John Singleton Copley, John Hancock, 1765 (detail)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (complete image and credit)

“Thus in the beginning all the World was America,” wrote the English philosopher John Locke at the end of the seventeenth century. Like many European Enlightenment theorists, Locke had never been to the New World, but this small detail did not stop him from grounding some of his revolutionary ideas in the vast Enlightenment laboratory called America.

The Enlightenment, that great age of intellectual inquiry and discovery that stretched from roughly 1680 to 1820, drew fundamentally from the European colonization of the Americas. The discovery of the New World prompted a flurry of new questions about society, government, art, religion, and nature. Did American Indians represent the fundamental state of nature from which all human societies developed? Could a perfect new government or society—uncorrupted by European degeneracy—be created in the New World? Did plants, animals, and peoples improve or degenerate in the American climate? These were just a few of the questions that revolutionized intellectual life in this era.


I am indebted to a number of people and institutions for making this exhibition possible. The idea for the exhibition was hatched during a chance conversation with Elizabeth Fischbach, Exhibits Manager and Designer for the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries. She has cheerfully spent countless hours working with me on every aspect of the exhibition and catalogue, and I am immensely grateful for her wisdom and expert eye. Admiration and thanks go equally to John E. Mustain, Curator of Rare Books for the Stanford University Libraries, whose boundless knowledge of early modern books generally and Stanford’s collection specifically were indispensable as we chose the books for this exhibition and discovered their delightful individual quirks.

A number of people worked to create the online version of the exhibition and I thank them for their efforts: Stuart Snydman, Manager of Digital Production and Digital Library Applications; Doris Cheung, Digital Production Coordinator, Astrid Smith, Rare Book and Special Collections Digitization Specialist, and Wayne Vanderkuil, Senior Digitization Specialist (all from Digital Library Systems and Services); and Joseph Geller and Jenny Johnson, Project Archivists (both of Special Collections and University Archives).

Julia Mansfield and Scott Spillman, Ph.D. candidates in the Department of History at Stanford University, helped with background research and label copy. Julia also secured permissions to reproduce some of the paintings and images not in Stanford’s collection. I am very grateful for their enthusiasm and historical detective work. Benjamin Stone, Curator for American and British History, Stanford University Libraries, kindly assisted with a few knotty bibliographical matters.

The Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SiCa) funded this project with a generous Arts and Humanities Grant. Permission to reproduce paintings and images within the exhibition was granted by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the Missouri History Museum, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Caroline Winterer
Professor of American History
Stanford University


It is a pleasure and an honor to contribute a foreword for the print catalogue and online version of the exhibition, The American Enlightenment: Treasures from the Stanford University Libraries, in which Stanford Professor of History Caroline Winterer captures splendidly and elegantly the significance of these books from the libraries’ collections. In the past few years two large and especially important collections have enriched our holdings immeasurably and instantly; both are represented in this exhibition.

In 2007 we acquired the Jay Fliegelman Library of Association Copies, a collection of more than 150 titles dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, owned and in most cases signed or annotated by a person of historical significance. This collection has been used steadily since its arrival; several of the titles are featured in this exhibition. Jay Fliegelman was the William Robertson Coe Professor of American Literature at Stanford and a passionate book collector. During his final illness, Jay approached me and proposed that the Stanford University Libraries purchase his collection in its entirety. Happily, all proceeded smoothly and I was able to assure Jay that his collection would be here permanently.

In addition, over the past two years we were the beneficiaries of a remarkably generous gift: the Charles J. Tanenbaum Collection of the Eighteenth Century, a collection focusing on the Anglo-American world. This wide-ranging collection, built by the late New York bibliophile Charles Tanenbaum, includes voyages and travels, classical authors, Enlightenment thinkers, and law, among other areas, but is especially strong in history and politics. This gift of more than 1,600 volumes strengthens our holdings significantly, and we are immensely grateful to Charles and his family for this donation. Charles was a longtime friend of Stanford University, Stanford University Libraries, and the Department of Special Collections. In 1987, he curated an exhibition here, To Frame a Union: A Collector’s View of the Constitution on its Bicentennial, many of the items displayed coming from his own collection. Charles’s passion for his books, pamphlets, and maps was fueled in large part by the “materiality” of the documents themselves; he once mentioned to me that he feared that students who read only online versions of texts were being short-changed, engaging in what he called “disembodied reading.”

It is rewarding to acquire new titles for Stanford’s Special Collections; it is yet more rewarding to see them used so extensively by our faculty and students. Caroline Winterer makes use of our collections often for both research and teaching; as such, she is keen to know of new acquisitions and extraordinarily appreciative when we acquire materials useful for her work and that of her students, both graduate and undergraduate. In addition, Professor Winterer features in her colonial and revolutionary American history class an assignment in which each student works with a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century item from our collections as the focus of a research paper. We collaborate on a list of course reserves of some fifty items, all made available for the students to work on in the Special Collections reading room. The students are encouraged to work with the text but also to explore and address the materiality of the item itself: its format, its paper, its binding, its former owners, or its marginalia. This leads them to discover and understand in a meaningful way how “material” these texts are and directs them into new areas of research, from trying to identify the audience for a grand folio to understanding the printing and folding of the sheets in the most humble pamphlet. We welcome questions from the students, and I find those directed to me both interesting and stimulating, whether they involve the intellectual content or bibliographical aspects of the work. Working closely with Caroline and her students has been among the most rewarding things I have done here in my many years in Special Collections.

John E. Mustain
Curator of Rare Books, Stanford University Libraries

Exhibition Catalogue

A catalogue of the exhibition has been published jointly by the Stanford University Libraries and the Stanford Institute for Creativity in the Arts, 2011. Forty-one short, book-focused essays on aspects of the American Enlightenment, written by Stanford Professor of History Caroline Winterer in collaboration with Stanford doctoral students Julia Mansfield and Scott Spillman, are generously illustrated with images from the books in the exhibition. Foreword by John Mustain, Curator of Rare Books for the Stanford University Libraries.

Length: 64 pages
Illustrations: 14 full-color reproductions, 58 duotones
Size: 8 x 10.625 inches
Binding: sewn; drawn-on paper cover and gate-fold flaps
Price: $15 plus tax and shipping

The catalogue can be purchased either in person or via mail beginning mid-February 2011.
In person: Special Collections Reading Room, Green Library Bing Wing (10–5 M–F)
Via mail and personal check (sorry, we don't accept credit card payments):
Go to the following URL and select "non-vendor printable order form and info"

Visit the Exhibition

The physical exhibition will be on display in the Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda, Green Library Bing Wing, Stanford University, February 7 through July 15, 2011. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open; case lights are on Monday–Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 12 to 6 p.m. Building hours vary with the academic schedule, so it's a good idea to call the Green Library hours recording line at 650-723-0931 or go to before you make the trip.

EXHIBIT EXTENDED THROUGH MID-JULY: The physical exhibition will be on display in the Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda, Green Library Bing Wing, Stanford University, February 7 through July 15, 2011.

NOTE: Visitors without a Stanford University i.d. must register at the south entrance portal to Green Library’s East Wing to gain access to the exhibition. For a map of campus and transportation information, go to



"Rare book collection on display at Stanford University," The San Jose Mercury News   |  Article   

The San Jose Mercury News writes that  '"The American Enlightenment: Treasures from the Stanford University Libraries," offers a glimpse of transatlantic intellectual debates triggered by the discovery of the New World..."


"The American Enlightenment: Treasures from the Stanford Universtiy Libraries," The Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SiCa)   |  Video  

SiCa features a short video on the exhibition, including interviews with Caroline Winterer and John Mustain


"Enlightenment in the Margins," Common-Place (vol. 11,  no. 4.5)  |  Review

An in-depth review featured in Common-Place, an online journal for "all sorts of things relating to early American life."


"Stanford Libraries Share a Treasure Trove of American History," The Human Experience   |  Article 

Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences describes the exhibition in their online News Center


"Presidents Factor Heavily in the Wake of Presidents Day," Stanford University Digital Library Systems & Services   |  Blog

Stanford's Digital Production Group includes insight into the behind-the-scenes digitization work that went into the exhibition


"Preparing the Past for the Present," Palo Alto Online   |  Article

An article about Stanford's Special Collections' various historical documents references the exhibition


"In the News: Book Clubs for Men, Bye-Bye Dewey Decimal," The New Yorker  |  Blog 

The exhibition is mentioned in The New Yorker's "The Book Bench: Loose leafs from the New Yorker Books Department"



Syndicate content