

Boyer, Paul S., ed. The Oxford Companion to United States History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Location: 3rd floor Reference. Call number: Ref E174 .O94 2001 

Howes, Wright. U.S. IANA, 1650-1950: A Selective Bibliography in which are Described 11,620 Uncommon and Significant Books Relating to the Continental Portion of the United States. New York: R. R. Bowker Co. for the Newberry Library, 1962. Location: 3rd floor Reference. Call number: Ref Z1215 .H75 1962 

Publications about the Newberry Library Collections 

A guide to publications about the Newberry collections in American History is available as a PDF file

Highlights from the Newberry Library Collections 

Edward E. Ayer Collection

As a collection of general Americana, the Edward E. Ayer Collection is one of the best in the country and one of the strongest collections on American Indians and on the exploration of the Americas by Europeans in the world. Founded in 1911 with a donation of 17,000 items from Newberry Trustee Edward E. Ayer (1841-1927), the collection now includes approximately 150,000 volumes, over 1 million manuscript pages, 2,000 maps, 500 atlases, 11,000 photographs, and 3,500 drawings and paintings.  

Everett D. Graff Collection

Newberry Trustee Everett D. Graff (1885-1964) donated his library of Western Americana to the Newberry in 1964. The collection includes approximately 10,000 books and manuscripts, many of them extremely rare, most dealing with the exploration and settlement of the trans-Mississippi West in the nineteenth century.  

Rudy L. Ruggles Collection

In 1985, Chicago lawyer and Newberry Trustee Rudy Lamont Ruggles gave his personal library to the Newberry Library. The Ruggles collection, numbering over 500 volumes, contains a diverse array of print rarities and historical gems in superb physical condition. Though a major aspect of the Ruggles collection is early American law, particularly constitutional law, the collection’s scope also includes the American Revolution, Constitutional period, American Indian history, early American maps, American and English literature, and general Americana. 

Modern and Midwestern Manuscript Collections:  

The Newberry has over 800 Modern Manuscript Collections dating from the mid-18th through the 20th centuries. Holdings are strongest for Chicago and the Midwest. Searching across collections and browsing within topical areas is available on the Modern Manuscripts and Ephemera search page.

Related Research Guides

The following research guides are available as PDFs:

Digital Resources 


Most of the databases at the Newberry are subscription databases; therefore, access is available to registered readers only within the library building. Those listed below are subscription databases. 

American Indian Histories and Cultures: A deep and wide ranging selection of visual and textual resources related to Native American culture and history drawn from the Newberry’s rich collections. 

The American West: Mixture of original manuscripts, maps, ephemeral material, and rare printed sources from the Newberry’s Everett D. Graff Collection of Western Americana. 

For a comprehensive list of all our databases, visit our Databases webpage.  


Frontier to Heartland: This digital exhibit based on the Newberry’s collections explores how central North America first became known as the “Frontier” and eventually as the “Heartland.”  

Mapping Movement in American History and Culture: This online archive features more than 500 images of maps and accompanying interpretive text drawn from the Newberry’s extensive map collections, from the European explorers’ maps to modern aviation cartography.  

Out of Many: Religious Pluralism in America: Including digitized primary sources from the Newberry’s collection, contextual information, and discussion questions, this site features curricular resources to integrate the study of America’s religious diversity into introductory courses across the humanities.