Archives and Special Collections are open by appointment only, limited to UMN affiliates. Appointments must be made one week in advance of your visit. Contact or the curator of the collecting area you wish to use for assistance. We continue to provide scans of requested research materials when possible, especially for our non-campus clientele.

"Trade to me is an expression of the world's economy of living. Trade knows no borders, no kin, no breed, no loyalty or patriotism, or sentiment."
-- James Ford Bell, 1953

The collection consists of more than 30,000 items: books, maps, manuscripts, pamphlets, broadsides, and assorted printed documents. It ranges in scope from invoices for rope, ships' logs, and gilt-edged trade treaties between Western and Eastern monarchs to diaries, travel narratives, and missionary accounts. The items in the collection currently date between 400 C.E. and 1825 C.E.

Uncolored 18th-century engraving of standing pelican with fish in mouth

The focus of the collection is international trade in the pre-modern era, roughly before 1800 C.E. However, international trade was closely intertwined with cross-cultural interaction, which led to the dispersion of religious ideas, changes in diet, dress and lifestyle, medical practices, and other societal changes around the world. Cross-cultural contact fostered interest not only in the people encountered, but in their habitat, and in the plants and animals to be found there. Consequently, the topics that could be researched in the Bell collection go well beyond international trade. The bulk of the collection falls chronologically between ca. 1500-ca. 1790, but there is a considerable amount of earlier material and we are adding to it regularly.

While the majority of the items in the collection present a Western European perspective, we have a few items, to which we hope to add in the coming years, that offer a non-Western perspective. At present, researchers can find material in English, Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Tarascan (a native Central American language).

Additional Digital Resources

Spanish American Political Texts Online

Historical Maps & Mapmakers

Visitors to earlier versions of our web site will find our Maps & Mapmakers pages on portolan charts, Ptolemy, and Martin Waldseemüller updated and re-imagined here. We have added new exhibitions and learning modules on some of our other historic maps, with more to come. You may view our entire map collection through our digital repository, UMedia Archive; we have some of our maps there already, with more to be added in the coming months.

Online Exhibitions & Instructional Materials

Student & Other Exhibits

Mapping Scandinavia: A "How to Do History" Class Digital Project