Focus on the American Antiquarian Society
As the second installment in the Focus on Member Societies series, we pleased to feature one of our founders, the American Antiquarian Society. For more information on the AAS, visit www.americanantiquarian.org/.
The American Antiquarian Society
The American Antiquarian Society is a learned society and a major independent national research library of pre-twentieth-century American history, literature, and culture whose mission is to collect, preserve, and make available for study the printed record of what is now the United States. Founded in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1812, AAS was the third historical society founded in the United States, and the first to be national in scope. The collection comprises approximately four million items from the colonial period through the year 1876, including more than two-thirds of all known imprints created in the United States before 1821. This is the single greatest repository of such materials in the world. Additionally, the society’s holdings of American printed materials dating from 1821 through 1876 are among the strongest anywhere. The AAS library houses books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, sheet music, and graphic arts material, as well as manuscripts and a substantial collection of secondary works, bibliographies, and other reference works.
The AAS was a founding member society of ACLS in 1919, and since then has worked to encourage humanities scholarship as well as to bring humanities research to a broader audience. Many of the most significant works of Americanist scholarship of the past century have been researched in the society’s reading room in Worcester. These have included Pulitzer Prize-winning works of history and literary criticism, but also more popular works like Esther Forbes’ classic Johnny Tremain and historian Nathaniel Philbrick’s books on the voyage of the Mayflower and the Battle of Bunker Hill. As a learned society, AAS sponsors a range of programs for constituencies ranging from school children and their teachers through undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, creative and performing artists and writers, and the general public. AAS began a program for visiting research fellows in 1972, and since that time AAS fellows ranging from graduate students to advanced senior scholars have conducted research in the society’s collections that has informed hundreds of dissertations, journal articles, and monographs. The society also offers a unique program of fellowships for creative and performing artists whose works are informed by the American past. Since 1997, the society has been committed to enhancing the quality of K-12 education by offering a variety of teacher-training workshops and collaborating on educational programs that connect teachers with the finest scholars in the country. The society also sponsors two academic programs with unique focuses. The first is the Program in the History of the Book in American Culture (PHBAC), which began in 1983 and involves a number of scholarly activities, including a series of annual lectures, workshops and seminars, conferences, publications, and residential fellowships. PHBAC programming explores the history and bibliography of printing, publication, and dissemination of books and other printed materials in the geographical areas that became the United States and Canada. The second program is AAS’s Center for Historic American Visual Culture (CHAViC), which was established in 2005. CHAViC provides opportunities for educators to learn about American visual culture and resources, promotes awareness of AAS collections, and stimulates research and intellectual inquiry into American visual materials. CHAViC sponsors fellowships, exhibitions, conferences, seminars, and workshops.
The society has long worked to make its collection materials available to scholars who are unable to visit Worcester, using microprint and then microfilm in the middle decades of the twentieth century to enable scholarship on early American history and literature. As the AAS enters its third century, it has embraced the digital turn in the humanities, working with external partners to digitize large portions of the society’s collections, which makes these rare materials available to scholars around the world who would never be able to visit Worcester. As it has since its founding, the American Antiquarian Society remains committed to preserving the printed heritage of the United States, and to making this priceless heritage available to new generations of students, using the new generation of technological tools.