Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 85,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World through the end of the twentieth century.

Search Tips for Using American History 1493–1945

Sixty thousand documents from the Gilder Lehrman Collection are available in the database American History, 1493–1945. Here are some useful tips to help you search the database.

Unsure where to start?

If you need some inspiration, here are a few suggestions to get you started. Please note: You must be logged into American History, 1493–1945 for the links to work.

  • Thematic Guides: A list of thirteen topics with selected documents. 
  • Search Directories: A resource that lists all of the people, subjects, and places mentioned in the documents. It is sorted alphabetically. This is a great place to start if you are curious about what we have in the Gilder Lehrman Collection.
  • Timeline: A chronology of key documents in American history.
  • Search: A means to find documents by a specific date or theme, or by archive or document type.
  • American History in 100 Documents: A selection of some of the Gilder Lehrman Collection’s most interesting documents.

I know what I want to do!

If you already have an idea for your essay or research project, enter a few keywords into the search bar at the top of the page. A keyword can be a

  • Person (not just the author, but people mentioned in documents as well)
  • Title (of a book, pamphlet, or broadsides (posters)
  • Subject 
  • Place  
  • Date

Too many results!

There are 69,000 items available in American History, 1493–1945. Your first search might return too many documents. For example, a search for the keyword “hospital” produces more than 2500 results.

Here are a few tips for refining your search.


  • If you want to locate a visual image, click on Image Gallery at the top of the page.
  • Use the Date filter to view items written during a specific time period. It is usually best to enter a date range. 
  • The Theme filter is an effective way to narrow your search. You can narrow your search to specific topics and historical eras. Don’t forget to click Apply.

Why are some filter options greyed out? 

If there are no documents in your search related to that filter, the words will appear in grey and you will not be able to select them. Try broadening your search, and check for typos.

What else do you have?

When you click on a catalog record, you can read a summary of the content and see the images of the documents. You can also use the clickable links in the catalog record to find additional documents with similar content.



Citation tool

When you have selected the document for your essay, click on the Citation Tool and copy the information about the document. You will need this for your submission.



Document Ideas: