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U.S. Civil War Era, 1850-1870: Primary Sources in Special Collections: Home

Introduction

MSU's Special Collections has a wide range of material documenting the political climate and social history of the American Civil War era, defined here as 1850-1870. This resource guide identifies 10 genres from that period which are well-represented in our collection.

African American autobiographies

Biographies and autobiographies of African Americans were published from the early 1800s. Many were written by escaped slaves. Find in Special Collections.

Above: A copy of The Rev. J.W. Loguen, as a slave and as a freeman: a narrative of real life. Syracuse, NY: Truair & Co. Printers, 1859.

Anti-slavery and anti-abolition debate

Copy of the American Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1836

Slavery was, of course, widely debated for decades before the Civil War.

Find works in Special Collections dated 1850-1870.

Civil War narratives

Hundreds of personal narratives of the Civil War had been published by 1870. They documented the experiences of soldiers, army doctors, prisoners of war, spies, and civilians in many roles.

Cookbooks and household management

Frontispiece from The American Woman's Home shows a woman holding a baby while talking to a young child.

Special Collections has more than 25,000 cookbooks from all over the world. We have English and American cookbooks dating back to the 1700s.

In addition to recipes, pre-1900 cookbooks often addressed other elements of domestic life:

  • household management
  • raising children
  • caring for the sick
  • expectations for women's dress and behavior

Find cookbooks published between 1850-1870 in Special Collections.

Hymnbooks

The United States experienced a surge in religious fervor during much of the 19th century, a period historians call The Second Great Awakening.

Religious publishers produced thousands of fiction and nonfiction titles to meet high demand. Hymnbooks for church services were also widely distributed.

Find hymnbooks published between 1850 and 1870 in Special Collections.

Sunday School books

Image of mother in rocking chair with three children around her.

The United States experienced a surge in religious fervor during much of the 19th century, a period historians call The Second Great Awakening.

The American Tract Society, the American Sunday School Union, and other publishers produced thousands of books to meet the demand for Christian instruction for all ages.

MSU has an extensive collection of this literature.  About 175 of these have been digitized.

Temperance

Illustration from a temperance tract shows a giant serpent surrounding a bar filled with kegs of beer, and a skeleton serving as bartender.

Above: the frontispiece of Death by Measure, a temperance tract, shows a giant serpent surrounding a bar filled with kegs of beer, and a skeleton serving as bartender.

Temperance was a significant issue during the Civil War era and after. Find works in Special Collections from 1850-1870.

Women's rights

Portrait of Clara Barton.

Although American women would not be allowed to vote for more than 50 years after the Civil War, the movement to secure this right was already stirring debate.

Works on women's rights, published 1850-1870, in Special Collections.

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