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Selection Process

A draft list of about 100 titles was prepared from standard bibliographies such as Clark's Travels in the Old South, Hubach's Early Midwestern Travel Narratives, and Wagner and Camp's The Plains and the Rockies.  Letters were then sent to every state historical society in the U.S. soliciting suggestions of classic exploration and settlement accounts from each state, which expanded the initial list by about a third.

This draft bibliography was submitted to a nationwide editorial advisory committee for review. Committee members included academic specialists in history, geography, and Native American studies, as well as teachers of undergraduates and high school students, and reference staff in historical societies and museums across the country. Using specific selection guidelines (below), they identified certain titles as indispensable, recommended others be deleted, and advised new ones to be considered.

The draft bibliography was also checked against well-known reference works and secondary sources. Works were weighted by how prominently they were featured in the Encyclopedia Britannica article "North America: European Exploration & Conquest ," the Oxford Companion to American History, John Allen's 3-volume Exploration of North America, David Quinn's 5-volume New American World, the Harvard Guide to American History, Scribner's Atlas of American History, and recent American history textbooks.

In the end, the narratives most frequently cited in these standard sources and most often recommended by the advisory committee were selected. The resulting list was reduced by omitting texts already easily available on the Web (which will be linked in the "About" files) and augmented with selected manuscript materials housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

View works proposed for inclusion

Selection Guidelines

Project Goal: to make the classic American exploration and settlement narratives easily available on the Web.

Audience: non-specialists, starting with high school students in the National History Day program, 2003-2004, and the general public during the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial, 2003-2006. Any curious layperson should find the most important primary sources easily accessible here.

Chronological Scope: emphasis is on the earliest accounts of America by Europeans and responses by contemporary Indians to European contact.

Geographical Scope: emphasis is on what is now the U.S., except when the notoriety of an expedition or explorer demands that that definition be stretched.  Hence the Norse Voyages and Columbus must be included but Cortes is omitted. Although there is much information here about the Caribbean and Canada, descriptions of what is today the United States take priority, with titles fairly evenly balanced across 6 regions: Northeast, Southeast, Great Lakes & Mississippi Valley, Plains & Rockies, Southwest & California, and the Pacific Northwest & Hawaii.

Cultural Scope: Spanish, English, French, German, Dutch, Russian and Scandinavian authors are represented in rough proportion to their cultural influence (many Spanish, French and English authors; fewer of the others). Native American testimony from each region will be indexed to reflect as many distinct nations as possible.

Languages: although the vast majority of works are in English, a few sources in original languages will be included for students who wish to pursue literary, linguistic or rhetorical inquiries.

Formats: most works are printed books, many of which had to be excerpted (only the Hawaiian and North American portions of Cook's third voyage, for example). Up to 10% of the works will be manuscripts, in order to encourage use of manuscripts by National History Day students.

Copyright Status: nearly all the texts selected are in the public domain, including many original 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century volumes.

Size Limit: The total number of pages reproduced and indexed is expected to be roughly 18,000, or about 3,000 pages per geographic region.

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