The Capital and the Bay: Narratives of Washington and the Chesapeake Bay Region, ca. 1600-1925 is the fourth in a series of local history collections presented by the National Digital Library Program as part of American Memory, joining "California As I Saw It", Pioneering the Upper Midwest, and Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age. Together, these online collections make up a virtual local history bookshelf. Like the other local history collections, The Capital and the Bay comprises first-person narratives, early histories, historical biographies, promotional brochures, and books of photographs in an attempt to capture in words and pictures a distinctive region as it developed between the onset of European settlement and the first quarter of the twentieth century. Works published after that time generally pose copyright challenges that prevented their inclusion.
In addition to the bay itself, the Chesapeake Bay region is defined for the purposes of this collection as encompassing the portions of Maryland and Virginia from the Atlantic coast to the fall line where the region's west-to-east-flowing rivers "fall" from the rolling piedmont to the flat coastal plain. The region therefore includes the Eastern and Western Shores of the bay as well as the coastal plain in both states; the cities of Annapolis, Baltimore, Cambridge, Easton, and Havre de Grace in Maryland; the city of Washington and its environs, including the whole of the District of Columbia; and the cities of Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Norfolk, Hampton Roads, Petersburg, and Richmond in Virginia. These places share similarities in geography, economic life, and history because of the presence and influence of the bay and its tributaries.
They have also shared the historical influence of Washington, D.C., which as the nation's capital has had a powerful effect upon the whole of the region surrounding it. In the beginning, its regional impact was minor, for it was then the seat of government of a nation located on the fringe of the European world. However, rapid growth in the wealth, size, and population of the United States was reflected in the evolution of a small provincial capital into a burgeoning center of national and world politics. The ties that bind city and region are perhaps most dramatically illustrated in two wars whose theatres of action included the bay region. The first was the War of 1812, when the British succeeded in burning Washington, only to be rebuffed by the U.S. forces protecting Baltimore at Fort McHenry. The second is of course the Civil War, in which Richmond, as capital of the Confederacy, lay so close to Washington that it blocked the way south and created strategic and symbolic challenges for the Union Army of the Potomac.
The Capital and the Bay: Narratives of Washington and the Chesapeake Bay Region, ca. 1600-1925 comprises 139 books selected from the Library of Congress's General Collections and two books from its Rare Book and Special Collections Division. The selections were made by Steve McCollum, Jurretta Jordan Heckscher, Christopher Pohlhaus, and Elizabeth Gettins. In addition to the constraints of copyright date noted above, three criteria governed the selection of works for the collection: whether the work was a primary source reflecting the character of local or regional history; whether the work was a first-person narrative by an inhabitant of the region; and, finally, whether it relayed a perspective on an event of note through the eyes of a contemporary observer. These follow closely the criteria used in previous local history collections from American Memory.
As in previous collections, there are regrettable limitations in the range of voices one can hear in this collection. Most obviously, there is a dearth of works from Native Americans, African Americans, and other racial and ethnic minorities arising from the circumstances of history that severely constrained the number of books published by members of these groups during the time the collection covers. Certainly there were people in these groups who did publish, however, and within the confines of the selection criteria such works have been included whenever possible.