Note: The anthologies, histories, and cyclopaedia mentioned in this Introduction are available in the Anthologies and Histories, Recent Additions, and Other Resources drop-down menus. If they wish and if their screens are large enough, readers can have the website open in another browser so that they can consult the anthologies in the collection as they read the Introduction, or they can simply follow the links below. The website search includes title, copyright year, and publisher. It will also search full text where transcripts are available; the Project Staff is actively adding transcripts. Search results can be filtered by authors/editors and book type (e.g., anthology, history). The Project Staff realizes that our digital archive of the tables of contents of anthologies and histories 1829-2023 and of selected book covers is far from complete, but it is the most complete digital or print archive of this nature available and, as I argue below, it offers many opportunities for examining the evolution of the American literary canon and representations of American culture. The Introduction concludes with a list of the publishers that granted permission to create digital versions of the book covers.

The Tales (Anthology) Tables (of Contents) Tell:

Digitally Archiving Canon Formation

Kenneth M. Roemer

Musings on Representation

Oh, the wonderful things we did! The exciting discoveries and re-discoveries in women’s, ethnic, genre, and culture studies of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s finally struck the death knell to the Established Canon by radically changing the contents of American literary anthologies and histories in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Popular genres, long deemed unworthy of serious study, entered the contents pages; European voyage accounts and essays dealing with non-literary topics offered greater transatlantic and interdisciplinary scope to the canon; inclusions of African American, Native American, and Asian American authors often underrepresented or completely ignored, greatly expanded the definition of “America” in anthologies; and the significant additions of women authors in all periods of United States history finally broke the reign of Dead White Males over American literature.

The previous paragraph is, of course, an exercise (not a particularly sophisticated one) in fiction writing. With a few notable exceptions, the evolution of the American literature anthology in the late 1980s and very early 1990s was limited to ‘safe’ changes. To get beyond impressionistic generalities about American anthologies and canon formation, we have to consider the history of anthologies, which is often a challenging task because of the inaccessibility of out-of-print anthologies, though the Google Books Library Project has increased accessibility.

This website was born out of frustration and excitement. I first encountered the difficulty of obtaining anthologies in 1998. I was teaching a graduate course in early American literature. This was an exciting time to teach the course. Myra Jehlen’s and Michael Warner’s anthology The English Literatures of America 1500-1800 (1997) had just appeared, as had the third edition of the Heath Anthology of American Literature (1998). I wanted to establish a context for the canon changes implied by these and other recent anthologies by giving the students a course packet that reproduced the tables of contents of several anthologies. Because of time constraints, I had to rely on local resources. Our library had a few anthologies, but I had to depend mainly on a Departmental library that included outdated (discarded) anthologies and my own small collection. Even with these limited resources, the packet grew to include the tables of contents of 36 volumes and more than 100 pages. I realized that this approach to the anthology access problem was not beneficial to my students’ finances and not a good route to ecological sustainability.

Going digital was one obvious solution to my particular problem and to the general problem of access to anthologies and the need to place arguments about canon formation within relevant quantitative contexts. Starting in 1999 and thereafter, with many flurries of activity punctuated by years of dormancy, and with the help of a series of underpaid and mostly volunteer graduate students (first Matthew Levy and then Robert Flach, the first web designer, and then Jared Chambers, Lorie Jacobs, and Bethany Shaffer), the website Covers, Titles, and Tables: The Formation of American Literary Canons (CTT) came to (virtual) life. CTT has also benefited substantially from the expertise and assistance of the Library’s Digital Media and Digital Creation Departments, coordinated formerly by Karin Horsefall and now by Ramona Holmes. Despite the site’s limitations, it has welcomed as of June 6, 2017, 22,173 visits since November 2006 (there was no counter from 1999 to 2006 and the site was taken down for more than a year after 2006). After the site was transferred to the University’s ResearchCommons in 2016, it became the most often visited item out of more than 20,000 items. In the spring of 2017, visits to specific anthologies in the site consistently ranked as five of the top ten visited items, including the top ranking, which was twice number two. Even before the transfer to the ResearchCommons and the addition of the counter, the site attracted national attention as the lead digital source discussed in Martha Brogan’s Kaleidoscope of Digital American Literature (2005).

In the remainder of this Introduction, I will discuss some of the challenges limiting canon formation scholarship, briefly describe the current state of the newly formatted site in 2024, and offer some examples of how it can be used by scholars, teachers, and students.

I know we have much more work to do. A long-term goal is a more extensive collection. The present archive needs updating for both recent and past anthologies and updating for the American Literary Scholarship indices. But it is our hope that CTT now and in the future will continue to be valuable to university students and their professors and also for high school programs, as well as for librarians and book selection committees desiring to place their purchasing decisions in relevant American literature publishing contexts. Considering the recent controversies about the appropriateness of books held in school and public libraries, CTT will also help cultural and political leaders to place comments about books within the context of one of the most important means of transferring concepts of American culture from generation to generation – the literary anthology.

The Importance of Historical Contexts

As mentioned above, with a few notable exceptions, such as the first edition of the 1990 Heath Anthology of American Literature (Lauter), and to a lesser degree the 1987 Harper American Literature (McQuade), the changes in American literature anthologies in the late 1980s and very early 1990s weren’t revolutionary. There were “safe” changes – adding Frederick Douglass and Kate Chopin, for example, but not sweeping changes. Moreover, there were anthologies before the Heath and Harper that made interesting forays into the mid-20th-century canon, notably David Levin and Theodore L. Gross’s America in Literature (1978), and Leslie A. Fiedler and Arthur Zeigler’s O Brave New World (1968). Volume A of the latter (1600-1840) presents a radically different portrait of early American literature than portraits offered by, for instance, Volume 1 of Perry Miller, et al.’s prestigious Major Writers of America (1962), which appeared only six years earlier. Fiedler and Zeigler include many more authors, use a thematic organization beginning with “Mythological Heritage” and “Sentimental Heritage,” and instead of opening with multiple selections by William Bradford and Edward Taylor, as Miller, et al. do, Fiedler and Zeigler begin with short selections by John Smith (Pocahontas), Alexander Henry (Travels and Adventures), versions of the Hannah Dustan story by Cotton Mather and Mary Rowlandson, and Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle.”

If we expand our historical perspective to include one of the first attempts at American literary history, Samuel L. Knapp’s lectures published as Lectures on American Literature (1829); the first attempt at an encyclopedia, Evert A. and George L. Duyckinck’s Cyclopaedia of American Literature (1855); the first multi-volume anthology, Edmund Clarence Stedman’s and Ellen MacKay Hutchinson’s A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time (1887-1892); and the first major single-volume anthology for college students, Fred Lewis Pattee’s Century Readings for a Course in American Literature (1919), we also discover that many of the late 20th-century canon-busting forays were not exactly new. Authors and editors of these early volumes included transatlantic and interdisciplinary perspectives, popular genres, and underrepresented, especially women, authors.

There is scant evidence of a European travel perspective, but a transatlantic context is certainly evident in the Duyckincks’ section on British poetry and Knapp’s survey of English poetry from the twelfth century to the present. The interdisciplinary perspective is primarily scientific/naturalist. Mathematicians’ observations of Venus and early American physicians’ writings were, according to Knapp, relevant contexts for a literary history. The Duyckinck brothers include John Winthrop, but select his “Lecture on Comets” rather than “Model of Christian Charity,” which is the standard selection since the mid-twentieth century. The anthologists Pattee, Stedman, and Hutchinson thought that the naturalists John Muir and John James Audubon deserved to be in the American literary canon.

Popular genres were also welcome. The Duyckinck brothers’ Cyclopaedia includes journalism and almanacs. Stedman and Hutchinson feature extensive collections of popular sayings in volumes VII and XI. Edward Bellamy, Anna Bowman Dodd, Fitz-James O’Brien, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward represent utopian, anti-utopian, science fiction, and pearly-gates fantasy in the Library. By far the most frequently selected popular genre, however, was the song. Volume VII of the Library includes “Negro Hymns and Songs” and “Civil War Songs”; the Cyclopaedia features 52 examples of “Ballad Literature” in volume I. “Yankee Doodle” is, of course, included, but so are lesser-known songs like “American Taxation,” which no doubt would attract the attention of anti-tax groups today. Pattee includes a Civil War songs section, as well as one entitled “Twelve Lyricists,” where we learn that the popular author of the manly adventure Two Years Before the Mast (1840), Richard Henry Dana, also wrote the words to “The Little Beach Bird” and that, in Pattee’s estimation, the lyricist deserving most space (five songs) was a woman, Maria Cowen Brooks.

Considering their dates of publication, I wasn’t surprised that Asian American literature was absent, though Knapp does include a sub-section entitled “Attention to Oriental Literature.” I also wasn’t particularly surprised to find Phillis Wheatley (Peters) listed in the table of contents of volume III and Frederick Douglass in volume VII of the Library. As a colonial African American female poet, Wheatley certainly stood out on the American landscape, and Douglass was well known as a writer, orator, and reformer. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Library includes Red Jacket (Seneca), Elias Boudinot (Cherokee), and George Copway (Anishinaabe); that Tecumseh (Shawnee) and Winnebago orators appear along with Patrick Henry in Knapp’s discussion of American speeches; and that the Duyckinck brothers canonized Samson Occom (misspelled Occum), the Mohegan author of a best-selling sermon, long before he was re-discovered in the 1990s.

The real surprise for me was the number of women authors selected, especially in Stedman and Hutchinson’s Library. The publication dates (1887-1891) help to explain why Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Kate Chopin, whose works appeared very late in the century, and were not available for selection (Pattee does include Dickinson). But authors who appeared rather quickly in the revised canon of the late 1980s and ‘90s do appear –Wheatley, Harriett Beecher Stowe, and Rebecca Harding Davis, for example. So do respected “Local Colorists”: Jewett, Murfree, Woolson, Cooke, Foote, and Kirkland. Considering their openness to popular literature, it is fitting that popular women poets and fiction writers share space with the men – for instance, Louisa May Alcott, Amelia Edith Barr, Alice Cary, Catherine Sedgwick, Lydia Huntley Sigourney, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward. Lydia Maria Child, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony reflect influential reform writings by women. There are no female Native American writers represented, but there are two intriguing selections relating to American Indian history: Elaine Goodale was a popular poet who married Charles Eastman (Santee Sioux) and (after the publication of the Library) helped him to write his best-selling Indian Boyhood (1902) and other books; and Elizabeth Bacon Custer wrote the popular books and lectures that helped create the “Custer’s Last Stand” mythology. At one point I had planned to end this paragraph by listing all the names of women writers in the Library. But as that list passed 150, I decided that readers had had enough name-dropping and that my point—women were certainly in the Library canon—had been made.

The first paragraph of this essay was fiction. The last six were more factual, but they were still misleading. There is an apples-to-oranges comparison problem: is it really fair to compare the eleven-volume Library, designed for “popular use and enjoyment” (v), to the single, double, or multi-volume college anthologies of the 20th and early 21st centuries? More significantly, as those readers familiar with the history of American anthologies and histories know, I was being quite selective with my examples by emphasizing traits of the early works that paralleled the changes at the turn to the 21st century. My examples are accurate, but the majority of authors represented in these early anthologies were still overwhelming white and, with the exception of the Library volumes, male. So there was some truth to the first paragraph’s fiction.

My fictions, facts, and mixtures thereof suggest that any broad statements about the impact of the culture wars of the late 20th century culture wars and the controversies about which books should be taught in schools and the extensive book-banning trends of the teens and twenties of the 21st century should be discussed within the contexts of the history of American anthologies, histories, and encyclopedias. Unfortunately, ideological biases and theoretical/critical leanings combined with claims based on a very few anthologies lead to misleading conclusions about the definition of literature in the United States and the evolution of our nation’s literary canon. The latter problem is the particular focus of Joseph Csicsila’s Canons by Consensus: Critical Trends and American Literature Anthologies (2004). As Csicsila observes, even the few significant essays that do place discussions of canon formation within the context of anthology history— essays like Jane Tompkins’s “But Is It Any Good?” in Sensational Designs (186-201)—are typically hampered by a lack of knowledge of a large sample of anthologies (vx-xvii).

Of course there is an obvious reason why so few scholars use large samples of anthologies. Csicsila had to do significant archival work to complete his book. (See his bibliography in the “Other Resources” drop menu.) Most anthologies barely make it through one edition. Even for the ones that go through multiple editions (e.g., American Tradition in Literature, Norton, Heath), there is a problem: it is often difficult to obtain hard copies of older editions. Scholars must depend heavily on interlibrary loans. Fortunately, the Digital Humanities revolution increases accessibility. CTT is but one of many contributions of the evolving digital field that aims to remove some of the access obstacles. CTT is a small part of the revolution that includes many sub-movements: Google’s monumental and controversial project to scan vast numbers of books; huge archives, such as Internet Archive and HathiTrust Digital Library; university programs, including the Stanford Literary Lab; magnificent author websites, such as the Whitman and Melville sites; and manifestos in book form, for instance, Matthew Jockers’s Macroanalysis: Digital Methods of Literary History (2013). But during difficult academic budget times, libraries may not be willing to hold on to multiple editions of anthologies, or on to any anthologies for that matter. Hence, many anthologies escape the reach of the Google Books Library Project and other digital projects.

As exciting as the Digital Humanities movement is, we must always remember, as I will stress at the conclusion of this Introduction, that the “big data” route to literary analysis and literary history, must be pursued in conjunction with sophisticated historical, cultural, and less quantitative forms of literary analysis (including good old-fashioned close readings) if we hope to elevate the art of literary history analysis. Jockers acknowledges this. He warns that we don’t want to veer so quantitative that we proclaim, “ ‘Moby Dick is God, and I have the numbers to prove it’” (31).

Sample Uses of the Collection

Historical comparisons of the tables of contents offer a sense of when editors include which authors, which texts, and which genres and what these inclusions (and excisions) imply about canon formation, literary theories, and American culture. The changing natures of the editors and editorial boards listed on title pages offer insights about the people and institutions that guide the formations of the canon.

Where Does “American” literature Begin and Why Does that Matter?

Two provocative specific uses of surveying the collection are examinations of the “beginnings” of American literature and the amount of space allotted to each author. How an anthology begins can set up expectations for a general narrative of or at least a frame for American literature and, by implication, American culture. Should “America” begin with some of the first works written in English in what is now the United States? Or since those authors share the language and conventions of England, should “America” begin with English writings? But before the English arrived, other cultures and languages dominated written languages, especially the Spanish. How does that beginning define “America”? And thousands of years before the English, Spanish, and other Europeans settled in America, there were hundreds of Indigenous cultures and languages. Those beginnings would make 1492 look like a “modern” era long after “America” (without that name) began. Most of the early anthologies began their narratives with English written on the land settled by English colonists.

Up until the late 1980s, the major issue of contention about beginnings seemed to be, should we start by following Moses Coit Tyler’s John Smith as the beginning (e.g., Pearce 1950, Meserole 1969, McMichael 1974, and the early editions of the Norton Anthology, e.g., 1979) or William Bradford (e.g., Bradley 1956, Miller 1962, Brooks 1973, Levin 1978). There were important dissident voices, notably Pattee's anthology published by Century (1919), which opens with Franklin; Larzer Ziff 's colonial anthology (1970), which opens with a section including such noted non-Americans as Milton and Herbert; Robert Douglas Mead's collection (1976), which begins with "Indian Myths"; and Fiedler and Zeigler's O Brave New World (1968), which, as noted previously, begins with John Smith’s Pocahontas episode but places this text within the context of "The Mythological Heritage" (e.g., Hannah Dustan's story and Irving's "Rip Van Winkle") and follows that section with "The Sentimental Heritage").

In the late 1980s and 1990s a significant number of popular and influential anthologies broke away from the conventional wisdom on beginnings: the 1987 Harper American Literature begins with Spanish, French, and British travel accounts followed by translations of Native American oral literature; Heath (1990), Prentice Hall (1991), and Giles Gunn's Early American Writing (1994) begin with Native American sections; in Myra Jehlen’s and Michael Warner's English Literatures of America, 1500-1800 (1997), Marco Polo, Sir John Manderville and Niccolo Machiavelli precede Columbus, who is followed by Vespucci, King Manuel I, and Nahualt accounts; and the fifth edition of the Norton Anthology (1998) begins with European travel accounts followed by Native American creation narratives. At the beginning of the 21st century, the second edition of Volume 1 of The Bedford Anthology of American Literature (2014), begins with Native American creation stories but emphasizes that this indigenous literature is not locked into the past by including a subsection entitled “Creation Stories through a Modern Lens,” which features an essay by the Pulitzer Prize-Winning author N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa).

Two very different types of 2017 anthologies—one published by a large commercial publisher, the other by a university press—take strikingly different approaches to beginnings. The five-volume ninth edition of the Norton, with its new General Editor, Robert S. Levine, opens with Iroquois and Navajo (i.e., Haudenosaunee and Diné) creation stories followed by a Winnebago Trickster narrative. Wai Chee Dimock’s one-volume American Literature in the World (2017), published by Columbia University Press, begins with a section on war that questions concepts of chronological beginnings and definitely proclaims that “America” must be understood in a global context. It opens with selections by the 17th-century poet, Anne Bradstreet followed by the 20th-century authors Louise Glück, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, and then by the 19th-century Pequot author William Apess. American writings about wars from the 18th-century French Revolution to 21st-century Middle-Eastern conflicts follow this opening section.

The most radical challenge to the traditional American literature chronological beginning date came from the custom anthology phenomenon. The Pearson Custom Library of American Literature (PCLAL) was the most publicized custom anthology venture for American literature. Pearson advertised a “data base of more than 1600 selections” (Pearson). Each instructor could decide when American literature began. The lead scholar-editor was a highly respected Melville scholar, John Bryant. Unfortunately we may never know the impact of this experiment. After a bit more than a decade (2002-2015), Pearson abandoned the project. Professor Bryant’s analysis of the demise of the project offers provocative insights into how forces as non-literary as sales, marketing, production, and corporate management can shape how we define, not only when American literature began, but also how the American literary canon can be shaped and delivered. He offered these comments in a June 13, 2017 email to me:

“PCLAL made money, but sales people in the Literature area did not have strong incentives to market the custom option alongside single-book offerings. It was not clear how they would meet sales goals: customizing is a process; a book adoption is a more concrete object to be placed in stores and classrooms. Then corporate turnovers and realignments made things even more complicated. My sense of the demise is that it had more to do with corporate decisions than custom publishing or even marketing. There was a need get one hand to know what the other hand was doing. And sometimes bookstores needed to catch up with the custom concept. Dealing with customers was easy. Plenty of users found PCLAL intellectually and pedagogically stimulating. The texts were editorially reliable; the headnotes and period notes were lively and expert. Making a scholarly contribution was my main concern—making the custom process a way of giving users choices within the canon and of course outside the canon” (Bryant).

(The demise of PCLAL has made it difficult for me to obtain the list of selections and information about frequency of authors and texts adopted. If, in the future, I can gain access these types of information, I will include them and other information about PCLAL in this Introduction and the “Other Resources” drop down menu.)

The hybrid anthologies of the past decade offer the most exciting in-between option: between the traditional book anthology and the PCLAL’s and other custom anthology options. Several anthologies link hard copy to websites offering expanded selections and supporting materials. For example, see the richly illustrated second edition of the Shorter Second Edition, The Bedford Anthology of American Literature, edited by Susan Belasco and Link Johnson (2014), which begins with “America before Columbus” and “Christianity, Islam, and the Lure of Asia.” The 2338 pages represent a new definition of “shorter.” The most exciting hybrid project is the series of anthologies published from 2022 to 2023 by Broadview. Unlike the Bedford (2014), the Norton 10th Edition (2022), and other recent anthologies that cover American literature from “the beginnngs” to “the present,” the various Broadview volumes offer selections only through Reconstruction. For example, see The Broadview Anthology of American Literature, Concise Volume 1, Beginnings to Reconstruction, edited by Derrick R. Spires, et al (2023), which begins with “Indigenous North American Cultures and Literature.” With purchase of the book, a student receives a link and a personal access code. The code gives access to an impressive website collection. The site does justify the hype describing it: hundreds of pages of additional and contextual materials, interactive timeline, numerous images with illustrations including maps, introductions to poetry and poetry terms, a themed table of contents. This and the other hybrid anthologies offer multiple options for students and teachers. We have certainly come a long way from Falk’s Eight American Writers (1963) representation of American literature. Off course, a teacher in the 1960s could “cover” that anthology in a semester or, certainly, in an academic year. “Covering” all the options of a Broadview hybrid anthology would be impossible in several years. The ideal response to the hybrid anthologies is that students would become intrigued with American literature and its contexts enough to “go down rabbit holes” of investigation for many rears after the course is over.

Whether they compare the evolving notions of when American literature began in print anthologies, in a hybrid anthology, or a digital data base like Pearson’s, students will be invited to speculate about how the various points of origin set up differing assumptions about the nature of the United States as an English speaking colonial culture, a multi-lingual/cultural, transatlantic Euro-American culture, or a multilingual/cultural culture that includes non-European cultures, as well as indigenous cultures that differ linguistically and culturally from Euro-American cultures. The Bedford and American Literature in the World anthologies, mentioned above, even question static chronological placement of beginnings by emphasizing how “early” literatures reinvent themselves. Even if the beginnings of an anthology are not as provocative as the openings of these two anthologies, the texts and topics of the opening sections of an anthology may implicitly or explicitly stress particular questions or issues, and those questions and issues may influence parts or all of the selection criteria for the rest of the anthology and, by implication, for a course in American literature

Scholarship questioning the Smith-Bradford beginnings of America had been conducted for at least three decades before the late 1980s and early 1990s. The long delay in altering the beginning dates of American literature in anthologies can suggest to students that literary anthologies are quite conservative. This is to be expected and can be explained, at least in part, by the types of marketing and corporate forces Professor Bryant mentions. Furthermore, teachers often invest time and much intellectual and emotional energy into course design. Publishers know that changing a popular anthology is more than an intellectual endeavor. It can delight or annoy, insult, confuse, and even threaten teachers (and thus risk losing sales). It is no wonder that publishers began to alter the beginning date of American literature so late in the history of anthology publishing.

Who is a “Major” Author, What is a “Major” Trend/Theme/Concern?

How Do Anthologies Spatially and Rhetorically Weigh/Answer these Questions?

Another obvious classroom and scholarly opportunity facilitated by CTT is the comparative study of the evolving relative importance and portrayal of specific authors and trends, as suggested by the physical space allotted to them in different kinds of anthologies. For example, a two-anthology comparison of Herman Melville and Henry James suggests striking changes. In volume VII of Stedman and Hutchinson’s late 19th-century Library, both Melville and Henry James appear. Considering the 1034 author entries in the Library (this doesn’t include the songs and many anonymous selections), Melville’s 15-page entry is rather impressive. Most of the entries are only one-to-three pages, resulting in a table of contents crammed with multiple authors on every page. Authors vie for precious little visual space. The longest entries (e.g., Franklin, Irving, Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Lowell, and Emerson) are allotted 38 to 47 pages (Franklin had the longest), while Melville’s entry is about the same size as the entry for the well-known minister, reformer, and speaker, Henry Ward Beecher (one of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brothers) and a bit shorter than Horace Greeley’s (the reformer and newspaper editor). At least for Stedman and Hutchinson’s imagined general public audience, this suggests that before the Melville revival began in 1919, he was at least in the second tier of American authors, though the selections (“The Bell Tower” and three Civil War poems) might surprise today’s readers. James, on the other hand, took up only a page (from “Our Existing Civilization”). One obvious explanation for this is that James’s writing came closer to the publication dates of the Library (1887-1892) than Melville’s best sellers in the 1840s. But James had published several novels, including The Americans (1877) and The Portrait of a Lady (1881). Whatever the reasons – the difficulty of excerpting novels, the complex syntax, the non-American settings of many of James’s works – Stedman and Hutchinson placed James in the lowest tier, allotting him a tiny space on a crowded table of contents page.

By contrast, if we jump ahead more than a half century to the height of the New Critical dominance in criticism at mid-20th century and scan the table of contents of Norman Foerster and Robert Falk’s Eight American Writers (1963), we find a very different portrait of American literature. Greeley, Beecher, and more than 1,000 of the Library’s authors are gone. Only Poe, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, Twain, and James remain. In this 1600+ -page anthology, Melville receives almost 200 pages; James, too, is afforded roughly the same amount of space. As Csicsila would be quick to point out, comparing these two anthologies is not a sensible way to track the formation of the American literary canon. Both anthologies are untypical, one including at least ten times the number of authors selected for most American literature anthologies; the other including less than a tenth.

But the images of these two extremely different tables of contents can initiate discussions among students about the ways in which the backgrounds and theoretical leanings of the editors, the intended audiences, and concepts of American literature yielded anthologies that in turn defined American literature. There is an abundance of visual information available to the user of the digital archive, affording comparison between publication styles and historical trends often heavily influenced by the backgrounds of the editors. For example, consider the editors of the late 19th-century multi-volume Library. Hutchison was a journalist who oversaw the Sunday Literature Department for the New York Tribune; she was also a poet (Cortissoz). Stedman was an established poet and editor; he also had journalism experience and was a member of the New York Stock Exchange (“Stedman” 799-800). Both had much experience reaching “the public.” They wanted to make this “public” aware of the grand historical sweep of American literature during a time when American literature was far from being an established and institutionalized academic discipline but was definitely in the pubic domain; for example, poetry routinely appeared in newspapers. Their message is sent via content and visual display.

The editors of Eight American Writers were English professors influenced by both historical and New Critical approaches to literature. Their audience was the college student in an English class. Building upon brilliant New Critical scholars who rebelled against the old historical emphases on biographical and historical backgrounds and building upon works like F. O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance (1941) and reference works like James Woodress’s Eight American Authors (1956), they hoped to pass down the select masterworks of American literature as defined by methods of close readings that privileged complexity, ambiguity, and irony. These contrasting views of American literature are very familiar territory to most Americanists today (see for example, Roemer, “Reconstructing” and “Tales”). But they may not be to their students. Comparing the tables of contents of Library and Eight American Writers on CTT offers a quick and efficient way to open discussions related to other anthologies about the forces that shape the nature of anthologies and by implication the definitions of American literature. These discussions can also be applied to the histories on CTT, for example the implications of the shift from single-authored works by Knapp and Moses Coit Tyler, to tightly organized large academic group projects like Spiller’s Literary History of the United States, to A New Literary History of America from Harvard-Belknap Press that offers a collage of more than 200 academic and non-academic contributors, each offering a brief essay on dated topics/events as varied as Melville, the Winchester rifle, and Obama’s inauguration address.

The anthologies and histories, also, provide a wealth of visual messages, implying differing views of how American literature and culture should be portrayed. It is rather easy to see the importance of changes in the covers: for instance, in early American anthologies, the change from the British colonial motif of the first edition of Pearce’s Colonial American Writing (1950) to the Native American motifs of several 1990s anthologies, including Jehlen and Warner’s (1997) and the first volumes of the 1994 Harper and the Heath (1994, 1998). The table of contents’ heading and subheading selections, organization, and font style can also suggest whether a literary history is written as an authoritative historical chronicle (Tyler 1878); as expressions of important ideals, themes, and unities (Parrington 1927, Pattee 1935, and Spiller 1946, 1947, 1948); as a reflection of both the unities and multiplicities of American cultures (Elliott 1988 and Bercovitch 1994); or as a cornucopic collage making no pretense of unifying themes (Sollors and Marcus 2009). This is another benefit to capturing the images of the pages; transcripts only or html data capturing would omit potential visual impacts of tables of contents.

The headings, subheadings, a text fonts are other visual clues to change. There is a striking change in the tone of authority and assurance of the headings. In 1878 in his detailed descriptive table of contents, Tyler used phrases such as "True Fathers of American literature," "True classifications," "first Americans" (British immigrants), "Birth year of American literature.” The density of the titles under these subheadings also suggests that there is enough material to constitute a national literature. Spiller avoided such precise and absolute terms, but his major headings -- all in capitals and often preceded by a definitive THE ( e.g., "THE COLONIES," "THE REPUBLIC," "THE DEMOCRACY," "LITERARY FULFILLMENT," "CRISIS") suggests (visually) an authoritative statement on the historical progression of our literature.

Some of the more recent histories still use the definitive "the" and some capitalization, but the titles and subtitles are less apt to suggest definite patterns and unified historical progressions. Part I of Elliott's history begins with the unpretentious title "Beginnings to 1810"; in Bercovitch's Volume I "THE LITERATURE OF COLONIZATION" sounds more multilevel and process-oriented than "THE COLONIES." The shifts in tone reflect the expansion of what we now consider American and literature. This expansion makes it very difficult to construct authoritative patterns and themes applicable to all American literature(s). The change in tone can also be used to suggest the institutional coming of age of the discipline of American literature. Certainly, Tyler, in 1878 and even Spiller, during the 1940s, were striving for legitimacy and authority. During the late 1980s and the 1990s, American literary studies had become part of the establishment. Elliott and Bercovitch had the luxury of speaking in more non-authoritarian ways and of allowing "public" disagreements among the contributors to their literary histories.

This trend is especially obvious in the table of contents of Sollors and Marcus’s A New Literary History of America (2009) and Susan Balasco’s A Companion to American Literature (2020). The 37-image cover is an appropriate introduction to this collage history, which stirred much debate when it appeared (see Bauerlein and Wald). Gone are the dense blocks of subheadings followed by numerous titles, gone are any definitive THEs, gone are any attempts at thematic or broad periodization organization. Instead, we have a chronological, single column of words (titles and the contributor), each introduced by a specific date, and marching over 15 pages. Instead of “Birth Year of American Literature” or “THE COLONIES” or “Beginnings,” we have “1507 The name ‘America’ appears on a map.” There are expected author names – “Anne Bradstreet,” “Phillis Wheatley” – and texts – “The Scarlet Letter,” but also the unexpected – “Carl Schurtz” (the first German-born Senator), “The Winchester Rifle.” One reviewer has defined certain themes and issues (Jacobson 238-40), but these are networks that the reader has to extract / impose on this “carnival” collage of literary history (Bauerlein and Wald B15). In significant ways, the table of contents suggests that this “new” history harkens back to the spirit of expansiveness-sans-imposing-conceptualizing of the Stoddard and Hutchinson Library that was intended for public (educational) browsing and enjoyment.

The table of contents of another recent history, Wiley-Blackwell’s two-volume, A Companion to American Literature (2020), edited by Susan Belasco, Theresa Strouth Gaul, Link Johnson, and Michael Soto, suggests a more conventional chronological approach to literary history. Still, the diversity, as compared to mid-and even late 20th-century histories is striking. For example, in Volume I, “Origins to 1820,” besides the expected topics and authors, the 31 chapters include essays on indigenous oral narratives and Native literacies, manuscript material culture, non-English print cultures, disability and environmental literature, the influence of Haiti on American thought, and the nature of publishing networks. As for textual organizing markers, there are none, not even the dates used in A New Literary History of America. There are only titles for each essay. We begin with “The Storyteller’s Universe: Indigenous Oral Literatures” followed by “Cross-Cultural Encounters in Early American Literatures: From Incommensurability to Exchange.”

Tales Tables of Contents Tell and Don’t Tell

Despite the obvious limitations of the website, the few examples of uses I’ve offered suggest the potential classroom and scholarly value of a digital archive of tables of contents and covers of American literature anthologies and selected histories. I’m certain that students, teachers, and scholars will discover many uses for the archive that I have not anticipated. The possibilities will undoubtedly expand as the website continues to add more anthologies and histories. Future plans include the creation of a more complete bibliography of anthologies than represented by the present collection or by Csicsila’s bibliography and possibly statistical and graph representations and information about how the production and distribution of anthologies impact the canon. For example, consider the canon-glue factor: Paul Lauter once mentioned to me that several selections in Volume 2 of one of the Heath editions had to be cut because the company overseeing the gluing of the binding wouldn’t guarantee that this huge volume would hold together. Since an anthology table of contents doesn’t tell us which selections were actually taught from generation to generation, it would also be beneficial to survey course syllabi to see how the anthologies were used, though that would be an enormous task.

A more complete bibliography and digital archive, information about publication and marketing processes and syllabi, and statistical or graphic representations, must, however, always be placed within the contexts of relevant historical, cultural, aesthetic, and theoretical perspectives. “Big data” extracted from thousands of pages of tables of contents and ALS indexes do tell tales, but they certainly do not tell the whole story and could even tell misleading stories. The best representations of the evolution of the American literary canon and culture will integrate “big data” conclusions with relevant oral histories, complex conceptualizations, close readings, and a healthy dose of speculative musing. Those cross-fertilizations should help us to minimize temptations to reduce literature and literary history to statistics and graph and help us—to once again borrow Matthew Joskers’ words—to avoid making claims like “ ‘Moby Dick is God, and I have the numbers to prove it’” (31).