My definition of “social history” has been as broad as possible; I’ve tried to list here works on every possible aspect of 19th-century American life, from drinking to needlework, from social values to family life. The emphasis is on description & analysis. It’s an eccentric list, & it’s a work in progress which is updated as I find more sources.
Rita J. Adrosko. Natural Dyes in the United States. DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1968. Repro. as Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing. NY: Dover, 1971.
Wonderfully detailed discussion of dyes which includes information on how they were used & what the results were like. While the book concerns itself with the 18th & 19th centuries, most of the information is from the early 19th. Includes excerpts from two early 19th-century dyeing manuals.
R. L. Allen. The American Farm Book. Np: Orange Judd Co., 1849. Repro. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2002.
The plants they grew & how they grew them, with a section on silk & a chapter on farm buildings; illustrated.
American Life in the 1840s, ed. Carl Bode. Garden City, NY: Anchor, Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1967.
Collection of primary documents organized by subject; with notes.
Lynne Zacek Bassett. “Stenciled Bedcovers.” The Magazine Antiques, 163 (Feb 2003): 70-77.
An illustrated discussion of bedcovers from 1825-1867, with how they were made.
Carl Bode. The Anatomy of American Popular Culture, 1840-1861. 1959. Repr. as Antebellum Culture. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970.
A classic description & analysis of what 19th-century Americans really enjoyed.
Daniel J. Boorstin. The Americans: The National Experience. New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 1965.
A readable blend of political, economic, & social history.
E. Douglas Branch. The Sentimental Years: 1836-1860. NY: D. Appleton-Century Co., Inc., 1934. Repr. NY: Hill & Wang, 1962.
A classic description of antebellum culture.
William E. Bridges. “Family Patterns and Social Values in America, 1825-1875.” American Quarterly 17 (1965): 3-11.
William E. Bridges. “Warm Hearth, Cold World: Social Perspectives on the Household Poets.” American Quarterly 21 (Winter 1969): 765-779.
Van Wyck Brooks. The Flowering of New England, 1815-1865 new and revised ed. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1937.
Van Wyck Brooks. New England: Indian Summer, 1865-1915. NY: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1940.
One hundred years of the history of a region important in 19th-century American publishing.
Lettice Bryan. The Kentucky Housewife. Cincinnati, OH: Shepard & Stearns, 1839. Repro. Paducah, KY: Collector Books, n.d. excerpts online
An enormous collection (445 pages!) of recipes for practically every dish eaten in 19th-century America, including 10 types of ketchup & 18 flavors of ice cream.
Phillida Bunkle. “Sentimental Womanhood and Domestic Education, 1830-1870.” History of Education Quarterly 14 (1974): 13-30.
Shannon Cave. “Lewis & Clark in Missouri.” Missouri Conservationist, 65 (January 2004): 4-9.
Wonders & difficulties provided by a “butifull” area in 1804. Richly illustrated by Michael Haynes.
Lydia Maria Child. The American Frugal Housewife. Boston: Carter, Hendee, and Co., 1833. Repro. Chester, CT: Globe Pequot Press, Applewood Books, n. d.
“Dedicated to Those Who are Not Ashamed of Economy,” & full of fascinating anecdotes of people living beyond their means. And recipes for basic foods. And directions on how to rear girls to be good housewives.
Margaret C. S. Christman. 1846: Portrait of a Nation. DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996.
Catalog for the exhibit commemorating the founding of the Smithsonian. Political, economic, & social history; & pictures, pictures, pictures.
Holly Pyne Connor. “Group Portraits in Picturing America at the Newark Museum.” The Magazine Antiques, 159 (April 2001): 618-627.
A brief history of American group portraits, emphasizing early 19th-century works. Wonderfully illustrated.
M. G. Dadant. “Early American Beekeeping Literature.” American Bee Journal. Jan 1961. Reprinted 150 (Jan 2010): 21-22.
Bernard DeVoto. The Year of Decision: 1846. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1943.
A classic survey of political, economic, & social history.
Ann Douglas. The Feminization of American Culture. NY: Knopf, 1977. Repr. NY: Noonday, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1998.
An important social history, with chapters on literature.
Ann Douglas. “Heaven Our Home: Consolation Literature in the Northern United States, 1830-1880.” American Quarterly 26 (1974): 496-515.
A. Roger Ekirch. At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past. NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005.
An engaging & highly readable survey of the social history of night: work, entertainment, & dangers both real & imagined. Though the book also covers Great Britain & western Europe, there’s enough that applies to the U. S. to make it useful here. Many illustrations. A wonderful example of thorough research.
Expressions of Innocence and Eloquence: Selections from the Jane Katcher Collection of Americana, ed. Jane Katcher, David A. Schorsch, and Ruth Wolfe. Seattle, WA: Marquand Books, 2006.
Decorative folk art, including ephemera, paintings, drawings, and doo-dads of every kind, lushly illustrated, with essays on the art forms and a descriptive catalog; and it comes with a marvelous bookmark!
Ann Fabian. Card Sharps, Dream Books, & Bucket Shops: Gambling in 19th-Century America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.
“Facing History.” Smithsonian Magazine. November 1999: 136-141.
A photographic essay of photographs of antebellum African-Americans, several of them children. Taken from Hidden Witness, by Jackie Napolean Wilson (see below).
Alice Fahs. The Imagined Civil War: Popular Literature of the North & South, 1861-1865. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
James J. Farrell. Inventing the American Way of Death: 1830-1920. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980.
Robin Jaffee Frank. Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.
A fascinating discussion of portrait miniatures & their importance in American life; filled with illustrations; with a superb bibliography.
Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr. “Industrialization and the American Family: A Look Backward.” American Sociological Review June 1966: 326-37.
Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett. At Home: The American Family, 1750-1870. N.p.: Harry N. Abrams, 1990.
The physical details of American life, & their impact on culture. Absorbing reading, loaded with wonderful pictures; first-rate bibliography.
Richard Gooch. America and the Americans—in 1833-4, by an Emigrant, ed. Richard Toby Widdicombe. NY: Fordham University Press, 1994.
The “travels” of a British visitor through America; satiric, probably not based on actual experience, & morbidly entertaining.
Mary Earle Gould. When We Were Young. NY: A.S. Barnes & Company, 1969.
Physical details of everyday life, written by a collector & amateur historian.
Katherine C. Grief. Culture and Comfort: Parlor Making and Middle-Class Identity, 1850-1930. DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997.
Sibyl McCormac Groff. “Gothamtide: Christmas words and images in nineteenth-century New York.” Antiques (Dec 2002): 64-73.
The holiday in development; wonderful illustrations include the 1837 painting by Robert Weir to which the version of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” reprinted in Parley’s Magazine & Robert Merry’s Museum refer.
Sarah Josepha Hale. The Good Housekeeper. 1841. Repro. as Early American Cookery. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1996.
Instructions for every aspect of cooking, from making yeast, to preserving butter, with a short section on feeding children; modern introduction by Janice Bluestein Longone.
Karen V. Hansen. A Very Social Time: Crafting Community in Antebellum New England. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Sources include diaries & letters by ordinary whites & African-Americans; good reading, & a very useful bibliography.
Georgiana Brown Harbeson. American Needlework: The History of Decorative Stitchery and Embroidery from the Late 16th to the 20th Century. N.p.: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1938. Repr. NY: Bonanza Books, np.
A descriptive survey of all kinds of embroidery work, including many works by 19th-century girls, with many illustrations of objects not often pictured; the “List of Illustrations” prominently features dates, for easy reference.
James D. Harlan. “The Wild Missouri.” Missouri Conservationist, 65 (January 2004): 10-15.
A description of the Missouri River—a much less polite river than it is now—as experienced by the Lewis & Clark expedition in 1803-1804.
Hard at Play: Leisure in America, 1840-1940, ed. Kathryn Grover. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.
Well-illustrated collection of essays on recreation for adults and children.
Marilynn Wood Hill. Their Sisters’ Keepers: Prostitution in New York City, 1830-1870. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993. online
Patricia Hills. The Painters’ America: Rural and Urban Life. 1810-1910. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1974.
Doris Hoag. “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Multicolored Linen from Southeastern Pennsylvania.” The Magazine Antiques, 164 (December 2003): 96-101.
A discussion of multicolored linen & its uses; with photographs of some clothing & of samples that emphasize color & pattern of the fabrics.
Gaillard Hunt. Life in America One Hundred Years Ago. 1914. Repro. as As We Were: Life in America, 1814. Stockbridge, MA: Berkshire House Publishers, 1993.
A classic social history.
Anya Jabour. Scarlett’s Sisters: Young Women in the Old South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
Kirk Jeffrey. “The Family as Utopian Retreat from the City: The Nineteenth-Century Contribution.” Soundings 55 (1972): 21- 41.
Paul E. Johnson. A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837. NY: Farrar Straus, 1978.
The impact of religion on politics & family life.
William Loren Katz. The Black West. N.p.: Ethrac Publications, 1987. Repr. NY: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1996.
A survey of African-Americans in the expansion of the U. S. Rich in illustrations & in representative documents.
Michael and Vera Kraus. Family Album for Americans. NY: Ridge Press, Grosset & Dunlap, 1961.
A romanticized & nostalgic survey of social history, mostly useful for the many, many illustrations.
Jack Larkin. The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840. NY: Harper & Row, 1988.
A social history including almost every aspect of American life.
Jama Lazerow. Religion and the Working Class in Antebellum America. DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.
Ann Leighton. American Gardens of the Nineteenth Century. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987.
Mark Edward Lender and James Kirby Martin. Drinking in America: A History. NY: Free Press, Macmillan, 1982.
A descriptive survey of a subject important in the 19th century—& of attempts to control it.
Eliza Leslie. Seventy-Five Receipts, for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats. Boston: Munroe & Francis, 1828. Repro. Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, n.d.
Receipts for many treats, including blancmange (made by the March girls for Laurie, in Little Women) & all the other jellies & cakes we’ve read about, plus some savory pies.
Jim Low. “Digging Into ‘Dugout’ History.” Missouri Conservationist, 65 (January 2004): 21-23.
How to make a dugout canoe suitable for early-nineteenth-century river travel.
David M. Lubin. Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.
An analysis of key 19th-century artists, emphasizing how they did & didn’t reinforce dominant social values. Wonderfully illustrated; valuable bibliography.
Ann L. Macdonald. No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting. NY: Ballantine Books, Random House, 1988.
An incredibly readable history of knitting in America, with many illustrations; an especially satisfying read for those of us who knit. And she quotes Merry’s Museum!
Collen McDannell. The Christian Home in Victorian America, 1840-1900. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986. Repr. N.p.: Midland Books, 1994.
Analysis of the Protestant & Catholic religions in 19th-century American culture.
Making the American Home: Middle Class Women and Domestic Material Culture, 1840-1940, ed. Marilyn Ferris Motz and Pat Browne. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988.
Articles by several scholars on everything from fancywork to front porches.
Louis P. Masur. 1831: Year of Eclipse. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001.
William B. Meyer. Americans and Their Weather. NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.
A readable & well-researched account of 400 years of shifting American perceptions of the weather, & what weather has meant in American life.
Meade Minnigerode. The Fabulous Forties, 1840-1850. Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc., 1924.
A chatty, rambling social history; very little documentation of information.
A Mirror for Americans: Life and Manners in the United States, 1790-1870, as Recorded by American Travelers, compiled Warren S. Tryon. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1952.
Three volumes of illustrated excerpts—not all to be taken at face value. Volume 1: Life in the East; volume 2: The Cotton Kingdom; volume 3: The Frontier Moves West. Some lively reading, though not all the uncaptioned illustrations are contemporary.
Florence M. Montgomery. Textiles in America: 1650-1870. NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 1984, 2007.
A richly detailed & hugely informative dictionary of the types of fabrics available in the U. S., with dozens of pictures—some in color. Wonderful annotated bibliography.
Leslie Nelson. “Popular Songs in American History Website.” http://www.contemplator.com/america/index.html
A webpage both useful & fun, with midi versions of the tunes, & with the words of the songs—have a ball singing along! Many unexpected songs, including “Lilly Dale,” “The Old Oaken Bucket,” & “Woodman, Spare that Tree.” Songs are arranged chronologically.
Joe Nickell. Pen, Ink, & Evidence: A Study of Writing and Writing Materials for the Penman, Collector, and Document Detective. N.p.: The University Press of Kentucky, 1990.
Everything you’d need to know about the paper, ink, inkwells, pens, & other equipment used to write the material at this site. Richly illustrated.
Stephen Nissenbaum. The Battle for Christmas. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
A readable & entertaining discussion of the changes in the Christmas holiday as the 19th century progressed.
Charles Nordhoff. The Communistic Societies of the United States. 1875. Repro. as American Utopias. Stockbridge, MA: Berkshire House Publishers, 1993.
A contemporary description of several utopian communities, focusing on an aspect of social history not often explored.
Jane C. Nylander. Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Homes, 1760-1860. NY: Knopf, 1993.
A satisfying & readable discussion of domestic furnishings & their impact on life; thoroughly illustrated & with an excellent bibliography.
Old Southwest Humor from the St. Louis Reveille, 1844-1850, ed. Fritz Oehlschlaeger. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1990.
James Penick, jr. The New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1976.
A description of the event, & of the all-too-human reactions to it; quotes John Dunn Hunter, who experienced the quakes.
Martha Pike. “In Memory Of: Artifacts Relating to Mourning in Nineteenth Century America.” In American Material Culture, ed. Edith Mayo. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1984.
An analysis of objects as indicative of attitudes towards mourning & death.
Quest for America, 1810-1824, ed. Charles L. Sanford. Garden City, NY: Anchor, Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1964.
Collection of primary documents organized by subject; with notes.
Mary Randolph. The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook. Philadelphia: E.H. Butler & Co., 1860. Repro. N.p.: Avenel, Crown Publishers, n.d. excerpts online
“Method is the Soul of Management” is the motto of this book originally published in 1831. Recipes for all kinds of dishes, simple to exotic, including “curry after the East Indian manner” & an oyster ice cream I find I’m not eager to try.
Paula Bradstreet Richter. “Lucy Cleveland, Folk Artist.” The Magazine Antiques, 158 (August 2000): 204-213.
Beginning in 1840, Lucy Cleveland created vignettes exploring everyday life in the U. S., as well as important themes, such as slavery & emancipation. With several illustrations & a bibliography.
Robert E. Riegel. Young America, 1830-1840. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949.
Covers almost every aspect of mainstream U.S. culture.
Marion Rinhart. “Levi L. Hill.” The Magazine Antiques, 163 (April 2003): 122-125.
The development of color daguerreotypes; with some wonderful images showing clothing styles.
Paul E. Rivard. A New Order of Things: How the Textile Industry Transformed New England. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2002.
The development of the textile industry & its impact on New England society, richly illustrated with images of the mills, the machines, the workers, & the product.
Richard Rudisill. Mirror Image: The Influence of the Daguerreotype on American Society. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1971.
A luxuriously thorough survey of the meaning & impact of daguerreotypes; with a large gallery of images.
Mary P. Ryan. The Empire of the Mother: American Writing about Domesticity, 1830-1860. Women & History series. N.p.: Haworth Press, & Institute for Research in History, 1982.
Scott A. Sandage. Born Losers: A History of Failure in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.
A highly readable discussion emphasizing the early part of the nineteenth century; well researched.
Lewis O. Saum. “Death in the Popular Mind of Pre-Civil War America.” American Quarterly 26 (1974): 477-495.
Edward N. Saveth. “The Problem of American Family History.” American Quarterly 21 (Summer 1969): 311-329.
Joan Severa. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1995.
A very readable & useful survey of clothing styles in 19th-century photos, quite a few of children. With hundreds of photos.
Robert Shaw & Peter Szego. “The Early Banjo.” The Magazine Antiques, 164 (December 2003): 82-89.
The banjo in antebellum America; with photographs of instruments, & contemporary paintings.
Carol Sheppard. “The Blighted Life of the Writer, Circa 1840.” American Heritage (Aug-Sept 1986): 102-106.
Writing & rejection.
C. A. Stephens. Stories of My Home Folks. Boston: Perry Mason Company, 1926.
A popular writer for children’s magazines (including Robert Merry’s Museum & The Youth’s Companion) born in 1844 remembers life in mid-19th-century rural Maine, including his grandfather’s memories of the mudslide that killed the Willey family in 1826.
Elmer F. Suderman. “Popular American Fiction (1870-1900) Looks at the Attributes of God.” Journal of Popular Culture 4 (Fall 1970): 383-397.
Daniel E. Sutherland. The Expansion of Everyday Life: 1860-1876. NY: Harper & Row, 1989; Fayetteville, AR: U of Arkansas Press, 2000.
A social history including almost every aspect of American life.
Nicholas E. Tawa. Sweet Songs for Gentle Americans: The Parlor Song in America, 1790-1860. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1980.
A descriptive survey of a vital part of 19th-century culture.
Anne Tropp Trensky. “The Saintly Child in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction.” Prospects 1 (1975): 389-419.
Frances Trollope. Domestic Manners of the Americans. 1832.
A classic description of early 19th-century America which outraged Americans. (See, for example, the caricature of Mrs. Trollope which Sarah Tuttle put into her scrapbook.)
Carol Troyen. “Maxim Karolik and Folk Art.” The Magazine Antiques, 159 (April 2001): 588-599.
This discussion of collector Maxim Karolik is lushly illustrated with works by early 19th-century folk artists.
Richard C. Wade. The Urban Frontier: The Rise of Western Cities, 1790-1830. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959. Repr. as The Urban Frontier: Pioneer Life in Early Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville, and St. Louis. Chicago, IL: Phoenix Books, University of Chicago Press, 1964.
A description of social & cultural changes resulting from the growth of some early cities.
Judith Walsh. “The Language of Flowers in Nineteenth-Century Painting.” The Magazine Antiques, 156 (Oct 1999): 518-531.
Interesting, entertaining, & useful; with a chart of the “meanings” of just about every flower appearing in 19th-century guides.
Judith Reiter Weissman and Wendy Lavitt. Labors of Love: America’s Textiles and Needlework, 1650-1930. NY: Knopf, 1987. Repr. Avenel, NJ: Wings Books, Outlet Book Co., Random House, 1994.
A descriptive survey of the kind of needlework often done by girls of all races in North America; richly illustrated & with a wonderful bibliography.
Jackie Napolean Wilson. Hidden Witness: African-American Images from the Dawn of Photography to the Civil War. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
Selections of images also appear in “Facing History” (see above).
Wendy Woloson. Refined Taste: Sugar, Confectionery, and Consumers in Nineteenth-Century America. John Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University, 2002.
Roger Yepsen. Apples. NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994.
A history, with descriptions & illustrations of 90 varieties. There were hundreds of varieties available for early 19th-century American children to eat; today’s children will probably try about six during their lifetime. A small & lovely book that fits wonderfully in the hand. (Like a good Jonathan—available in the early 1800s!)
Michael Zakim. Ready-Made Democracy: A History of Men’s Dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
A look at how society shaped and was shaped by men’s clothing.
Martha and Murray Zimiles. Early American Mills. NY: Bramhall House, 1973.
Just about anything you’ve ever wondered about early American gristmills, snuff mills, cotton mills, cider mills, sawmills, fulling mills, paper mills, carding mills, ironworks, wind mills, forges …. Stuffed with illustrations, including diagrams of water wheels, photographs, and historical images.