Sacks Collection of the American West

The Sacks Collection of the American West
Call No. MS FM MSS 155

Background Benjamin Sacks was a Johns Hopkins trained physician known for his contributions to the medical literature in cardiac pathology. When his medical career was cut short by ill health, Dr. Sacks turned his research talents and intellectual rigor to the history of the American West.

For the next 20 years, Dr. Sacks created the most extensive annotated bibliography known to exist on the history of Territorial Arizona and the borderlands. His work is considered a masterpiece of historical investigation and exposition.

About the Collection Stored in four card catalogs, the index includes over 50,000 hand-written, cross-referenced, index cards. One of the distinguishing hallmarks of this index is its comprehensiveness.   Dr. Sacks indefatigably searched out relevant, obscure sources in research libraries and archives across the nation, fastidiously examining hundreds of thousands of pages of obscure periodicals, U.S. government publications, government archival records and unindexed newspapers.

The very scope and variety of sources is unusual. Topics include changing border relations with Mexico, Confederate occupation of Southwestern lands, migrations of peoples to Arizona, military and civilian relations with Indians, exploitation and stewardship of natural resources, beginnings of Western towns, frontier law enforcement, railroad development, mining and famous and obscure individuals.

Index Cards

The index cards, which anchor this collection, were among first “exhibits” Sacks created for his own use. The cards are housed in old-fashioned card catalogs. What we see in the index card arrangement today is largely the product of an anonymous “bright young woman.”  It would appear that this was completed during Fireman’s tenure. Fireman contributed his own cards to Sacks and regularly sent him packets to add to the existing files.

The card catalog is available in the AHF reading room and is organized into four sections: BiographySubjectsPlace Names, and Newspapers. The index cards include citations to books, newspapers, journals, correspondence, government documents, personal papers, maps, theses, microfilm and more. This collection includes copies of many, but not all, of the source material cited on the cards.

An online database is under construction to link source material with the index cards. This is made possible by grants from the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation and the H.W. Wilson Foundation.

Source Material

This includes copies of primary and secondary sources, hand-written research notes, annotated bibliographies as well as microfilm.  There are a few original documents from the 1800s such as cashed checks, mortuary notes and two issues of the Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. The source material is in good condition. Note that previously non-indexed source material has been integrated from the Sacks Manuscript Collection. Most of the material has been interfiled within existing folders such as newspapers. When necessary new folders were created,  i.e. Herman Ehrenberg within Biography Files.

Some source material is contained on microfilm reels. Primarily government documents and newspapers, the microfilm also includes personal papers, theses, maps, and company correspondence. The reels have been integrated into the AHF Microfilm Collection

See the Finding Aid for a list of biography, subject, and oversize files.