The predominant language of the collection is English. However, books in French, Latin, German and Italian are also strongly represented in the collection, especially in Continental translations of British literature.
The Eighteenth Century collection consists of approximately 30,000 books and pamphlets, the majority published in the eighteenth century, over 400 periodical and newspaper titles and over 400 maps. There are also many books in the collection which were published before 1700; these have usually come to the library as part of another collection. This collection was formed and continues to develop with the interest and support of the McMaster Association for Eighteenth Century Studies and interested faculty. The donation of Dr. Wiles' collection of eighteenth-century periodicals and the purchase of the A.G. Rippey Collection were additions of immense value. McMaster University's collection is considered to be the best eighteenth-century collection in Canada, and supports the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Fellowships offered annually since 1987.
The British Isles is the main geographical area represented in the collection. However, since books on travel are collected, European travels to Britain and British travels to Europe and other parts of the world are also present in the collection.
Books, pamphlets and periodical literature printed between 1680 and 1800 are collected.
Books, pamphlets (catalogued as disbounds), maps, broadsides and serial publications are collected.
It is library policy that all items printed before 1801 become part of the rare book collection. While Research Collections has a book acquisition budget to develop the collection according to the policies outlined in this document, any pre-1801 books purchased by the departments in accordance with their collection policies automatically come to Research Collections to be catalogued and shelved in secure and controlled conditions. The scope of the collection is broadened by these departmental acquisitions.
The collection is exceptionally strong in the subject areas of British drama, British poetry and British prose fiction and novels. All suitable material available is added to these areas of the collection. In order to provide the research background necessary to study the literature of eighteenth century Britain, the collection is being developed in the fields of travel, history, biography, politics, religion and reference works.
In addition to the strong subject collections, the Division also has significant strengths in the works of particular authors. These are as follows:
- Daniel Defoe 1661-1731
- John Dryden 1631-1700
- Oliver Goldsmith 1728-1774 (see Library Research News Vol. 3 No. 5 May 1976)
- Samuel Johnson 1709-1784
- Alexander Pope 1688-1744
- Jonathan Swift 1667-1745
- James Boswell 1740-1795
The use of the hand-operated printing press before approximately 1800 means that books published before 1801 can vary not only from edition to edition, but also from copy to copy. It is therefore the policy of the Division of Archives and Research Collections to purchase significant variant editions of items. With respect to some author collections, the level of collection is intensive, an attempt being made to acquire as many variant editions as possible.