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Michigan State University

British Studies: the 18th Century, a Guide to Topics in the MSU Libraries' Collections: INTRODUCTION

This is a guide to 18th-century British studies materials, particularly in our Special Collections and Rare Books unit.


In earlier eras it was both possible and desirable for educated people to know a little about most things. Especially in the 18th century, literate English speakers could read literature written in several western European languages, expected to be conversant in the sciences in a general way, enjoyed reading history and travel accounts about familiar and newly discovered lands, and took an interest in philosophy and religion. By the mid 19th century, when Michigan Agricultural College was founded, the world had become more specialized; it was less possible for educated people to know and keep up with all fields. American land-grant universities built core book collections containing materials read by well-educated people of an earlier time. The more than 3,000 publications in Michigan State University's British 18th-Century Studies Collection is just such a creature. This Collection, located in Murray and Hong Special Collections, on microfilm, and in reprints in the circulating stacks has materials on most topics written about in the 18th century, with special strength and depth in English history, English literature, natural history, agriculture, gardening and horticulture, cookery, and veterinary medicine.

A few of M.S.U. Libraries' noted microform sets containing 18th century materials, the Goldsmith-Kress Collection and The Eighteenth Century, for example, have item-level entries in our online catalog. Item-level means that individual works on the film rolls have author/title entries in MAGIC. Many of our many microform collections do not have entries for individual works in MAGIC; there is only an entry at the set level. In these cases, researchers then need to use various printed guides to the different collections to identify works to study and which reels contain them. However, in 1994, Agnes Widder prepared a guide to our microform sets covering the 18th century, including reel guide information. This is a chapter of a longer publication; the microforms chapter is now on the worldwide web at Our purpose with this new web guide is to describe the British 18th-century materials held in book form in Murray and Hong Special Collections in more detail than we have had heretofore, referring specifically to Murray and Hong Special Collections at times. This guide also covers those microform sets which have item-level records in the online catalog and any reprints in the Main circulating collection.

Under the leadership of the late Henry Koch, Associate Library Director, the British 18th-Century Studies Collection flourished because of his interest in antiquarian collecting, British history, and, indeed, in all things English. We continue to add to the Collection today, thanks to the Library Memorial Endowment established to remember Thomas Bushell, an M.S.U. English history professor, focusing, at present, on conduct literature. To help gain a more complete understanding of these materials we have made a database of the subject headings of the materials in it published from 1660-1815 in the British Isles (in any language) or in English-speaking places in the world, including North America, wherever they occur in our Libraries' collections. We notice that often, but by no means always, the sub-heading "early works to 1800" is employed to describe these works in our online catalog.

View our short, online video about using Murray and Hong Special Collections in the M.S.U. Libraries.