University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department


Books of the States

An Exhibition in the Special Collections Gallery

Curated by Iris R. Snyder

February 16, 1999 to June 11, 1999

Hugh H. Morris Library
University of Delaware
Newark, Delaware

Copyright Statement

The Thirteen Colonies

East of the Mississippi

The Louisiana Purchase States

To the Pacific and Beyond

Lands of Opportunity describes the formation of the United States through fifty books, one for each of the fifty states. The story of five hundred years of American history is developed through the stories of explorers, soldiers, merchants, scientists, farmers, and miners. The dreams of wealth and glory of the early explorers, the destruction of the civilization of the native peoples, the harsh realities of farm life on the prairie, and the rise and fall of the gold mines in California are all described in these texts.

The works in this exhibition were published over a period of three hundred and fifty years, highlighting the development of the printed book as well as American history. The earliest book in the exhibition is Argonautica Gustaviana, a printed collection of documents published in Germany in 1633. The documents include the original charter of the South Company, a trading company commissioned by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden which established the first Swedish colony on the Delaware River. The earliest work in English, A History of New-England published in London in 1654, describes the first twenty-five years of English settlement in the Massachusetts colony. The explorations by the Spanish in the New World are represented by a 1685 edition of Histoire de la conquest de la Floride telling of the 1539 expedition of Ferdinand de Soto.

The western expansion is described in many contemporary accounts including a French missionary's 1688 description of the Great Lakes, the first account of Daniel Boone's frontier adventures in Kentucky, a pioneer woman's tale of life on a farm in Illinois in 1831, and the story of a French nobleman's visit to the Black Hills of South Dakota. The University of Delaware Special Collections contains an interesting collection of early promotional literature for land sales in the western United States. Among those on exhibit are brochures extolling the virtues of living in Northwestern Nebraska, the territory of Wyoming, western Nevada, and North Dakota.

Many of the works in Lands of Opportunity contain fascinating illustrations including images of nineteenth century Native American life, sketches of gold miners and cowboys, and colorful pictures of birds and plant life. Of particular interest are the reports of U. S. Government explorations which contain hundreds of maps and images of the mountains, canyons, flora and fauna, drawn on site by botanists, geologists, and archaeologists. Also included in the exhibition is a small group of historic maps which show the Country as it was seen from the sixteenth from the nineteenth centuries.

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