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The word "book" can refer to two things.

(1) "Book" can refer to a bibliographic entity printed and published at a particular time and place and as such, potentially reflective of the society, culture, historical period, or other circumstances under which it was created.


  • You're studying Jefferson's political thought and want to know what books he owned. (Consult: Library of Congress. Catalogue of the library of Thomas Jefferson compiled with annotations by E. Millicent Sowerby. Charlottesville:  U. of Virginia, 1983. 5 v.)
  • You're studying how the Confederacy built an image or an identity and want to know what books were published in the South during the Civil War. (Consult: Parrish, T. Michael. Confederate imprints : a bibliography of Southern publications from secession to surrender: expanding and revising the earlier works of Marjorie Crandall & Richard Harwell / by T. Michael Parrish & Robert M. Willingham, Jr. Austin, Tex.: Jenkins Pub. Co. ; Katonah, N.Y. : G.A. Foster, [ca.1984]
  • You're studying Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution and want to know whether there were books or pamphlets published in England concerning "the madness of King George".  (Consult: the Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalog , available through the English Short Title Catalogue)
(2) "Book" can also refer colloquially to the physical format of material -- a bound volume -- whose contents derive from manuscript or early printed originals. Here, "book" refers to the nature of the physical container, rather than to the nature of its contents.  In this context, "books" can be facsimiles or printed transcriptions of original documents:


  • A copy of Marco Polo's account of his travels to the Orient, annotated by Christopher Columbus ( Polo, Marco, 1254-1323. Travels of Marco Polo. Spanish. El libro de Marco Polo / anotado por Cristobal Colon. El libro de Marco Polo / version de Rodrigo de Santaella ; edicion, introduccion y notas de Juan Gil. Madrid : Alianza, c1987.)
  • The journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition ( The journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition / Gary E. Moulton, editor. [Lincoln] : University of Nebraska Press, c1983- 1990 9v.)
"Books" can also be collections of such transcriptions:


  • Documents of the English Reformation / edited by Gerald Bray. Cambridge : James Clarke, 1994.
  • Major problems in the era of the American Revolution, 1760-1791 : documents and essays / edited by Richard D. Brown. Lexington, Mass. : D.C. Heath, c1992.
  • American intelligence and the German resistance to Hitler : a documentary history / edited by Jurgen Heideking and Christof Mauch with the assistance of Marc Frey. Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 1996.
  • Eurodocs
The ways in which one searches for these two types of "books" differs.


To identify books contemporaneously published, use one of the following types of bibliographies:

  • National bibliographies, which identify works published in a particular country during a particular time period, as they're published.
  • Retrospective bibliographies , which are compiled at a point in time later than the original appearance of the items included, with the intention of being a comprehensive record of publishing. These bibliographies are often of two types: subject bibliographies and period bibliographies
For more information on these types of bibliographies, specific to a particular country and time period, see Bibliographic tools for research in history.


To search for facsimiles or verbatim transcriptions of original documents, search Orbis by Subject:

  • Manuscripts--Facsimiles
  • [Name of manuscript]--Facsimiles
  • [Type of manuscript, e.g. Diaries]--Bibliography


To search for compilations or collections of manuscripts or early printed documents, search Orbis by Subject:

  • [Name of country]--History--[Time period]--Sources
  • [Name of state]--History--[Time period]--Sources


This material is based on the Web site created to support a series of colloquia in historical research offered by the Yale University Library. The initial site was prepared in August 1996 by Suzanne Lorimer, Susanne Roberts, Margaret Powell, George Miles, Fred Musto, Emily Horning, Cesar Rodriguez, Nancy Godleski, Richard Williams, Elizabeth Pauk, and Martha Brogan.

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This file last modified 05/28/08
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