Nineteenth-Century Nova Scotia Libraries

The Colonial Bookshelf: A Mock-up

Welcome to our web-based research guide to what was on the bookshelves of late eighteenth- and nineteenth–century Nova Scotia readers. This digital library makes it possible to “read over the shoulders” of colonial Nova Scotians, to be immersed in their world of books and ideas. Just as visitors to Nova Scotia museums can get a sense of the workaday world of colonial residents by walking through period homes, readers of our digital library will be able to page through the books that provided the mental furniture and intellectual vocabulary for their world. This project collects, digitally curates, and situates books found in Nova Scotia personal libraries in the 19th century. Using a combination of existing library lists (such as Richard John Uniacke’s from the Nova Scotia Museum) and recreated lists (such as those of Edward Manning and James Barry) and exploring possibilities in Dalhousie University’s Special Collections and collections held in other Nova Scotia Museum affiliates, we envision building an interactive guide to begin tracking the reading habits of colonial Nova Scotian readers.

This mock-up is presented as an illustration of how the website would work and what it would look like. Each of these readers, as well as the dozen or more we could add, would have 100s of titles, not just three. But the basic idea, of a reader and their books, is what we want to illustrate here. 

Selections from James Barry's Bookshelves 

James Barry (1819 – 1906) was a miller, printer, fiddler, curmudgeon, and self-described infidel. Like Menocchio, in Carol Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms, Barry's place as a miller, a literate figure, and a man who loved to voice his opinions allows us a remarkable window on social relations and print culture in mid-19th-century rural Nova Scotia.  Barry was an avid reader, purchasing and reading many books, while also loaning and trading books with some of the many people who crossed the miller’s path. He also wrote poetry, and later purchased and operated a printing press. There can few better indicators of the place of reading and print culture in a rural colonial setting.

Click on any volume to read what James Barry was reading:


Selections from Edward Manning's Bookshelves

Edward Manning (1766-1851) of Cornwallis Township, NS, was a leading Baptist minister in the region, and a daily diarist. As a young man he was converted to the radical evangelicalism of the charismatic Great Awakening figure Henry Alline. During his early “New Light” years, Manning spurned the necessity of education and resisted traditional institutions. Yet Manning set aside this populism and antagonism to learned culture, and for the rest of his long life he was a prolific reader and established an extensive correspondence network of authors and publishers. Manning was a significant figure in improving the place of dissenting Protestant churches in the colony, working with other notable dissenting figures such as Thomas McCulloch. Though self-educated himself, Manning led efforts to democratize elite-led education through the formation of rural dissenting schools like Horton Academy and Acadia College. Firmly rooted in voluntarist principles, Manning’s reading reflected his desire to encourage social organisations, such as the Nova Scotia Baptist Education Society, as well as those promoting temperance, international missions, and the distribution of religious books.

Click on any volume to read what Edward Manning was reading.


Selections from Richard John Uniacke's Bookshelves

Richard John Uniacke (1753-1830) epitomized the provincial version of the patrician country gentleman.  He was a staunch Tory, a leading figure in the Assembly, supporter of the unelected Legislative Council, attorney-general, an agricultural improver, and a man who made his wealth from his fees as advocate general of the Vice-Admiralty Court during the war of 1812. Uniacke’s reading, like his classically-inspired estate, spanned the fashionable lines of taste in the arts and sciences for a man of such a position. Though religious, he was not orthodox, and his literary tastes were much less disputatious and leaned more to science and literature. Though a politician, his reading combined interests in empire, science, and agricultural improvement, locating himself precisely at the heart of a group of influential Britons C.A. Bayly termed the agrarian patriots.

Click on any volume to read what Richard John Uniacke was reading.