Map of North America 1778

American Studies Collections

Our Special Collections encompass a vast array of material relevant to American Studies, from examples of early American printing to recent and contemporary literary archives.

Photograph of writer Walt Whitman in profile, wearing a hat, with a butterfly perched on his finger
Photograph of Walt Whitman, English MS 1331/4/1/1/4

The printed collections include works on American social and political history, natural history, travel and topography, and literature, from tracts campaigning for independence to contemporary poetry published by Carcanet Press.

Archives pertaining to American Studies illuminate such issues as the growth of Methodism in North America, the American War of Independence, the operation of slave-run plantations in the Caribbean and the Civil Rights Movement. Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, the Black Mountain Poets and Beat writers such as William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso are among the subjects of our extensive literary archives.

Further individual items with relevance to American Studies are scattered across miscellaneous autograph collections or form part of other archives. Examples include single letters from significant historical figures such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln; letters home from men seeking their fortune in the California Gold Rush; and a scrapbook documenting the British tours of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.

History: 17th to 19th centuries

The Library holds numerous examples of early American printing, which can be found on Library Search, with topics covering theology, medicine and politics. There are also examples of scripture translated into Native American languages from the 17th century onwards, including John Eliot’s early translations of the Bible into the Massachusett Algonquian language.

Our general printed book stock contains works on American history (including narratives of enslaved people), natural history, and travel and topography, including illustrated works, for both North and South America. Amongst the natural history holdings, the Library holds a copy of John James Audubon’s massive elephant-folio Birds of America (1827-38), and a first edition of Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1731-43), the first published account of the flora and fauna of North America.

The American Sunday School Union was founded in Philadelphia in 1817 to educate children and adults and the collection consists of 50 bound volumes of chapbooks published by the Union which were strictly non-denominational and were intended to promote literacy, moral conduct and good citizenship. The majority contain illustrations, ranging from crude woodcuts to highly finished line engravings. Many of the stories are set in specific locations, providing a fascinating picture of mid-19th-century America.

Military papers of Lieutenant General Sir John Caldwell (1756-1830) relating to the American War of Independence can be found among the Bagshawe Family Muniments.

The Stapleton Manuscripts includes material on the history of Montserrat and the Leeward Islands in the late 17th and early 18th centuries including: commissions and appointments to offices, public accounts, militia lists, correspondence, grants and leases of land, plantation accounts, plantation inventories, lists of enslaved people, and sugar accounts.

The Brooke of Mere Muniments likewise contain records such as accounts, inventories and correspondence concerning the plantations in Antigua in the early 19th century. The archive is thus significant for studies of the slave trade and the slave economy in the West Indies. The Library also holds a volume containing documents relating to slave-run plantations in Dominica (English MS 894).

Some of the Nonconformist Christianity collections also contain valuable material for American history. These include:

  • Papers of Thomas Coke, who is regarded as one of the founders of the Methodist Church in the US and West Indies
  • Papers of Methodist minister John Prior Lockwood relating to his interest in the growth of Methodism in North America, including material relating to the Georgia colony
  • Correspondence between members of the Wesley family with numerous references to America
  • The Primitive Methodist Conference Archive which includes papers relating to the Philadelphia Mission dating from c.1830
  • Papers of John Nelson Darby, one of the founders of the Christian Brethren movement, and widely regarded as a key influence on modern fundamentalist Christianity in the USA
  • Papers of Leonard Sheldrake, an itinerant Brethren preacher, which include detailed accounts of his travels in the USA

From the 19th century, the Raymond English Anti-Slavery Collection contains papers of George Thompson, an indefatigable campaigner against slavery who travelled extensively in Britain and America. The H. J. Wilson Anti-Slavery Collection includes items relating to American/Southern slavery. There are also runs of the American abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, and the periodical The Presbyterian’s armory: devoted to the principles of the reformation.

The Library holds two volumes containing original manuscripts of verse and prose contributions to the anti-slavery publication, The Bow in the Cloud, or The Negro’s Memorial (London: Jackson and Walford, 1834), together with numerous letters to the volume’s editor, Mary Anne Rawson, together with portraits and engravings of contributors, and newspaper reviews of the publication.

History: 20th and 21st centuries

Many aspects of modern American history, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, are documented in the vast Guardian Archive, in the form of letters from various US correspondents for the newspaper, most notably Alistair Cooke, whose 700 letters span the period 1945-1975.

The Francis Neilson Papers are an important collection for radical economic and political ideas in the UK and USA during the first half of 20th century, as well as for revisionist interpretations of the Second World War. Within the Brian Cox Printed Collection, Cox’s concern with the teaching of English is reflected in a small section on education, including volumes on the American university and the Cyril Burt Affair. The Papers of Frank Owen Salisbury (1874-1962), a Methodist artist, contain letters from significant figures whose portraits he painted, including Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Billy Graham, and members of the Rockefeller family.

The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE (Race Archives and Community Engagement) Centre is part of the University of Manchester’s Special Collections, focusing on the study of race, migration and ethnic diversity and is based in Manchester Central Library. Collections relevant to American Studies include the papers of Lou Kushnick covering his work and research relating to race relations in the UK and US. This includes 95 interviews with key politicians, academics and community leaders in New York, Boston and Chicago, who discuss American politics, economics, health and welfare and racial polarisation in the 1980s and 1990s. The American Civil Rights Archive consists of publications, pamphlets, leaflets and reports.

Literature and culture: 19th century

American literature from the late 19th century onwards is well represented in several of our modern literary archives. There are two archives relating to Walt Whitman (1819-1892), journalist, essayist and poet, and his links to Bolton, Lancashire. The Sixsmith Collection includes 39 letters to Whitman from various correspondents, and correspondence of Whitman’s intimate friend, Horace L. Traubel. The collection of J. W. Wallace, friend of Walt Whitman and founder of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship, includes 53 drafts or copies of letters from Wallace to Whitman, and a typescript diary of Wallace's visits to Whitman in 1891. The Walt Whitman Book Collection includes nearly sixty separate editions and issues of Leaves of Grass and some seventy editions of other works by Whitman.

Single letters or autographs in other collections represent other well-known American literary figures, including James Fenimore Cooper and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Likewise, we have dispersed holdings (but not discrete collections) by American writers such as Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Dennis Welland, Professor of American Literature in the University of Manchester from 1965 until 1983, wrote extensively on American literature, especially on the work of Mark Twain. Welland’s archive offers insights into the developing interest in 20th-century literature among scholars and collecting institutions in the US and UK.

Literature and culture: 20th and 21st centuries

There is a small collection of papers relating to the poet Wallace Stevens and his association with the Cummington Press in the 1940s. Wallace Stevens is regarded as one of the most influential American poets of the 20th century. He was concerned with the power of the imagination, developing the notion (which he termed the ‘reality-imagination complex’) that perceived reality is the product of one’s imagination.

The Carcanet Press Archive contains manuscripts, proofs and correspondence relating to anthologies of American poetry published by the press, new editions of work by earlier US writers (like William Carlos Williams, Delmore Schwartz, Elizabeth Bishop, Djuna Barnes and Frank O’Hara), and new work by many recent and contemporary poets such as John Ashbery, Louise Gluck, Jorie Graham, John Peck and Robert Pinsky. The voluminous correspondence files contain further letters from many more American poets as well as translators, editors, critics and publishers.

The archives of Elaine Feinstein and Jeff Nuttall contain correspondence and papers relating to key figures in avant-garde American literature from the 1950s-60s, including several writers associated with Black Mountain College (Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, Paul Blackburn and others) as well as Beat writers such as William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso. The Dave Cunliffe Archive contains small press publications and Counterculture material.

The Edward Allatt Upton Sinclair Book Collection includes first editions of virtually all of Sinclair’s major novels, numerous translations of works such as Oil!, The Jungle and Mental Radio, and a wide range of critical literature, as well as correspondence, papers, and rare ephemera.

The Private Press Collection includes examples of fine printing from more than 100 different American small presses, ranging from the late 19th to the 21st centuries. These include John Updike’s Merrymount Press; Thomas Bird Mosher’s eponymous press; Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft Press; and Henry Morris’s Bird & Bull Press. We are one of the few British libraries actively to collect works by the contemporary New York printer Russell Maret.

A small but diverse collection of works by 20th-century Cuban women writers contains a varied selection of works from throughout the 20th century, featuring pre-revolutionary authors such as Fina García Marruz, and writers from the post-1959 socialist era, including Georgina Herrera and Excilia Saldaña.

Material relating to American film can be found in the papers of Robert Donat (correspondence with American actors and film directors from the 1930s-50s) and Basil Dean (files relating to the film companies Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation, and R.K.O).

The International Woman Suffrage Alliance was founded in 1902 and had its headquarters in London. The aim of the Alliance was to aid the enfranchisement of the women of all nations through the international co-operation of the national societies. Britain is the country most fully represented in the archive, but there is a wealth of information relating to suffrage movements in the United States amongst other countries.