Collecting American Histories

The genius of the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History is that it documents a multiplicity of histories and not simply a single national narrative. McGregor and the Library’s curators endeavored to build a library that is neither too broad—so that it lacks focus—nor too narrow, so that it presents a distortedly limited, specialized viewpoint. Primary sources have been acquired not only for their rarity and significance, but also for their utility in revealing new facets of the American experience. As future generations of historians explore the multi-layered and often contested stories that comprise America’s history, they will find key sources for answering those questions in the McGregor Library.

This exhibition features a range of items selected for the diversity of stories they tell about our nation’s past. Some are famous rarities, while others are less well known and have yet to receive the scholarly attention they deserve. Some constitute part of the original library formed by Tracy McGregor and given to the University of Virginia in 1938, while others have been acquired as recently as 2013. Some offer welcome insights into the past, while others are uncomfortable reminders of American history’s more challenging aspects. The stories told range from the early settlement of Virginia to the Mather family of Puritan ministers; to the clash of Britain, France, and Spain over the North American continent; to the diaspora of Native Americans from their ancestral lands; to the servants and slaves on whose backs the American economy depended; to the boundaries of social order and disorder; and to the impressions of America recorded by visitors from abroad.