Western European History


1. History and Overview of the Collection

This document outlines the Libraries’ general policy on Western European history collecting, but it is not intended to be a rigid set of rules; suggestions from students and faculty are welcome. The Libraries’ collections support research on the history and historiography of Western Europe from the Renaissance through the 21st century. Covered in this policy are: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, San Marino, Sweden, and Switzerland. For collection development policies relating to Austria, Germany, Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, or Ireland, please see the links at the end of this document. 

Columbia University Libraries’ vast circulating collections relating to the history and historiography of Western Europe have been steadily growing since the 19th century and encompass a tremendous range of formats, historical eras, languages, and schools of thought. Areas of long-established specialization include the interdisciplinary fields of social and intellectual history, history of economics and labor, and gender and sexuality studies, while more recent curricular and disciplinary shifts have led to collecting approaches focused on the history of European integration, migration studies, postcolonial studies (with an emphasis on underrepresented voices), and the histories of extreme political movements on the far left and on the far right.

Critical historical and theoretical materials including dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference works, all non-circulating, may be found in the Early Modern/Modern Europe Reading Room (504 Butler Library). Immense treasures may be found in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which also houses the archives of the Columbia Center for Oral History, comprising some 10,000 interviews relating to world history and culture. Other RBML highlights are the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace European Center records, 1910--1954, World War I posters, and the David Eugene Smith Papers, 1400--1899 (with correspondence, manuscripts, and documents relating to the French Revolution), as well as extraordinary holdings of incunabulae and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, many of which have been digitized and are accessible through Digital Scriptorium

Relevant materials in religious history and theology are located at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary; works of art history and architecture are at Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library; the social sciences are housed in Lehman Social Sciences Library; and music materials may be found at the Gabe M. Wiener Music & Arts Library.

2. Academic Departments and Programs Supported

a. Undergraduate

Department of History majors and minors; Columbia College, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and School of General Studies students enrolled in Literature Humanities and/or Contemporary Civilization courses in the Core Curriculum.

b. Graduate and Professional Schools

MA and PhD students in the Department of History; MA students in the Modern European Studies program; PhD students affiliated with the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society.

c. Institutes, Interdisciplinary Programs, etc.

Heyman Center for the Humanities; European Institute; the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society; Center for Science and Society; University Seminar in the Renaissance; University Seminar in Eighteenth-Century European Culture.                                                                                  

d. Course Reserves

Selection for course reserves is up to individual faculty members. The Librarian will do whatever is possible to secure specific materials absent from the collection.

3. Selection Guidelines

a. Print 

Current publications on Western European history in English and in major European languages are widely collected. Particular emphasis is placed on the scholarly output of university presses and other significant academic publishers. Materials in English, French, and German generally remain on site in the Butler Library stacks. The Librarian will also retain major works in other languages on site (mostly Spanish and Italian) but all other materials are housed in the Libraries’ off-site storage facility (ReCAP). Reference works and significant works of critical theory and historiography do not circulate and are housed in either the Early Modern/Modern Europe Reading Room (504 Butler Library) or in Butler Library’s substantial general reference collection in rooms 301 and 310.

b. Digital Collections

Columbia University Libraries offers an extensive variety of electronic resources.  In Western European history, there is a vast array of commercially available primary source databases, including Voices of wartime France 1939--1945: Clandestine Resistance and Vichy, State Papers Online: Early Modern Government in Britain and Europe, Age of Exploration, European Views of the Americas, 1493--1750, World Newspaper Archive, Electronic Enlightenment, and many others, all of which enable researchers to access thousands of e-books and hundreds of e-journal subscriptions. These electronic resources complement the print collections and substantially enhance the range of Western European history content available to researchers at Columbia. Datasets and websites are not currently collected but suggestions from researchers are welcomed.

Columbia University Libraries has also digitized many rare and unique special collections items relating to Western European history. Early Modern Futures is a digital exhibit exploring early modern literary conceptions of the future, while Political Ecologies of the Renaissance brings together eleven scientific texts focusing on such issues as the art of war, navigation, and astrology.

c. Media

The Butler Media Collection consists of American and foreign feature films and documentaries, early cinema, avant-garde films, and video art, mostly on VHS or DVD. The Librarian for Butler Media, Film Studies & Performing Arts is primarily responsible for collecting in these areas, including acquiring streaming databases like Independent World Cinema: Classic and Contemporary Film, World History in Video: English-Language Documentaries, and World Newsreels Online, 1929--1966.

The Music & Arts Library maintains impressive collections of audio recordings, sheet music, and scholarship on music in Europe, including the lives and works of composers.

d. Languages Collected

Materials in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian are heavily collected; other European languages, including Dutch, Finnish, and Norwegian, are selectively collected and are housed off site at ReCAP.

e. Chronological Focus

Mid-14th century to the present day.

f. Geographical Focus

Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, San Marino, Sweden, and Switzerland; African, Asian, Caribbean, and Latin American nations with former colonial ties to Western Europe.

g. Imprint Dates Collected

The main focus of collecting is current and recent (+/- five years) imprints. When antiquarian acquisitions are offered via gift or purchase, no specific chronological ranges are established in advance; rare or unique materials from any period may be considered.  

4. Distinctive and Special Collections

Aside from its considerable holdings of European codex manuscripts and early printed books, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library collects personal papers and institutional records related to many aspects of Western European history, particularly the 20th century, World War I, World War II, and international peace-oriented organizations. Significant collections include the Acton Griscom Collection of Jeanne d’Arc Manuscripts, 1400--1943, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Records, 1943--1949, the Jacques Barzun Papers, 1900--1999, and the Department of History Records, 1890--1959. Please see the Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s “What We Collect” page for further detail on collection strengths and scope. 

5. Collection Strategies

a. Consortia and Collaborative Collecting with Other Institutions

The range of print materials focusing on Western European history is greatly enhanced by Columbia’s participation in Borrow Direct, OCLC’s SHARES network of international academic libraries, and the Manhattan Research Library Initiative (MaRLI), a partnership with New York University and The New York Public Library. MaRLI also enables Columbia to expand its electronic access to e-journals and e-books through cooperative subscription and purchase agreements with major European and American vendors.

b. Location Decisions and Selection for ReCAP

Minor works in English, French, and German as well as publications in other European languages are generally housed at ReCAP. Exceptions are made for underrepresented voices and prize-winning authors or books. University press and other academic publications in English, French, and German generally remain on site, either in the Butler Library stacks or in the Early Modern/Modern Europe Reading Room (504 Butler Library).

Duplication of titles is generally limited to works identified by faculty as being central to a specific course or works identified by the Librarian as being canonical to the discipline. 

Deduplication only takes place when a title has been identified for relocation to ReCAP and a copy already exists on shelf at that facility. Even in this instance, the Librarian will inspect the copy that could potentially be withdrawn for any unique features or unusual provenance before assenting to deduplication.

c. Deaccessioning

Titles are generally deaccessioned only in cases where the physical copy is disintegrating and no longer serviceable in print/physical format. In these instances, the Librarian will evaluate whether to make a preservation photocopy, to create or acquire a digital surrogate, and/or whether to replace the physical copy with another. Resources on obsolete formats are reviewed by librarians on a case-by-case basis; in instances where the original format has artifactual value, it will be retained even after it has been digitized or otherwise reformatted. Distinctive collections held in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML), the C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, and the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary are not deaccessioned.

d. Digitization and Preservation

As needed, titles in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library and in the circulating collections are evaluated by Preservation staff and, where possible, digitized. 

contact information


MEREDITH J. LEVIN

Research Collection & Services Librarian
  • Humanities & History
(212) 854-5802
Butler Library - 309 l Butler Library

JANE SIEGEL

Rare Book Librarian
  • Rare Book & Manuscript Library
(212) 854-8482
Butler Library - 6th Floor East Butler Library