The collection consists of more than 30,000 items in the form of 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.
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).
Featured Items from the Collection
Additional Digital ResourcesSpanish American Political Texts Online
The Correct Way to Sail From Lisbon to Calicut
The James Ford Bell Library has a large collection of early printed books. To learn more about the spread of printing and early book production, check out this site at the University of Iowa: The Atlas of Early Printing