Nature and Scope

American History 1493-1945: From the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, New York

Stump speaking, 1856, © The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History


Module 1
Settlement, Commerce, Revolution and Reform: 1493-1859

Module 2
Civil War, Reconstruction and the Modern Era: 1860-1945

Further Resources


This unique collection of documents brings to life American History from the times of the earliest settlers until the end of World War II. It is sourced from the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the finest archives available for the study of American history. Its quantity and quality offers a wonderful overview of American history alongside some deep research strands. It is divided into two modules: Module 1 Settlement, Commerce, Revolution and Reform: 1493-1859 and Module 2 Civil War, Reconstruction and the Modern Era: 1860-1945.


  • Over 60,000 primary source documents split across two modules, including correspondence, diaries, government documents, business records, books, pamphlets, newspapers, broadsides, photographs, artwork and maps
  • Majority of the collection is unique manuscript
  • Extensive cataloguing to aid search
  • Translations and transcriptions for many manuscripts
  • Secondary resources include chronology, essays, video lectures and interactive features
  • Features from partner organizations Mount Vernon and the Gettysburg Foundation

Module 1
Settlement, Commerce, Revolution and Reform: 1493-1859

Colonial America | The Revolutionary Era | The New Nation | Slavery and Abolition

This Module has three major sub-collections:

The Henry Knox Papers

This is a crucial collection of documents that sheds light on the revolutionary era and the beginnings of the new nation. It charts Boston bookseller Henry Knox’s journey to the heights of George Washington’s second in command and office as Secretary of War for the new nation. It contains fascinating correspondence between Knox and George Washington and the correspondence between Knox, his wife and relatives is an enlightening insight into marital and family life during this era.

The 10,000 plus documents making up the Knox papers offer a deep seam of research into colonial merchant life, late eighteenth-century family life, women in the revolution, the revolutionary war, the creation of the new nation and its politics plus land speculation and business in early United States history.

The Livingston Family Papers

This sub-collection is a rich source of information on 17th and 18th century colonial life. It focuses on the merchant family of Robert Livingston (1654-1728) with frequent themes being family tensions, cash flow problems, mercantile difficulties and colonial politics.

Researchers will be able to examine New York life of this time in great detail through more than 5,000 documents. Alida and Robert Livingston’s correspondence offers a detailed look at marriage and social life in colonial New York and Livingston’s business dealings reveal the issues faced by Hudson Valley merchants. The collection features the politics of the time as well with letters of governors, senior administrators and influential families. Linguists will be fascinated by the Dutch of the time – several hundred translations of Dutch correspondence are available.

The Gilder Lehrman Collection, 1493-1859

This collection contains an enormous amount of unique manuscript material that gives testament to Colonial America through papers of early settlers such as Richard Grenville, William Penn and Peter Stuyvesant. It covers colonial politics, the French and Indian War and the road to revolution with letters such as Prime Minister Pitt’s insistence on the colonies paying for war.

There is a huge amount of material on the Revolutionary War and the New Nation with key political documents and correspondence of generals and statesmen such as George Washington, Lafayette, Horatio Gates and Thomas Jefferson to name but a few. Highlights include annotated first-draft printings of the Constitution and reams of documents discussing political events. The creation and expansion of the new nation is documented in the correspondence of presidents, politicians and soldiers.

This sub-collection also covers the relations with Native American Indians, the War of 1812, westward expansion, the Mexican-American War and of course, the fierce debates over slavery and the eve of the Civil War. It contains some fascinating documents such as Frederick Douglass writing to his former master, the abolitionist John Brown on the run and discussions of foreign policy by notables of the time. The 11,000 documents of this sub-collection offer access to the many facets of American history up until the Civil War.

Module 2
Civil War, Reconstruction and the Modern Era: 1860-1945

The Secession of the South | The Civil War | Reconstruction | Westward Expansion | The Rise of Industrial America and the Gilded Age | World War I | Women’s Rights and Women’s Suffrage | The Depression and the New Deal | The Environment | World War II

This Module has two main strands:

Civil War Letters, Diaries, Newspapers and Images, 1860-1865
This archive of around 20,000 letters, diaries and documents of Civil War participants captures army life, the home front, combat and politics. The whole course of the war is covered from the debate over secession to the peace and Lincoln’s assassination. All points of views are represented here from the humblest foot soldier to presidents and generals. There are rich collections of unpublished correspondence from both the Union and Confederate sides.

  • Details the road to war with documents and correspondence on politics, slavery and secession.
  • Key documents by major players such as Lee, Lincoln, Davis, Stuart and Grant
  • Documents of African-American soldiers
  • Newspapers give journalistic context to events
  • The home front and women and families during the Civil War
  • Military documents, orders, medical records and maps
  • Photographs, engravings and artwork [NB. Warning, this collection may contain graphic images of death and maiming]

The Gilder Lehrman Collection 1865-1945
This archive covers American history from reconstruction to the end of World War II. It contains strong clusters of papers relating to presidents Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Cleveland, McKinley, Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt and a wealth of material by writers, industrialists and activists that help to bring this period alive.

Further Resources

Mount Vernon and George Washington
Explore Mount Vernon, the family estate of George Washington, through slideshows of photographs and see a selection of documents written from his beloved home.

The History of America in 100 Documents
These one hundred documents demonstrate some of the key themes of the period from 1493 to 1945. Each document can take you back into the full collection to help you discover even more testimony to the lives and times of the protagonists.

Mapping Gettysburg
Experience the famous Civil War Battle of Gettysburg through eyewitness accounts, historic and modern images on this interactive map.

Thematic Guides
These guides introduce some themes in American history through documents held in the collection. Find out how the collection covers Spying, First Ladies, Westward Expansion and more.

Written by leading academics, these essays look in detail at various areas of American history.

Video lectures
Hear and watch a selection of writers and historians discussing various aspects of the period from early Indian conflicts to the founding generation.