Magazine article Social Studies Review

From the Collections to the Classroom: The Huntington Library and History Education

Magazine article Social Studies Review

From the Collections to the Classroom: The Huntington Library and History Education

Article excerpt


The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California is an aesthetic and intellectual oasis in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. It was established as a public research institution in the 1920s by Henry Edwards Huntington, a railroad executive and one of the most influential forces in the development of early southern California. The research library, often called the "crown jewel" of the institution, has a rich collection of rare books, manuscripts and photographs that spans ten centuries of history and literature in Britain and America. Thousands of rare and unusual plants from all over the world are showcased in more than 130 acres of spectacular botanical gardens. The art collections are distinguished by one of the most important collections in this country of British art of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and by a fine collection of American paintings and decorative art.

Touring the library, art gallery, and gardens makes clear (Huntington's) love of collecting -of books, paintings, decorative arts, and plants. Moreover, his penchant for collecting went far beyond the joy of personal ownership. It is because of his desire to share his treasures, preserve them for future generations, and advance learning that The Huntington was created. His thoughtful benevolence sets him apart from most other American millionaires.

-William A. Moffett, Director of the Library (1990-95)


With his wife, Arabella, herself an extremely influential art collector of the time, Huntington assembled an impressive private collection of materials for his library. His goal was to build a preeminent research library that would concentrate on British and American history. He bought rare manuscripts, books, and even entire libraries, which were delivered in boxcars on his private railway line to the San Marino estate. His library quickly became known as the "library of libraries."

Today The Huntington Library contains more than four times as many books as it did when Huntington died in 1927, and the collection continues to grow as the curators identify important new materials to add to the collection. Currently the Library houses more than six million items:

* 372,000 rare books

* 4.5 million manuscripts

* 359,000 reference books

* 500,000 prints

* 800,000 photographs

* 500,000 ephemera

* 5,000 maps


The Huntington is the foremost library in western American for the study of American history, literature and culture. Holdings date from discovery and exploration to the present, and include the first publication of Columbus' letter regarding the New World. Other highlights:

* The original manuscript of Ben Franklin's autobiography.

* The original orders from the Continental Congress to George Washington, dated 1775, appointing him commander-in-chief of the Continental army, signed by John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress and docketed by George Washington in his own handwriting. There are approximately 800 Washington letters and manuscripts in the collection.

* The papers of Lord Loudoun, commander-in-chief of all the British forces in the colonies, and the Brock collection of early Virginia.

* Californiana and southwestern holdings dating from 16th century explorations through Spanish and Mexican colonization to the present.

* Extensive 19th century materials, including Thoreau's original manuscript for Waiden.

The collection is used extensively for both research and educational purposes. Each year, at least 2,000 distinguished scholars from all over the US and Britain, as well as other countries from around the world utilize the collection for their research. A good percentage of these scholars are historians. …

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