The history of education in antebellum America is increasingly drawing the attention of scholars. In addition to more general works, the American Antiquarian Society maintains four discrete collections which contain materials relating to individual educational institutions. Three of these, the Colleges and Universities Collection, the Schools and Academies Collection, and the Fraternities Collection, include materials published in the United States from 1821-1876, as well as secondary sources published through the present. Materials related to education published in North America prior to 1821 are included in the Dated Books and Dated Pamphlets Collection, and are accessible as described in that section of this guidebook. The fourth collection, Foreign Colleges, includes material published outside the United States through 1876, as well as secondary sources.
The Colleges and Universities (American) Collection incorporates both the official publications of specific institutions of higher education and works about those institutions. Materials in this collection may include: catalogs, president's reports, alumni catalogs, histories, obituaries, class reports, registers, calendars and programs. Materials pertaining to individual chapters of fraternal organizations also form part of this collection, filed with the college with which the chapter is affiliated. Many early college publications can also be found in the Broadsides collection.
The Schools and Academies Collection encompasses pre-collegiate educational institutions in the United States and includes publications comparable to those in the Colleges and Universities (American) Collection. The bulk of the collection is presently made up of catalogs and histories.
The 1800s saw many changes in the American system of higher education, including the gradual acceptance of women in institutions of higher education and the development of women's colleges. It is not always clear whether a female seminary should more properly be considered a college or an academy, particularly since such seminaries often evolved over time. At present, materials relating to female seminaries may be found both in the Colleges and Universities (American) and in the Schools and Academies collections, and researchers are advised to check both collections for relevant materials.
The Fraternities Collection includes materials relating to the national chapters of American academic fraternal organizations, primarily histories and catalogs of members. As mentioned above, the histories and records of individual chapters of a fraternity are filed in the Colleges and Universities (American) Collection. This collection does not incorporate materials related to non-academic fraternal orders, such as the Freemasons, which may be found classifed in the G394 section of the American History and Culture Collection. The Foreign Colleges Collection is mainly composed of histories and alumni registers for colleges and universities in Canada, Great Britain and Liberia.
The Colleges and Universities (American), Schools and Academies, and Fraternities collections are completely cataloged through 1840 and accessible through the AAS online catalog. Some later materials in these collections are also cataloged, but not comprehensively. Only selected items from the Foreign Colleges collection have been cataloged. There is some access to the Colleges and Universities (American), Schools and Academies, and Foreign Colleges collections through the Society's general card catalog, located in the Reading Room. Alphabetic and geographic checklists of institutions represented in the Colleges and Universities (American) and Schools and Academies collections are available online.
- Kathleen M. Haley, Cataloger, North American Imprints Program