The American Antiquarian Society isn’t a destination that rolls off the tongue of most Americans. In fact, aside from scholars, I doubt that many Americans, even genealogists, are aware of the society’s existence.
That, in itself, is a travesty, given that the American Antiquarian Society was founded in 1812!
Therefore, today, I’d like to share a bit about the history and resources of what I believe is the oldest NATIONAL American historical society.
The AAS, as it is often called, is located at 185 Salisbury Street in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was founded by a Revolutionary War patriot and printer, Isaiah Thomas.
The main calling of the AAS is as a national research library, focused on American history and culture, up until the centennial of the United States – 1876.
However, don’t think that there is nothing of interest to genealogists who are not scholars because history AND culture are the very fabrics of our lives. No one lives in a vacuum.
How large is the AAS collection? Well, according to the orientation film which I viewed online, 4,000,000 items fill 25 MILES of shelves!
I would love to visit the American Antiquarian Society, but Tucson isn’t exactly near Worcester. Therefore, I browsed the website to see what resources are available online that would interest me in terms of family history and genealogical research.
First, I have to state that serious scholars would no doubt need in person visits to accomplish their academic goals.
On the other hand, those of us who want to learn more about American social history and culture can benefit from AAS’s online offerings.
AAS has been in the forefront of digitization of books and items to be posted online and the collection is extensive. AAS houses everything form newspapers and magazines to books, sheet music, valentines, board games and playing cards. In other words, it provides many ways to understand what our ancestors’ daily lives were all about.
The home page is constantly changing, introducing visitors to upcoming programs and exhibitions.
There are two ways to learn about online resources. First, look at the tabs in the blue border near the top of the screen. Third choice form the right is DIGITAL AAS.
A new page opens and here is a partial view of the list:
A complete list of the online collections can be browsed from the Digital Resources, A-Z option at the top of the page.
Additional choices include these categories:
At AAS/By Subscription
K-12 Digital Resources
Social Media and
Digital Humanities Projects Using AAS Materials (DH Projects)
Those are a lot of options to browse!
My first visit was to the K-12 Digital Resources. Many readers might skip it, thinking school materials will be too basic, especially with the wide K-12 range. Not so. How many of us are experts or even would consider ourselves VERY knowledgeable about The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865 or The Letters of Abigail Adams? Those are two of the sets of educational materials.
Do you have an ancestor who attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama? AAS has an online collection of 56 photographs of life there between 1890-1915.
Next, I took a look at Open-Access, which is an inventory of its digital images which can be accessed online. Items are categorized, with the first being an Ambrotype photo collection, with most subjects identified by name. Oh, would I love to find one of my ancestors there!
Lastly, I wanted to see what was offered in Research Guides. There are four collections here – African-American Resources, Architectural Resources, Indigenous Peoples Resources and Judaic Resources available at the society.
That’s just a quick overview, as I wanted to give you a sense of the types of works to be found online.
The second way to view online offerings is by clicking on the JOIN US ONLINE tab near the bottom of the home page. A new page provides three new categories – Virtual Programs, Virtual Book Talks and Webinars. All are free to view and are housed on YouTube. It is possible to attend events live, but advance (free) registration is required.
If you choose Virtual Programs, a list of ten upcoming or recent programs comes up. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the list, where there is another link to PREVIOUS PROGRAMS, which can be viewed on YouTube.
Here are some of the topics:
Rescued from Oblivion: Historical Cultures in the Early United States
Boneyarn: A Poetry Reading and Discussion about Slavery in New York City
How Baseball Happened: A Conversation with Thomas Gilbert
Before COVID: Illness in Everyday Life in Early New England
Cultivated by Hand: Amateur Musicians in the Early American Republic
My Name is ʻŌpūkahaʻia: A Performance and Discussion Panel Commemorating the First Missionaries to Hawaiʻi
Frontier Rebels: The Fight for Independence in the American West, 1765-1776
As you can see, there are a wide variety of topics and these represent just a small sampling.
The American Antiquarian Society is a true GeneaGem that provides us all with glimpses into the past lives of our ancestors.