Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2005 Issue

Ludewig's "The Literature of American Local History, now in the AED

Ludewig1

The Literature of American Local History


By Bruce McKinney

Following this brief introduction to Hermann E. Ludewig's "The Literature of American Local History; A Bibliographical Essay" is his obituary notice printed, in The Historical Magazine in February, 1857. Mr. Ludewig was a recent arrival from Germany, working in a second language, developing a bibliographical approach for the Americana field that would two decades later burst into full bloom under the steady hand of Joseph Sabin. It was Mr. Ludewig's privilege to see and seize the opportunity first. I'll let the writer of his obituary, apparently John Ward Dean, speak for himself further down the page

Mr. Ludewig's bibliography, published in 1846, is very interesting and thorough but troublesome because he does a very good but not quite a great job of compiling source material on American local history. He does it first and creates a trail that others will relentlessly improve. He delves into obscuranta that later researchers ignore in part because his sense of organization is so Alice in Wonderland-esque. He certainly belies the notion that all Germans are well organized. In that respect he may be the exception that proves the rule. Today he is so many iterations past that those who create and use bibliographies of American material may not recognize the debt they owe. They may not directly rely on Mr. Ludewig but they rely on sources that do.

What we now know is that Mr. Ludewig's bibliographical methodology would soon be transformed by men who brought a clearer sense of organization to the bibliographical enterprise. William Gowans, his contemporary and friend, was already creating careful and interesting catalogues. Joseph Sabin, the 19th century master, would impose, a quarter of a century later, standards on a field increasingly prepared to accept them. Even as Mr. Ludewig labored, many book dealers were employing techniques still in use today: alphabetic and or by-date listing, uniform presentation, citations when available and appropriate, and care to avoid duplication.

If Mr. Ludewig's format is tortured and repetitious, it nevertheless contains important, often obscure, information. He identified a great deal of material that is interesting but no longer remembered as significant. In working on this project I found countless examples of material he lists for sale on various listing sites, the prices weak, the sellers hungry and the material, upon receipt, interesting. All things considered, he exercised fine judgment.

The virtue of AE's electronic format is to impose clear organization on material that badly needs it. Today, in a database format, Ludewig's bibliography of American local history springs to life, finally free of the constraints of disorganization that plagued and harassed him. Mr. Ludewig has been gone for more than 150 years but today, the work he did and the information he prepared, now courses the internet, clearly expressed in our search results. May it always be so. If he is watching, he's happy.

Here is the first 1,000 records and a search box to examine them. Following the search box is the "in memorium" statement published in The Historical Magazine.

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