American View Books

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Image credit: Historic Yorktown Virginia. (Yorktown: J.S. DeNeufville, 19–)
Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University

Avery’s American View Books Collection provides pictorial documentation of cities and towns throughout the United States. The collection is comprised of 4,800 items published in a variety of formats, including printed books, photographic albums, and novelties. Together, these items present an evolving illustrated history of the American-built environment from the mid-nineteenth century to the twentieth century.

“The view books present a sweeping view of the changing American landscape. The images chart the growth of rural areas into towns and cities, the advance of the railroads across the country, and the rising popularity of county fairs and national expositions,” said Carole Ann Fabian, Director of the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. “The primary achievement of the view book is the documentation of architecture and urbanism in an expanding American landscape.”

Hundreds of thousands of images of buildings, streetscapes, monuments, and parklands from every state provide historical snapshots of the evolution of the nation. In addition, accompanying detailed texts describe the growth of local industries, the construction of major buildings, the development of transportation networks, and the characteristics of regional architectural styles. Many of the buildings pictured are shown from different points of view or before and after alterations.

Avery received a two-year CLIR Hidden Collections grant to support cataloging of the unique and extensive collection of American View Books in the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. The grant will support a major bibliographic goal: to define and produce a highly descriptive cataloging template for this document type that includes not only standardized format and subject headings, but also significant geographical data within the MARC format. This mix of topics, named persons, dates, and locations will provide multiple levels of access to users across a broad range of educational and experiential levels.

"View books are of immense interest to all those who study American architecture, urban history, and cultural history and for those who work in historic preservation and planning,” said David Brownlee, Frances Shapiro-Weitzenhoffer Professor and Chair of the Graduate Group for History of Art & Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. “Cataloging these publicationshelps us to recreate and tell the stories of our cities with unprecedented detail and accuracy."

Press release