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Books, Maps, and Politics

Books, Maps, and Politics: A Cultural History of the Library of Congress, 17831861

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Books, Maps, and Politics
    Book Description:

    Delving into the origins and development of the Library of Congress, this volume ranges from the first attempt to establish a national legislative library in 1783 to the advent of the Civil War. Carl Ostrowski shows how the growing and changing Library was influenced by—and in turn affected—major intellectual, social, historical, and political trends that occupied the sphere of public discourse in late eighteenth and early nineteenthcentury America. The author explores the relationship between the Library and the period's expanding print culture. He identifies the books that legislators required to be placed in the Library and establishes how these volumes were used. His analysis of the earliest printed catalogs of the Library reveals that law, politics, economics, geography, and history were the subjects most assiduously collected. These books provided government officials with practical guidance in domestic legislation and foreign affairs, including disputes with European powers over territorial boundaries. Ostrowski also discusses a number of secondary functions of the Library, one of which was to provide reading material for the entertainment and instruction of government officials and their families. As a result, the richness of America's burgeoning literary culture from the 1830s to the 1860s was amply represented on the Library's shelves. For those with access to its Capitol rooms, the Library served an important social function, providing a space for interaction and the display and appreciation of American works of art. Ostrowski skillfully demonstrates that the history of the Library of Congress offers a lens through which we can view changing American attitudes toward books, literature, and the relationship between the federal government and the world of arts and letters.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-144-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Library and the History of the Book
    (pp. 1-6)

    The Library of Congress occupies a crossroads in American life where the nation’s literary and political cultures intersect. Because of the Library’s status as a national, governmental institution devoted to the collection and preservation of books, maps, and other materials, its history provides a revealing lens through which to study American attitudes toward books, literature, and the relationship between the government and the world of letters. This is especially true of the period from the first attempts to found the Library of Congress until the Civil War, when the Library’s future was sometimes uncertain and its role in American life...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Books, Classical Republicanism, and Proposals for a Congressional Library
    (pp. 7-38)

    The Library of Congress today is an immense institution whose place on the American cultural scene is unquestioned. As of the year 2000, the two hundredth anniversary of its foundation, the Library housed some 119 million items in 460 languages on a universal array of subjects.¹ Copyright deposits and congressional appropriations ensure its continued collection development. And although ministering to the needs of Congress remains an important aspect of its mission, the Library’s staff also caters to researchers from around the world as well as to ordinary American citizens. The Library plays an important leadership role in the library world,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Madison’s Vision Realized, 1800–1812
    (pp. 39-72)

    Once the Library of Congress had been founded in 1800, it followed along the developmental lines sketched out by James Madison in 1783. Congress collected books in a few well defined subject areas to assist it in carrying out its official duties. Under the continuing influence of the tenets of classical republicanism, utility was the rationale for the Library, which meant that luxury, conversely, had to be avoided. This view of the Library of Congress, exemplified by Joint Library Committee member John Randolph and written into the petitions for patronage submitted to the federal government by engineer William Tatham, was...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Thomas Jefferson, George Watterston, and the Library, 1814–1829
    (pp. 73-105)

    An attack on the Capitol in Washington by British troops in 1814 resulted in the nearly complete destruction of the Library of Congress. The subsequent purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s library to become a new Library of Congress in 1815 has been treated by Library of Congress historians as the start of a new era for the institution, which in some ways it was. The suggestion that the Library should function as something like a national library emerged after this purchase, and collections in the new Library were more comprehensive than in its predecessor. But debate over the purchase also revived...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Jacksonian Democracy and the Library, 1829–1843
    (pp. 106-144)

    The election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1828 marked a shift in American political culture that is evident in the history of the Library of Congress, most visibly in the dismissal of George Watterston and the appointment of John Silva Meehan to the post of Librarian. The change in stewardship from a novelist with culturally nationalistic impulses to a self-effacing bureaucrat meant that the cultural authority of the position of Librarian of Congress declined precipitously. But Meehan was part of a larger trend in American politics that devalued high culture, championed the unlettered common person, and looked skeptically...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE James Alfred Pearce, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Question of a National Library, 1844–1859
    (pp. 145-178)

    In the 1840s and 1850s American scholars, librarians, and journalists continued to bemoan the country’s lack of library resources and pressed Congress to establish a national library with comprehensive collections and liberal access policies. But their attention was no longer focused exclusively on the Library of Congress. The story of the Library in these years is inextricably linked with that of the Smithsonian Institution, to which national library proponents shifted their attention in the 1840s and early 1850s. The debate over the mission of the Smithsonian Institution illustrates the competing claims for federal government patronage of humanist scholarship and research...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Congressmen Use Their Library, 1840–1859
    (pp. 179-209)

    Because James Alfred Pearce and his colleagues in Congress elected not to turn the Library of Congress into a national library in the 1840s and 1850s, the institution’s main users continued to be not scholars or the public but the congressmen and government officials for whom it had been founded, as well as their family members and friends. Politically, congressional concerns in the 1840s and 1850s centered largely around the issue of territorial expansion as the United States pursued an imperialist vision embodied in the phrase “manifest destiny.” Not surprisingly, their Library came to reflect this andother political issues of...

  11. CONCLUSION The Library before and after the Civil War
    (pp. 210-216)

    After the Civil War, the Library of Congress entered a period of unprecedented growth under the leadership of Ainsworth Rand Spofford, who joined the institution in 1861 as Assistant Librarian, became Librarian of Congress in 1864, and continued in that position until 1897. By virtue of his encyclopedic knowledge of books and dynamic personality, Spofford usurped many of the functions that had previously been duties of the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, such as guiding purchases and formulating the rules of the Library. Unlike his predecessor, John Silva Meehan, Spofford was an experienced book dealer, writer, and...

    (pp. 217-220)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 221-252)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 253-261)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 262-264)