Every American student from elementary to college level is required to take courses that include units on the colonial period in United States history. Knowing what books to recommend or acquire on this prolific subject can be a daunting task for high school, public, and academic librarians. A quick search in OCLC's WorldCat database retrieved more than 5,500 books alone under the basic subject heading "United States--History, Colonial Period, ca. 1600-1885." It appears that the general public also has a healthy appetite for books on this topic. The online bookseller Barnes and Noble.com stocks hundreds of books (335 to be exact) coded with the keywords "17th century United States." A search in Amazon.com using the keywords "United States Colonial Period, ca. 1600-1775" retrieved 597 matches.
Given the universality of this topic, combined with the volume of publishing in this area, it seemed to me that a pathfinder would be extremely useful. This column describes core resources in colonial history, specifically seventeenth-century American history. Not all the books listed are readily available or even in print. The author has deliberately included excellent out-of-print books in the hope that any library that owns them will retain them, and that other libraries will purchase them if they become available in the future.
The guest columnist is well informed on our nation's beginnings. Matthew J. Wayman currently serves as a reference librarian at Pennsylvania State University--Abington College. Wayman holds a bachelor's degree in history from Rutgers University as well as an MLS degree from the same institution and is currently enrolled in the MA program in history at Temple University. He is currently a member of the Reference Sources Committee of the RUSA Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES). While colonial history is his passion, he is also interested in building career collections. He has authored a chapter on internships in a forthcoming ALA/RUSA Occasional Paper and has recently written an article titled "Career Information and Salary Surveys" for a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Business and Finance Librarianship.--Editor
Why write this column? This author is obviously biased: he loves history. But there are other reasons. Direct your attention to a recent article describing the lack of knowledge high school seniors have on American history in general. One member of the National Assessment Governing Board claimed the scores were "truly abysmal." (1) It seems more important than ever that we provide access to quality sources in American history. This column provides a starting point by covering the events and people in America's earliest settlements.
So, what happened in the seventeenth century? Early settlements were founded at Roanoke, Jamestown, and Plymouth. Puritan missionaries attempted the conversion, and later enslavement, of American Indians. The Indian population was devastated by smallpox epidemics and wars with colonists. The slave trade began, fostering development of the plantation system. New Amsterdam became New York. The infamous witch trials occurred in Salem. The list goes on. We see the likes of Roger Williams, John Cotton, the Mathers, John Winthrop, King Philip, Edmund Andros, Nathaniel Bacon, William Berkeley, and John Smith. The events and people associated with the seventeenth century are sometimes dark, often shameful, but nearly always fascinating and colorful.
The items present here, as the title of this column implies, represent those sources this author perceives to be the best sources treating the history of the American colonies through the seventeenth century. Topics not represented are exploration and non-English colonization. Covering the many explorers relevant to the American colonies in the given period would add significantly to the length of this article, as would Spanish and French settlements, and they may even require their own articles in this column. …