L-45. Reference Sources for Researching Printed Americana

Joel Silver

“This is a course particularly useful for those researching or cataloging printed Americana. No matter how much you think you know, you will learn new things that will help you in your work or hobby.” — 2016 student

The European exploration and colonization of the New World coincided with the expansion of printing in Europe. From 1493 on, an increasing flow of printed materials relating to the Western Hemisphere informed readers about the wonders and riches to be found beyond the seas. Beginning with the establishment of printing in Mexico in the sixteenth century, a steadily-increasing number of books, pamphlets, and broadsides were produced in the New World as well.

The amount of material about or printed in the Americas is vast, and bibliographers are still working to record everything that has been produced. Major nineteenth-century collectors of Americana, such as James Lenox and John Carter Brown, viewed their subject in a hemispheric sense, and though the emphasis in this course will be on sources related to North America, we’ll also cover some of the many sources for researching Central and South American materials. During the week, we’ll look at more than 300 printed and electronic bibliographies, catalogues, and other reference sources, which focus on rare books relating to, or printed in, the Americas, from the period of the earliest European contacts through the Westward expansion of the United States.

Americana has a particularly rich and interesting body of reference literature; during class sessions, the instructor will cover details related to the compilation of each of the sources and will provide information about their strengths and weaknesses, as well as strategies on how they can be used effectively. Students will receive listings containing bibliographical information on the sources discussed, along with reproductions of selected pages or entries from many of the sources.

The course is intended for special collections librarians, antiquarian booksellers, and collectors, at all levels who are interested in finding out more about the printed Americana in their care. Although there are no prerequisites, an understanding of the principles of descriptive bibliography would be helpful, as would a basic knowledge of American history.

Course History

Joel Silver teaches this course.
1990 & 1993
George A. Miles & William S. Reese co-teach a precursor course, "American Historical Bibliography."

Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
  • Evaluations for this course:

Related Courses


Joel Silver

Joel Silver

Joel Silver is Director of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, where he has worked since 1983. He has published a number of articles on rare books and book collecting in AB Bookman’s Weekly and Fine Books & Collections Magazine. He has taught courses in many subjects related to rare books in the Department of Information and Library Science at Indiana University, where he serves as the Director of the Special Collections Specialization.

Full Bio »