Finding EMEMH sources
Index, inventory, catalog, calendar, report on manuscripts… they go by oh-so-many names. But whatever we call them, we don’t know where to go without them. So they merit their own post, in case you don’t know about all these nummy resources already.
We can start with published works in libraries. Europeana is a warehouse connecting to online library catalogs throughout Europe. In general, historians concentrating on English history are the best served: the British Library of course has an extensive collection of printed works, while the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) provides a comprehensive list for our period, as well as the libraries that hold them (more comprehensive for our purposes than WorldCat). Many of the works themselves are available through Google Books, Early English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Medieval and Early Modern Sources Online, and the Goldsmiths’-Kress Library of Economic Literature. If you need newspapers, you can check out 17C and 18C Burney Collection Newspapers. Unfortunately all but the first four of these are expensive subscription databases, but if you can find a nearby research university (that allows open access to their library computers if you aren’t affiliated), you’re in luck.
France has dedicated state funds to build up its own equivalent to Google Books, Gallica, run by the Bibliothèque nationale. England went with a largely private-funded effort, while France went the statist route – who would’ve thunk it?
The Netherlands’Konklijke Bibliotheek is even further behind, although they are currently working on an Early Dutch Books Online resource. Earlier statements had said they would cover to 1700, but more recent ones claim 1781-1800, so I don’t know what’s going on there.
We should also note that as Google Books has been expanding its scanning to European library collections, we’re seeing a lot more Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish… works available, usually from the late 17C on.
I won’t spend much time here on libraries in the U.S. that have significant collections for our period, since all their catalogs are online. A useful resource focusing on library holdings in the midwest created by John Lynn and George Satterfield is A guide to sources in early modern European military history in midwestern research libraries (1994). It used to be online, but since Lynn retired from Illinois, it looks like it’s gone. Put it back up John! Or let me host it!
U.S. special collections that I have found particularly useful include the usual suspects like the Library of Congress, Yale’s Beinecke Library, Harvard’s Houghton Library, the Newberry in Chicago, the Lilly Library at Indiana, the Huntington Library outside LA, the Harry Ransom Center at UT-Austin, the Society of the Cincinnati in D.C., and the University of Michigan (which helped found the Hathi Trust). Realize that some of these also have manuscript collections, particularly Yale and the Huntington for my period at least. And the major national libraries (BN, BL, LoC) all have huge manuscript holdings of their own as well.
Do your online homework before planning a trip to a rare book library! The online resources above, especially Google Books and EEBO, ECCO and GKLEL, have made it much less necessary to travel to look at printed English-language works from our period. I’d guess 90% of English books from say 1670 onward are available online, many for free. And, if they aren’t available online at all, and the works are short enough, you can order scans/copies of them for a fee. Also, some libraries have books that aren’t even in their online catalogs – I was told at the Harry Ransom Center, for example, that perhaps 10% of their Queen Anne collection is still only listed in the card catalog. But at the Lilly it might be as high as 40%! ESTC is sometimes useful here.
There are many different kinds of archives, distinguished by subject matter (e.g. military vs. diplomatic), and by the level of their holdings: national, regional, local, and municipal archives are distinct, and even personal collections held by descendants still exist (catalogued, in the English case, in the Royal Historical Manuscript Commission series). As a result, you’ll likely need to check out quite a few, and it doesn’t help that the most important of them have changed their names over the past decade. (Since many catalog numbers have also changed over the 20C, you may have to do some sleuthing to figure out what the modern reference number is for a citation from a 1924 history.)
A lot of our archival documents were already cataloged before that magic cut-off date of 1923 (U.S. copyright applies from then on), so many of them are in Google Books, if you know the archive/library to search for. Browse the Z call number section of a major research library if you need examples – just about every library and archive published a guide to its collections at some point or another. Searching for specific archive reference numbers in Google Books may also work.
Nowadays most archives have some kind of online presence as well. The British Library has put all of their catalogs online, including those for their manuscripts. This replaces the many many volumes that one had to laboriously consult by hand back in the day – and it was really annoying because the volumes were by accession date! The National Archives (always the Public Record Office to me) also has its catalog online now, and includes document-level summaries of many of its holdings, drawn in part from the venerable Calendar of State Papers series. From the NA collection, Gale Cengage Learning has also just released The State Papers Online, 1509-1714 – downloadable full scans of the originals linked to the searchable calendar entries! Unfortunately, this too is a subscription database.
The French archives have been a bit behind with their online presence. They have recently introduced the Catalogue collectif de France and Calames, providing a meta-search of individual institutions throughout France. A general list of the catalogs (both print and manuscript) available through the Bibliothèque nationale can be found here. France’s Archives nationales website is much less helpful, with only its inventaires online. France’s dedicated military history archive, the Service historique de la Défense (SHAT Archives de guerre was so much better) is the worst of all. As a hopeful sign, Gallica is starting to put (sometimes illegible) manuscripts online, from the BN of course. Europeana and Gallica also include a fair number of images (maps, engravings…) in addition to textual works.
Finally, the Dutch Nationaal Archief (why not keep it the Algemeen Rijksarchief?) has many of its catalogs still in typescript (!), consultable only in the Reading Room. They’re still in the early stage of identifying which 10% of their collections they should put online.
As far as online access is concerned, the English archives have the rest beat hands down.
An important point you’ll quickly discover about archive catalogs – there are actually differences between the terms listed at the beginning of this post, and some archives give document-level summaries of their holdings, while others may give you one sentence on a carton of hundreds of letters. While the French (military) archives are less accessible online, their catalogs actually do a better job describing things at the document-level, at least compared to the British Library. The National Archives catalog is the best, however, as it actually provides summaries of individual letters. A few other university libraries (e.g. the Nottingham University library) do similarly.
What have I forgotten? As you can see, my archive/library knowledge is limited to England, France and the Netherlands, so let me know if other countries in Europe have similar websites, and particularly full documents online.