Digitizing New England Church Records


Here is Jeff Cooper at the blog of the American Antiquarian Society:

For the past fifteen years, New England’s Hidden Histories (NEHH), a project of the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston, has sought to locate, digitize, transcribe, and publish online New England’s earliest manuscript church records. The project, which was featured on the front page of the New York Times, has already made available documents from nearly one hundred local churches.

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the American Antiquarian Society has partnered with Hidden Histories to digitize some of the most exciting and illuminating documents in the AAS’s vast manuscript collections. The current pandemic, which has forced virtually all research institutions in New England to close, underscores the importance of digital initiatives, and the online accessibility provided by these kinds of projects. Already the two institutions have collaboratively digitized and published online an early manuscript draft of Congregationalism’s foundational document, the 1649 Cambridge Platform, along with the church elders’ responses to lay objections to the document. Early New Englanders referred to the Platform as their “constitution” of church government…

Other significant documents slated for digitization include the papers of the Reverend Thomas Shepard, one of the key members of the founding generation, and the one thousand-page diary of Increase Mather. Collections of local church records scheduled for online publication include those of Worcester, Holden, Shrewsbury, and several others. Hidden Histories has transcribed many of the documents in its collections and is always looking for volunteers to assist.

The thousands of pages of historically significant documents to be published online by the AAS and New England’s Hidden Histories will provide scholars and the general public with an unprecedented opportunity to study seventeenth and eighteenth-century church and community life in the region.

Read the entire post here.

The American Antiquarian Society Bicentennial

The American Antiquarian Society, one the most important research libraries for the study of early American history, turns 200 this year.  I have not visited the AAS in a long time, but in the late 1990s I was a participant in one of the Society’s history of the book seminars led by David D. Hall.  I remember someone (perhaps it was John Hench) telling the members of the seminar that by being chosen to participate we would be forever part of the “AAS family.” That meant a lot to me as a graduate student trying to find my way as an early American historian.  Later I would publish an essay in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society on evangelical revivalist and Dartmouth College founder Eleazar Wheelock and the communication of the Great Awakening in New England.

As part of the anniversary year, Philip Gura, the William S. Newman Distinguished Professor of American Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill, has published The American Antiquarian Society, 1812-2012: A Bicentennial History.

For those in the Worcester, Mass area, Gura will speak about the book tonight at the AAS.  If you can’t make it, the AAS blog, Past is Present, has a nice post about the book. A taste:

The book is available for purchase from Oak Knoll Press and you can read about it on the website of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America.
Here is a quote from the blurb on the back of the book to whet your appetite:

The American Antiquarian Society-pride and joy of its founder Isaiah Thomas-holds the DNA of our shared national patrimony. On the occasion of its bicentennial, this uniquely American library has published a copiously illustrated history that is at once scholarly in purpose, rich in probing insight, and brimming with narrative detail. While keenly alert to the evolution of the Society, Philip F. Gura’s guiding approach has been more finely focused on its intellectual development as a cultural repository of extraordinary consequence, with careful attention given to the people who have shaped and nurtured it into the twenty-first century. The founding spirit of this remarkable institution-a bookman for the ages “touched early by the gentlest of infirmities, bibliomania”-would be mightily pleased, I am certain, with this magisterial tribute to his enduring legacy.

-Nicholas A. Basbanes, author of A World of Letters: Yale University Press, 1908-2008 and A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books.