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NYU’s Tamiment Library Acquires Leo Hershkowitz Collection Documenting New York City History

April 4, 2008
N-377, 2007-08

New York University’s Tamiment Library, an archive devoted to research on labor history and the history of progressive and radical political movements, has acquired the Leo Herskhowitz Library - one of the most extraordinary collections in the city documenting the social, economic, and labor history of New York. Hershkowitz is a long-time professor at Queens College and a recognized expert on New York Jewish history from its earliest origins up to the period before the mass migrations of the 19th century. His library represents a lifetime of scholarship and collecting.

The books, manuscripts, maps, atlases, pamphlets, and city directories in the collection document the history of the city from the early 18th century through the 20th.

Included is a priceless collection of Judaica - early records of B’Nai Jeshurun synagogue, estate records, property inventories, and business records documenting the activities of 18th- and 19th-century Jewish merchants.

Broadsides, advertisements, auction flyers, prints, theatrical materials, and ephemera provide a window into the social history of New York City, its culture, demographic changes, and urban geography. Coroner’s inquest records, many relating to the deaths of African American freedmen, contain unique and important materials relating to New York’s African American community. Records of the New York State Supreme Court from the mid-19th to 20th century describe economic and political change, the building of the city’s infrastructure, the social and cultural history of New York’s growing immigrant community, and evolving ideas about family, marriage, gender, race, ethnicity, childhood, divorce, property rights, labor, and sexuality.

The book collection, with an estimated 20,000 volumes, describes life in New York from colonial times to the present — in business, the arts, medicine, criminal justice, politics, architecture, immigrant life, and social institutions - and fills in some very significant gaps in the NYU collection, according to Michael Nash, director of the Tamiment Library.

Students, using these manuscripts, in conjunction with the atlases, maps, census records, and city directories in the Hershkowitz collection, are able to understand how New York, its neighborhoods, and even individual buildings have changed over time. For example, working class communities, between Houston and Canal streets that in the 19th century were defined by light manufacturing and specialty production, have become upscale residential neighborhoods.

“The Hershkowitz collection makes it possible to place these economic changes into a meaningful social context,” Nash says. “It reminds us that New York, which is now the quintessential post-industrial city, was in the not too distant past a great manufacturing center with millions of blue collar women and men earning their livings in clothing, electrical, and machine shops.”

Type: Press Release

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