Library: Library Collections
Books & Pamphlets
How to Find Published Works in the Collection
The Massachusetts Historical Society's collection of published materials is divided into several broad categories: Books and Pamphlets, Broadsides, Early Imprints, Maps, and Newspapers. More than half of the MHS printed holdings are represented in ABIGAIL, with the remainder accessible through card catalogs in the Reading Room. Please contact the reference librarian if you do not find the printed item for which you are searching in the online catalog.
The General Research Collection
The books in the MHS library primarily address the history of Massachusetts from the time of European settlement to the present, although that focus is not exclusive. Materials about the early history of New England and the United States in general, especially from the colonial period through the Civil War, are also available. The library holdings include approximately 12,000 biographies and more than 7,000 local histories.
The MHS research collection also includes valuable but not exhaustive primary and secondary published materials on Canadian history, 19th-century popular literature, music (tune books rather than sheet music), and school textbooks, especially Boston imprints. Records for all books in the Research Collection are available in ABIGAIL.
Family History Resources
While the MHS has strong collections of published biographical, genealogical, and local history information that support research on its manuscript collections, its holdings do not duplicate the exhaustive family and New England local history collections or services provided by The New England Historic Genealogical Society (www.NewEnglandAncestors.org). Researchers working primarily on family history should consult the collections of the NEHGS first.
Over the years, the MHS has received collections of books from individual donors that have been kept intact and are referred to as "special libraries." These special libraries range from the private libraries of Henry Adams, Thomas Dowse, and Robert C. Waterston, to organizational collections of the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture, and subject-specific collections of collectors William Bentinck-Smith (U.S. history), Francis Russell Hart (Caribbeana) and Russell Knight (Shakers).
Records for the special libraries mentioned above are available in ABIGAIL; many of our smaller special libraries are currently stored offsite and records for these are available only in our internal card catalog.
The MHS holds approximately 25,000 pamphlets, arranged by date of publication, from 1820 to the present. The strength of the pamphlet collection lies in the diversity of subject content: almost every facet of 19th- and early-20th-century life in Massachusetts, and to a lesser extent in New England, appears in contemporary pamphlet literature. Researchers will find the collection especially strong for the last half of the 19th century.
At present, ABIGAIL, the online catalog, includes descriptions for about one third of the pamphlets; the remainder will be added over the next two years. Pamphlets printed before 1820 (more than 7,500 items) are fully cataloged in ABIGAIL.