Library of Congress European Collections: An Illustrated Guide
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European Americana and American Europeana

Webster's New World Dictionary defines Americana as "books, papers, objects, facts, etc. having to do with America, its people, and its history." By that general definition, Americana probably accounts for over half of the more than 100 million pieces now housed in the Library of Congress. From its inception and throughout its nearly two-hundred-year history, the Library of Congress has made the collection of Americana its highest priority. Jefferson, as we saw, took advantage of his sojourn in Paris as minister to France to visit the bookstalls, "turning over every book with my own hands, putting by everything which related to America . . . ." Elsewhere in Europe he also actively collected documents relating to the early history of Virginia and the United States, such as transcripts of the papers of the Virginia Company of London, the company that founded and initially governed the oldest English-speaking colony in North America. The Library later acquired the remaining Virginia Company records collected by Jefferson after he sold his library to Congress. The third president's zeal for gathering Americana remains a guiding principle of the Library of Congress in its role as storehouse of the nation's patrimony.

Thumbnail Image of Johnston's "Lumière brothers" American photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston captured the Lumière brothers, pioneers in the film industry, during a luggage inspection at the French border (1905). (Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection, Prints and Photographs Division)

Americana of European provenance includes some of the rarest treasures in the Library's collections. One might argue that the Library's premier example of European Americana is Martin Waldseemüller's Cosmographiae introductio of 1507, in which the word "America" appeared in print for the first time. The Rare Book Division's Thacher Collection contains three pre-1510 editions of this work in which Waldseemüller made the fateful error of crediting the discovery of the "fourth continent" to Amerigo Vespucci, whose namesake the nation thereby became.

But before the creation of the name came the discovery of "America," and hence the argument for the Columbus Codex (Book of Privileges) of 1502 as our earliest piece of European Americana. In the codex the Spanish crown promised, among other things, that Columbus would be governor of any lands he could discover. The Library of Congress possesses one of four original copies of the Columbus Codex--the only copy that includes the Papal Bull of 1493 concerning the New World. The Library also holds the rare manuscript Copia de littere mandate par Anzolo Trevisan (1501-3), containing the second account of Columbus's voyages to the New World.

A complete catalog of the Library's holdings of logs, diaries, correspondence, treaties, maps, atlases, and artifacts dating to the age of European exploration and conquest of the Americas would fill volumes. In 1898, the newly created Manuscript Division acquired Benjamin Franklin Stevens's collection of facsimiles and transcripts of British manuscripts. The importance of these European archival resources for the study of American history led Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam to initiate in 1905 the Foreign Copying Program. Private donations from James B. Wilbur in 1925 and from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1927 permitted the program to expand. Material from European archives and libraries has since been selected on the basis of its relevance to the history of America and has been reproduced in transcripts, photostats, or in microformat. Strongly represented are historical records of European exploration of the New World, of early settlement history, of colonies, of European participation in the American Revolution, and later, of diplomatic and cultural relations between Europe and the United States. Archives from England, France, and Spain have been the main focus of this program. Materials have also been collected from Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Russia.

Gifts of original materials from private collectors Edward S. Harkness in 1927 and Hans P. Kraus in 1969 brought to the Library invaluable documents concerning the early Spanish and Portuguese explorations of--and settlements in--the Americas. The Harkness Collection alone includes nearly 4,500 folios of documents from the first two centuries of Spanish rule in Mexico and Peru. The Mexican documents pertain mostly to the conquistador Hernando Cortés and his family, and the Peruvian manuscripts include materials on Francisco Pizarro. The Spanish conquest and subsequent treatment of the native American populations were described in exhaustive detail by the contemporary historian and missionary, Bartolomé de las Casas (1474-1566), known as "Protector of the Indians." The Rare Book and Special Collections Division has custody of several sixteenth and seventeenth-century editions of Las Casas's works, including his Brevissima relacion de la destrvycion de las Indias. Among the Library's most prized Spanish maps of exploration is one of two extant original copies of Diego Gutierrez's map of 1562, where the name "California" appeared for the first time.

Perhaps the finest bibliographic description of America from the period 1492-1551 is Henry Harrisse's Bibliotheca Americana vetustissima (1866), which focuses on the voyages of Columbus, John and Sebastian Cabot, Jacques Cartier, and other early explorers. The Library's Harrisse Collection includes the author's personal, annotated copies of this and other works, as well as one of the most valuable examples of French Americana-- the original vellum manuscript map of northeastern North America drawn in the winter of 1606-7 by the explorer Samuel de Champlain himself. The detailed map accurately located native American villages, as confirmed by recent archaeological finds. Among the Library's many rare sixteenth-century pieces relating to the voyages of Cartier and Champlain, one finds such enticing titles as: A shorte and briefe narration of the nauigation made by the commandement of the king of France, to the islands of Canada, Hochelaga, Saguenay, and diuers others which are now called New France, with the particulars customes, and maners of the inhabitants therein (London, 1600). A work of special anthropological and linguistic interest is Les voyages de la Novvelle France occidentale, dicte Canada, faits par le Sr de Champlain Xainctongeois . . . (Paris, 1632), which includes translations of French religious texts into the native Huron and Montagnais languages.

The Library holds a vast and diverse collection of material relating to the English exploration and colonization of America. A noteworthy example is the 1612 engraving of Captain John Smith's amazingly accurate map of the western shore of Chesapeake Bay. Another treasure is Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of transcripts of the Records of the Virginia Company of London, which describe in poignant detail the daily hardships encountered by northern Europeans transplanted to the swampy wilderness at Jamestown.

Among the many British histories of the colonies in Jefferson's collection, transferred to the Library of Congress in 1815, one finds a first edition (1738) of Sir William Keith's The History of the British Plantations in America . . ., published in London by the Society for the Encouragement of Learning. Providing unique insight into the British administration of the American colonies, the Sir Thomas Phillipps and the George Chalmers manuscript collections include inter alia the journals of the Council of Foreign Plantations, accounts of colonial revenues, and letters, orders, laws, and notes about the jurisdiction of the Church of England.

The Library of Congress also possesses important materials on Central European settlers in Colonial America. An interesting item with these roots is Augustin Herrman's map Virginia and Maryland as it is planted and inhabited this present year 1670 surveyed and exactly drawn by the only labor & endeavor of Augustine Herrman bohemiensis. Herrman was a Czech émigré who came to America via Holland.

Thumbnail Image of Ólafsson's "Alaska; Lýsing á landi og lands-kostum" Jón Ólafsson. Alaska; Lýsing á landi og lands-kostum (Washington, 1875). Description of Alaska by an Icelandic traveler who wished to found an Icelandic colony there. President Grant's approval of the idea led to this unique publication of the Government Printing Office in the Icelandic language. (Rare Book and Special Collections Division)

Another part of the Library's holdings in Central European Americana concerns the Ephrata religious community. Established in the 1730s in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Ephrata is a significant chapter of the early German experience in America. The community's founder, the poet, composer, and radical Pietist Johann Conrad Beissel (1690-1763), emigrated to America in the 1720s in search of a place where he could put his religious theories into practice. In the eighteenth century Ephrata was renowned for its scriptorium in which the sisters of the cloister were trained to illuminate music manuscripts and to write the distinctive German Fraktur script, providing one of the earliest examples of its use in America. Beissel, who composed hymns and other religious music, also established a singing school in the community, whose performances drew audiences from elsewhere in Pennsylvania and, it is said, on occasion included Benjamin Franklin.

The Library's Music Division holds many fine examples of the Ephrata community's illuminated music manuscripts, as well as exceptional works in Fraktur. Foremost among these is the Ephrata Codex, which contains "Das Gesäng der einsamen Turtel- Taube" (The Song of the Lonely Turtle Dove) (1746), one of the earliest pieces of German music written in America.

Thumbnail Image of "The title page to the music manuscript Paradisisches Wunder-Spiel . . ." The title page to the music manuscript Paradisisches Wunder-Spiel . . . (Ephrata, Pennsylvania, 1754), is a fine example of the intricate German Fraktur script used at the Ephrata religious community. (Music Division)

The Library is richly endowed with European Americana relating to the War of Independence. From the British perspective, for example, the Richard Howe Collection contains a map of the Chesapeake Bay region, locating British headquarters and landing sites. As commander of the British fleet in North America, Howe may have consulted this very map in planning military strategy during the early years of the war. The John Hills Collection contains maps used by Sir Henry Clinton, commander in chief of British military operations between 1778 and 1781. In the Library's Faden Collection, researchers will find detailed maps depicting the campaigns of Clinton and his compatriots Sir William Howe, Charles Cornwallis, and John Burgoyne. An important piece of English-German Americana, housed in the Manuscript Division, is the original treaty between the Duke of Brunswick and Great Britain (1776), providing for a specified number of the duke's troops for service in America.

European military advisers and commanders played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War, and the names Lafayette, von Steuben, Kosciuszko, Pulaski, and Rochambeau hold permanent places in the pantheon of American national heroes. The letters of these and other European officers to the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Hancock are among the Library's most treasured manuscripts. The following extract from Washington's letter welcoming Kosciuszko back to the United States in 1797 reveals the founding fathers' gratitude to their European comrades-in-arms:

Having just been informed of your safe arrival in America, I was on the point of writing you a congratulatory letter on the occasion, welcoming you to the land whose liberties you had been so instrumental in establishing. . . . no one has a higher respect, and veneration for your character than I have; or one who more sincerely wished, during your arduous struggle in the cause of liberty and your country, that it might be crowned with Success.

Perhaps the crown jewel of the Revolutionary War European Americana is the Library's 1,800-piece Rochambeau Collection, which includes the personal correspondence and military maps used by the comte de Rochambeau, commander in chief of the French forces. One of the most noteworthy pieces in the collection is a manuscript atlas showing French encampments during the march from Yorktown to Boston.

The recorded observations--both impressionistic and scientific--of European visitors to the "new" continent represent an important genre of Americana that the Library possesses in abundance. Two of the most enduring and influential examples of this type of literature we owe to the French travelers Alexis de Tocqueville and Michel Guillaume St. Jean de Crèvecoeur. The Library owns the only extant set of the first edition of de Tocqueville's Democracy in America with the four volumes still in their original wrappers.

Other rarities are the Library's first editions in French and English of Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer, in which the term "melting pot" was first used to define the "new race of men," the Americans. Also noteworthy is the Library's outstanding collection of manuscripts and original and facsimile maps executed by the influential German cartographer and writer Johann Georg Kohl, who traveled about America during the mid- nineteenth century. Another fine example of European contributions to American studies is A Theoretical and Practical Grammar of the Ochipwe Language (1850), written by the Slovenian bishop Frederic Baraga (1797-1868), a linguist and missionary who lived among various native American tribes.

Among the Library's largest holdings in European Americana are the papers of Carl Schurz (1829-1906), arguably the most politically prominent German immigrant to the United States. Crusading journalist, abolitionist, and advocate of civil service reform, Schurz in a protean career served as U.S. minister to Spain, major general in the Union Army, Reconstruction senator from Missouri, and secretary of the interior. His papers total some 24,500 items.

The Library of Congress has extensive holdings of newspapers in various European languages printed in the United States by recent immigrants. They range from the press of large groups like German-Americans and Polish-Americans to those of small nationalities. To this latter group, for instance, belongs the world's oldest continuously published Albanian newspaper, Kombi (The Nation)(1906-9), subsequently called Dielli (The Sun), which was published in Boston. Before Albanian independence in 1912, Albanian immigrants to America used this newspaper to learn to read and write their language, the use of which had been forbidden under their Ottoman rulers.

Thumbnail Image of an issue of Kombi (The Nation), the world's oldest continuously published Albanian-language newspaper Founded in 1906 as Kombi (The Nation) and subsequently (from 1909 on) called Dielli (The Sun), this is the world's oldest continually published Albanian-language newspaper. The issue depicted here reports the March 8, 1908, ordination of Fan S. Noli and with it the establishment of the Albanian Orthodox Church of America. Noli provided leadership and promoted Albanian culture and nationalism at a time when Albania was ruled by the Ottoman Turks. (Serial and Government Publications Division)
[Enlarged Version (190 K)]

To these resources in language, religion, history, and literature, European Americana brings its own flesh-and-blood dimension. The quest for information about European ancestors preoccupies millions of Americans, bringing hundreds of them every week to explore the rich genealogical resources of the Library of Congress. The Local History and Genealogy (LH&G) Reading Room offers more than 10,000 indexes, guides, and reference works and an expert staff to advise readers. Gradually, determined researchers discover that valuable resources await them in other reading rooms throughout the Library.

Unique Library of Congress resources include the Family Name Index (a card file housed in the LH&G Reading Room) and tens of thousands of published genealogies and local history volumes (indexed in Marion J. Kaminkow's Genealogies in the Library of Congress, a Bibliography and his United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress, a Bibliography). An important recent addition is the CD-ROM index of millions of surnames contained in church records microfilmed throughout Europe by the Church of Latter Day Saints. Other rich sources of church data include the records of the Alaskan Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church (1700s to 1940) in the Manuscript Division and Cyprien Tanguay's seven-volume Dictionnaire généalogique des familles Canadiennes depuis la fondation de la colonie jusqu'à nos jours (1871), a monumental work based primarily on Roman Catholic church records that trace the French origins of virtually all Québecois and, hence, of most Franco- Americans.

Most genealogists are curious to learn about the voyage and the ship that brought their ancestors from Europe. Frequently consulted resources for such information include the pioneering work of P. William Filby, Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography, 1538-1900, Being a Guide to Published Lists of Arrivals in the United States and Canada (1981); Michael Cassady's New York Passenger Arrivals, 1849-1868 (1983); and Ira A. Glazier's seven-volume The Famine Immigrants: Lists of Irish Immigrants Arriving at the Port of New York, 1846-1851 (1983-86).

Another common objective of genealogists is to pinpoint the city or village in Europe from which their ancestors emigrated. Deciphering arcane renderings of place-names in various languages and alphabets brings researchers to consult with experts throughout the Library, and to discover such treasures as Filip Sulimierski's Slownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów (1880); this fifteen- volume classic provides detailed descriptions of the history, economy, and administrative subordination of communities (and the variant spellings of their names) throughout the vast territory of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Finally, genealogical research frequently has the goal of identifying a family crest, a link with nobility and the shapers of European history. The Library possesses outstanding collections of European armorials, many with splendid color reproductions of European noble family crests. Johann Siebmacher's seventeenth-century classic, Grosses Wappenbuch, provides heraldic information for the nobility of Bavaria, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bukovina, the Baltic states, Alsace, and numerous other kingdoms and principalities on the continent. Another indispensable reference is J. B. Rietstap's Armorial général: contenant la description des armoiries des familles nobles et patriciennes de l'Europe (1861). The crests and lineage of noble families of the British Isles are described in numerous important works by John Bernard Burke, including The General Armory of England, Scotland, and Wales: comprising a registry of armorial bearings (1884).

Many of the treasures described above might as easily have been labeled American Europeana, for they are the heritage of peoples on both sides of the Atlantic. The Library's collections of American Europeana are unmatched in size and diversity. Among the most interesting works in these collections are those that present the American view of Europe. For historians attempting to trace the development of official American perceptions of Europe, what resource could surpass the Library's papers of the U.S. presidents, secretaries of state, and diplomats? The vast assemblage of the W. Averell Harriman Papers, to cite one collection, covers most aspects of the long and eventful career of one of this century's great statesmen, including his service as ambassador to the Soviet Union and coordinator of the European Recovery Program, known as the Marshall Plan.

Over the centuries, visits to Europe have inspired countless American artists to produce some of their finest works. For example, during his 1926 trip to Europe, George Gershwin composed the opening theme of his masterpiece An American in Paris, the original score of which resides in the Library's Gershwin collection. In the composer's own words, "My purpose is to portray the impressions of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city, listens to the various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere."

The Library offers many other splendid examples of the recurring theme of American encounters with Europe, including Joel Barlow's moving letters to his wife from Lithuania and Poland in which he graphically describes the devastation of Napoleon's Russian campaign; an autographed special edition of Mark Twain's hilarious work Innocents Abroad; and rare first editions of the major works of American Anglophile Henry James. Early American films depicting Europe such as the Thomas Edison Studios' unflattering 1916 portrayal of Tsarist Russia, The Cossack Whip, distributed by George Kleine, and the Paris papers of Janet Flanner, described earlier, represent other aspects of these materials.

Thumbnail Image of "The Cossack Whip" The Cossack Whip. Thomas A. Edison Studios, George Kleine distributor, 1916. A melodrama in which a Cossack whip figures in both injustice and retribution, this silent movie is indicative of the American view of Russian absolutism only one year before the United States joined Russia in World War I against the Central Powers. (Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division)

It seems appropriate to conclude this guide by mentioning a special aspect of American Europeana: works of European patriots and artists viewing their troubled homelands from American shores. The Library possesses many examples of this genre, including first editions of the speeches of Hungarian patriot Lajos Kossuth (1851-52). Thomas Masaryk's Nová Evropa, was written in Washington in 1918 and is cited above. Vojtech Preissig's dramatic poster invoking support for the Czech and Slovak war efforts against Austria and Germany during World War I was captioned "Czechoslovaks! Join Our Free Colors!" Chronicling the interchange of ideas, cultures, and individuals that has characterized the relationship between Europe and the United States has been one of the enduring contributions of the European collections of the Library of Congress.

Thumbnail Image of "A Czechoslovak First World War poster designed by Vojtech Pressig" A Czechoslovak First World War poster designed by Vojtech Pressig, a Czech artist who lived in the United States from 1910 to 1930 and died in 1944 in a German concentration camp. (Prints and Photographs Division)

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