The holdings of the Rare Book Collection trace the Black experience in literature, culture and politics from the eve of the American Revolution to the present day. Since the collection’s focus is not national but global, ample opportunity exists to draw parallels between the thought, experience, and writing of the authors and figures here with a diversity of voices from around the Atlantic and across time.
The collections contain early works of fiction, poetry, and autobiography by African-American authors, including a selection of notable early women writers and educators. For the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, much of this material centers around the publication of autobiographies by abolitionist presses in America as well as England, and ties in closely with a wider range of material concerning the global slave trade as well as nineteenth-century culture and ephemera. Twentieth century authors in the collection are represented as well, from Ralph Elliston down to Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones). In addition to first editions of these works, the collection also includes examples of small press and private publications down to the Harlem Renaissance.
Political Culture and Ephemera
The national and international debates over the global slave trade, as well as the state of American politics in the decades leading up to the civil war, are covered from many different angles. The rare book collection preserves a large amount of serial and ephemeral publications by religious societies, along with sermons, broadsides, music, and other genres. While some of these small works were intended for extremely local audiences, others were meant for a truly international audience and highlight the connections and contrasts between abolitionists, the suffrage movement, and the popular literature of the day. The speeches, both national and international, of Frederic Douglass, including one from Glasgow City Hall, are well represented in the collection in various forms, as are the essays of James Baldwin. Our collections of regional serial publications also cast light on other movements led by free blacks that were seen as antagonistic to the abolitionist cause in America, such as the colonization movements and their later echoes in pan-Africanism.
For questions or requests to access Rare Books materials, please contact Neil Weijer, Rare Books Curator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.