Skip to main content

Herbert Baxter Adams papers

Identifier: MS-0004

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of material spanning 1851-1903, with the bulk of the material covering 1876-1901, the years of Adams's tenure at Hopkins. The materials include correspondence, lectures, writings, research material, files related to Johns Hopkins University, United States Bureau of Education, American Historical Association Committee of Seven, personal files, and prints and photos. Most of the material reflects Adams's passion for teaching and historical studies.

The correspondence (1876-1901) forms the largest series, containing incoming letters arranged alphabetically. (A partial set of typescripts, arranged chronologically, follows the alphabetical arrangement.) Adams kept close ties with colleagues and former students. They apprised him of their careers, and described their teaching techniques and methodologies.

The study of university extension and its effectiveness as an educational tool was one of Adams's longtime interests. His incoming letters from Edward Bemis, Frank Blackmar, Nathaniel Butler, Melvil Dewey, Richard T. Ely, William Rainey Harper, William T. Harris, Richard G. Moulton, Lyman Powell and George Vincent outline much of the theory, practice, success and failures of the university extension movement.

Adams delivered lectures on a variety of topics to a variety of audiences. The lecture series contains not only lectures given to Hopkins students, but those delivered to Baltimore school teachers, summer Chautauqua, and public audiences at the Peabody Institute.

Because Adams devoted so much time to teaching, he did not author a large number of monographs. Although he encouraged his students to research and publish, Adams's own work was limited mostly to short articles on a variety of topics. The writings series contains manuscript, typescript and/or reprints of many of the articles. Adams did plan a life work on the origin of New England towns. Manuscript drafts of chapters of this unpublished work are also found in this series.

Adams conducted extensive research for his lecture and writing topics. The magazine articles and pamphlets complement the material in the lecture and writings series. Besides these secondary sources, Adams made holographic copies of related primary materials. These notes are included in this series. In 1876, Adams came to Hopkins as one of its first fellows. He worked his way through the ranks of associate and full professor to department chairman. Although he received offers from other schools, most notably the fledgling University of Chicago, he chose to stay at Hopkins. The Johns Hopkins University series illustrates aspects of Adams's tenure and includes administrative records, papers by his students, a typescript copy of the Historical Seminary minutes, and clippings and pamphlets collected for the Historical Seminary Library. This material, along with his lectures, provides a fairly complete picture of his activities at Hopkins. Adams's interest in higher education extended beyond the Hopkins campus; in 1887, the United States Bureau of Education approached him to edit a series of monographs on higher education in the United States. The goal was to cover all the states. The Bureau of Education series contains lists of contributors and titles, and a partial manuscript draft of Contributions to Educational History. The Bureau shared Adams's interest in university extension, and wanted him to research the movement in America and Great Britain. He collected syllabi and catalogs from programs in the United States, England, and Scotland that are a part of this series.

The study of history in the secondary schools was another of Adams's concerns. In 1896, he joined with six other scholars to form the American Historical Association Committee of Seven, which was charged with assessing the state of history instruction in the high schools. This series contains minutes of the Committee and a typescript draft of its report. Personal material is also included. There are also tributes from after Adams's death. Material in the personal series supports this. Two personal scrapbooks contain cards from students and friends, cartes-de-visite, report cards, and copies of the Amherst student paper. The series also contains financial records, newspaper clippings, genealogical material and reminiscences.

The prints and photos series contains material that Adams used as visual adjuncts to his lectures. Cartes-de-visite and cabinet photographs of famous men, works of art, European cities, the western United States, a Trappist monastery in Canada, and various American colleges and universities form the bulk of this series. In Adams's lecture notes there are often marginal comments to show an image to the class; those images were supplied either from his photographic or print collection. There are also some personal photographs of his Smith students, family and friends.


  • Creation: 1851 - 1903
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1876 - 1901


Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical Note

Herbert Baxter Adams was born in Shutesbury, Massachusetts on April 16, 1850. He attended secondary school at Phillips Exeter Academy and received his B. A. from Amherst College in 1872. He taught for a year at Williston Seminary, and then decided to pursue doctoral studies at the University of Heidelberg. He received his Ph.D. in 1876. While in Europe, Adams learned of the fellowships for advanced study available at the newly founded Johns Hopkins University. He was accepted, and came to Baltimore in the fall of 1876.

Between 1876-1878, Adams helped Dr. Austin Scott conduct a course in American history. When Scott left, Adams was promoted to associate professor, a position he held until his appointment to full professor in 1891. Despite his acknowledged leadership in forming the Historical Seminary, Daniel Coit Gilman, President of the University, sought outside talent for the position of department chairman. Only after several fruitless searches, and an offer made to Adams by the fledgling University of Chicago, did Gilman accord Adams, in 1891, the position he had earned.

Although Adams never accepted a full-time offer from another university, he did agree to spend his spring teaching at Smith College. He started in 1878 and continued until 1881. Despite his short tenure there, he was very popular with the Smith students.

Adams instituted the seminary method of historical instruction at Hopkins. Rather than enduring daily lectures, the graduate students were expected to prepare and discuss original papers on historical and political subjects. After 1882, the best of these papers found their way into the Johns Hopkins Studies in Historical and Political Science. Started by Adams as a forum for historical research, he edited the series from its institution until his death in 1901.

Herbert Baxter Adams's own research interests lay in the fields of institutional and international history. Adams's interest in international affairs began during his doctoral studies in history and political science at Heidelberg. There he studied international law with the Swiss jurist Johann Kaspar Bluntschli. Adams's course in international law, which he taught from 1879-1893, owed much to Bluntschli's approach. Adams was a popular teacher and his course attracted a number of graduate and undergraduate students, among whom were Albert Shaw, Newton D. Baker and Woodrow Wilson.

Adams's best known monographs, Germanic Origin of New England Towns, Norman Constables in America, and Saxon Tithingmen in America concerned the institutional origins of New England towns. Adams theorized that both English and colonial American development owed much to Teutonic institutions. As his students investigated local institutions in their own parts of the country, and began to show that the transference of Germanic institutions had not been as encompassing as Adams initially believed, he accepted their findings. Although he decreased his emphasis on Teutonic roots, he continued to promote the value of local studies as the key to the development of American institutions.

Adams was active in the founding of the Johns Hopkins University Club, later the University Club. Continued health problems led to his letter of resignation addressed to Daniel Coit Gilman on December 2, 1900. He died on July 30, 1901 in Amherst, Massachusetts. He was unmarried.


29.45 Cubic Feet (46 legal size document boxes, 3 legal half-size document boxes, 10 flat boxes (15.5 x 12 x 3 inches), 1 flat boxes (11 x 9 x 3 inches), 1 flat box (15.5 x 10.5 x 3 inches), 15 pamphlet boxes (7.25 x 4 x 10 inches), 1 oversized box)

Language of Materials



Herbert Baxter Adams (1850-1901) was an American educator and historian. The collection consists of material spanning 1851-1903. The materials include correspondence, lectures, writings, research material, files related to Johns Hopkins University, the United States Bureau of Education, the American Historical Association Committee of Seven, personal files, and prints and photos.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were bequeathed to The Johns Hopkins University by Herbert Baxter Adams upon his death in 1901. The bequest included his library of historical works and pamphlets. The books have been integrated into the holdings of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library.

Existence and Location of Copies

Microfilm of minutes of Seminary of Historical and Political Science, approximately 1968-1978, are available in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library.

Related Materials

See also the Johann Casper Bluntschli collection, MS.0140.


The following publication cited this collection as a source: Gettlemen, Marvin A., ed. "The Johns Hopkins Seminary of History and Politics: The Records of an American Educational Institution, 1877-1912." New York : Garland Press, 1987-1990.

Appendix: List of Courses Taught by Herbert Baxter Adams

Information in this resource record has been adapted from a legacy paper version of the guide to this collection. Included in that guide was the following information, derived from the Johns Hopkins University Circular:

List of Courses Taught by Herbert Baxter Adams

"American Colonial History"; "American Constitutional History"; "American History; Ancient Politics"; "Ante-Classical History"; "Beginnings of Church and State"; "Church and Empire: Medieval and Modern Church History"; "Comparative Constitutional History"; "Development of Civil Society and Absolutism"; "Early History of Institutions and Greek Politics"; "English Constitutional History"; "French Absolutism"; "Germanic Institutions"; "History and Physical Geography"; "History of Civilization"; "History of Local Self-Government"; "History of Medieval Church and State"; "History of Politics"; "History of the Nineteenth Century"; "History of the Renaissance and Reformation"; "Institutional History; International Law"; "International Law and European Politics"; "International Law and Modern Constitutions"; "Introductory Historical Course"; "Italian History"; "Medieval History"; "Modern Absolutism and Revolution"; "Modern History"; "Old German Empire and the Rise of Prussia"; "Oriental History"; "Political Economy"; "Renaissance"; "Roman Constitutional History"; "Sources of Early European History"; "Sources of English History"; "Stubbs Select Charters Special Collections".

Appendix: A List of Prints in the Collection

Information in this resource record has been adapted from a legacy paper version of the guide to this collection. Included in that guide was the following information.

A List of Prints in the Collection:

Adam and Eve, by Pietro Aguila; "The Advance of the Sudan: Civilization in the Desert"; "The Angel of Death and the Sculptor"; Ango Manor, Varengeville, France; Arch of Constantine; Der Arndtthurm auf der Inlet Rugen; Chichen-Itza: Ancient Façade; Durham College of Science (2); Ecclesiastical Heraldry; Earthquake effects, Charleston, South Carolina; "A Forerunner"; "Four Famous Old Homes: Arlington House, Birthplace of John Howard Payne, Mount Vernon, Poe's Cottage"; Grant's Tomb (4); Schloss Haselburg; Hyperion; Independence Hall (2); "Last of the Old Merchantman"; McGill University—Engineering; Maryland, map of; Mount Holyoke Seminary; Myra--Rock Tombs; National Monument to the Forefathers; New England Village in the Eighteenth Century; Northwestern (map case); Original Stars and Stripes; Oxford; Princeton College: Library; Ratisbone Cathedral; Sulgrave Manor; Swanley Horticultural College (2); Tacoma; Topolobampo Bay; United States, map of; University College, Liverpool (4); Wartburg; Winged Victory; Windsor Castle (6); Unidentified College Classroom.

Appendix: Lectures Delivered by Herbert Baxter Adams

Information in this resource record has been adapted from a legacy paper version of the guide to this collection. Included in that guide was the following information.

Historical & Political Science Association and History Seminary Lectures:

"Land Community, the Basis of State Life," 1880; "Pilgrim Fathers as Colonists," 1880; "On Newspapers as a Source of History," 1880; "Fisher Plantation at Cape Ann," 1881; "Review of Education in Maryland," 1882; "Tithingmen," 1882; "Constables," 1882; "Review of C. K. Adams's 'Manual of Historical Literature,'" 1882; "Plymouth Rock Restored," 1882; "The English Parish in America," 1883; "Villes and Plantations," 1883; "Saxon Tithingmen in America," 1883; "The Seminary Method," 1883; "Village Communities of Cape Ann and Salem," 1883; "The Quaker Settlement at Ellicott's Mills," 1884; "The American Historical Association," 1884; "The Progress of Civil Service Reform in the U. S.," 1884; "Proposed Revision of the City Charter of Boston," 1884; "Historical Tripos at Cambridge, England," 1885; "William and Mary College," 1886; "History of Yale College," 1886; "Memorials of the University of Heidelberg," 1887; "Professor Diman's Life and Writings," 1887; "The Promotion of Political Education," 1887; "History at the University of Michigan," 1887; "History at Cornell University," 1887; "Oriental Institutions of Learning," 1890; "Confucius and Chinese Education," 1890; "Greek Education," 1890; "Higher Education of the People," 1890; "University Extension in England," 1891; "City Universities," 1891; "Life and Writings of Jared Sparks," 1891; "The Services of Abbe-Brasseur de Bourbourg to American Archaeology," 1891; "Jared Sparks's Life of John Ledyard," 1891; "Editorial Duty," 1892; "Freeman as a University Man," 1892; "College Settlements," 1894; "Haym Saloman," 1894; "Impressions of Alaska," 1894; "Academies and the Universities," 1894; "A Visit to a Carmelite Monastery," 1895; "Historical Work of Herbert Tuttle," 1895; "Freeman, the Scholar and Professor," 1895; "Lord Amherst and the Conquest of Canada," 1895; "Science and Good Government," 1895; "Jefferson's Plans for the University of Virginia," 1896; "Summer Travel in Great Britain," 1897; "A Summer Meeting in Chester," England, 1897; "The Value of Seminary Training to Lawyers," 1897; "Tassie's Medallion Portrait of Adam Smith," 1897.

Public Lectures:

"Italian Renaissance and the Beginning of Modern History," 1880; "Five Lectures on the Teutons in Church and State," 1881; "History in American Universities," 1886; "The First 'Tabular View' of Harvard College," 1896; "A Plea for Good Reading," 1893; "The Art of Expression," 1895.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Margaret N. Burri in 1988. A list of correspondents was added to Series 1 in 2018. Additional processing by Kristen Diehl in 2019. An alphabetized list of prints in the collection has been added to series 9, sub-series Prints. This list was previously part of the series titled Appendix 2: Prints in the Herbert Baxter Adams collection. Liz Beckman revised the Biographical note, collection and several series-level Scope and Contents notes, and some folder titles in this finding aid in August 2023 to bring them into compliance with Johns Hopkins guidelines for inclusive and conscientious description (2023). The previous version of the finding aid is available upon request.


Guide to the Herbert Baxter Adams papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA