Books, Maps, and Politics: A Cultural History of the Library of Congress, 1783-1861

Books, Maps, and Politics: A Cultural History of the Library of Congress, 1783-1861

Books, Maps, and Politics: A Cultural History of the Library of Congress, 1783-1861

Books, Maps, and Politics: A Cultural History of the Library of Congress, 1783-1861

Synopsis

The story of the early years of America's national library 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 nineteenth-century 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 lensthrough which we can view changing American attitudes toward books, literature, and the relationship between the federal government and the world of arts and letters.

Excerpt

T he 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 was continually redefined and contested by the country's leading political and literary figures, who often entertained widely divergent views about the nature and functions of a congressional library. Though congressmen generally regarded the Library of Congress as merely a small legislative library, because of its location in Washington and official connection with the federal government the Library often loomed much larger than this in the public imagination. in this book I explore conflicting views about the function of the Library of Congress and the larger question of government responsibility for fostering American literature.

By virtue of the range of books on its shelves and the way legislators used them, the Library of Congress was affected by, and in turn some-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.