James Ford Bell Library
The James Ford Bell Library makes history come alive through its premier collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, archival collections, and other materials that document the history and impact of trade and cultural exchange prior to ca. 1800 CE.
Rare books and artifacts
Our varied collection of rare books, both print and manuscript, represent more than six centuries of human interaction around the globe. Our small but growing collection of artifacts include globes, paintings, and ephemera.
Documents, manuscripts, and archival collections
Government documents, letters, passports, licenses, and other documents of practice, both print and manuscript, can be found within this part of the Bell collection. Our archival collections represent the activities of both individuals and corporate bodies, such as the major trading companies of the early modern era.
The more than 22,000 maps in the Bell collection provide insight into the people of the past viewed their world. Many of these maps are freely available online.
The James Ford Bell Library's growing collection of digitized materials can be found in the Libraries' digital archive, UMedia. New items are added frequently. Most items can be freely downloaded; if you require images at a higher resolution, please contact a Bell staff member.
Kunyu wanguo quantu 坤輿萬國全圖 (Complete Geographical Map of Ten Thousand Countries), is the oldest surviving map in Chinese to show the Americas. This 1 foot x 5.25 foot six panel world map is one of the highlights of the Bell collection.
The James Ford Bell Library has a robust exhibition program, offering physical exhibitions in the Bell Gallery in the Elmer L. Andersen Library building, as well as digital exhibits, some of which drawn from physical exhibitions. Most of our digital exhibits can be used as learning modules for K-12, college students, and lifelong learners.
Prepare for your visit
Materials from the James Ford Bell Library are available by appointment only. Initial consultations will be held remotely by phone or online during the phased reopening of the Libraries due to COVID-19.
Material requests and appointments must be made at least one week in advance (this differs from detailed visit instructions linked below) and are dependent on staff availability. If you are not sure about what you would like to see, please request a consultation.
Detailed visit instructions.
- Fri, Jul 30
- Sat, Jul 31
- Sun, Aug 1
- Mon, Aug 2
James Ford Bell Library
Our staff works with individuals and small groups to locate materials in the collection appropriate for your research topic. The service is available everyone. All consultations will be provided online until the building is fully open following closure for Covid-19.
Teaching and learning
We support teaching and learning at all levels and welcome interaction with the collection. We work with instructors to craft a unique learning experience for students; we work with students to develop skills in handling, using, and comprehending primary sources.
Engagement and outreach