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About Bibliography of American Literature

The meticulous examination of copies in public as well as private collections, extensive research in copyright records and publishers' archives, and a remarkable degree of accuracy make BAL one of the monumental bibliographies of the twentieth century.
- James L. Harner, Literary Research Guide, fourth edition

Compiled by Jacob Blanck and completed by Michael Winship and Virginia L. Smyers, the Bibliography of American Literature (9 vols, Yale University Press, 1955 – 1991) provides more than 37,000 records of the literary works of 281 American writers from the period of the Revolution to 1930.

As Blanck explains in his preface, the Bibliography of American Literature focuses upon the work of American authors 'who, in their own time at least, were known and read'. It excludes authors who died after the end of 1930, along with historians and writers of travel books whose works are not primarily of literary interest. Persons who were primarily juvenile authors, or authors of scientific and medical works, textbooks, sermons, or other material 'not of the character of belles-lettres', are also excluded.

The Bibliography of American Literature aims to include all first editions, chronologically arranged, of each author listed. In addition, it includes any book (pamphlet, broadside, etc.) containing the first appearance of any prose (except letters) or poetry by such authors. It records variant issues and states of the first editions, as well as details of illustrations and maps, and standard and variant publishers' bindings. European editions in English are included as and where necessary. Reprints which might be confused with first editions, and subsequent editions containing important textual changes by the author, are briefly noted. A selective list of bibliographical, biographical and critical works is also given for each author.

Certain categories of material, including periodical and newspaper publications, unrevised reprints and translations into other languages, have been excluded.

In this electronic edition of the Bibliography of American Literature, most front and back matter, including title pages, dedications, acknowledgements, forewords, author listings, etc., has been excluded. Explanatory matter relevant to the electronic version of the data has been included in the Help file. In addition, various other features have been retained:

  • The preface, giving useful information on the scope of the bibliography and the conventions used, as well as information on bibliographical history.
  • The list of bibliographic sources commonly referred to by the editors in the entries.
  • The lists of periodicals consulted and location symbols used
  • Illustrations of standard binding cloth grains.
  • The list of authorial pseudonyms.

The Bibliography of American Literature originally appeared in nine volumes, published for the Bibliographical Society of America by the Yale University Press between 1955 and 1991. Jacob Blanck, the project's originator and primary architect, compiled the basic data for all volumes and saw Volumes 1 to 6 through to publication. After Blanck's death in 1974, Volume 7 was completed and edited for publication by Virginia L. Smyers and Michael Winship, Volumes 8 and 9 by Michael Winship alone.

The preparation of the manuscript of the Bibliography of American Literature was made possible by grants to the Bibliographical Society of America from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., of Indianapolis, Indiana, and the National Endowment for the Humanities of Washington, D.C., an independent federal agency. From 1950 to 1990 Harvard University provided the project with a home and office space in the Houghton Library.