Southwestern Historical Quarterly
American Historical Societies, 1790-1860. By Leslie W. Dunlap.
Madison, Wisconsin (privately printed), 1944. Pp. viii+
In 1791 the Massachusetts Historical Society was formed-
the first in the United States. Before the Civil War sixty-five
historical societies had been organized. Every state east of
Texas except Delaware had seen the formation of a historical
group, as had also the District of Columbia and the Territory
of New Mexico. This book treats of the nature of the societies
before 1861 and their contributions to the knowledge of Amer-
The first part is a discussion of historical societies in general:
the need which gave rise to them, the processes of establish-
ment, membership and administration, state relations and
finances, activities in the preservation and diffusion of docu-
ments, publications, relations among the societies, and the con-
tributions of the societies to the writing of American history.
The author has delved painstakingly into the manuscript files
of the secretaries of various societies, particularly those of New
York, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin, and has examined thor-
oughly the publications of the societies, including pamphlets
and circulars. His account, therefore, is full and detailed. He
has considered no phase in the formation and functioning of
the societies to be so simple or self-evident not to merit descrip-
tion. Thus there is information on the procedure of organiza-
tion, officers and their functions, types of members, fees and
dues, housing problems. The reader learns that the New York
legislature granted the state society an appropriation to be
raised by means of a lottery, and that the second volume of the
Reports and Collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society
was printed in German, while both the second and third vol-
umes were translated into Norwegian.
The second part of the book contains sketches of the sixty-
five societies organized before the Civil War. Many of these
groups were in operation only for brief periods, but about half
of the sixty-five still remain in operation.
In the preface Mr. Dunlap restricts the term American his-
torical society to "associations of individuals organized pri-
marily to collect, preserve, and make available the materials
for the history of the United States or a section of it." In
discussing the need for societies, reasons for their establish-
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 49, July 1945 - April, 1946. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth146056/. Accessed December 5, 2013.