Learn more about the original Juneteenth proclamation

Juneteenth proclamation

Today the National Archives revealed the original Juneteenth proclamation, also known as General Order No. 3.  Check out NPR’s coverage of this story:

“Based on what’s going on now in this country, there was a need to talk about Juneteenth, the freeing of enslaved people in 1865,” says Michael Davis, a public affairs specialist at the Archives. “I was curious to know if we had the actual document of General Order No. 3 in our holdings.”

So Davis reached out Trevor Plante, who directs the Archives’ textual records division. Plante found that the order was issued by the district of Texas, which helped him locate that command’s order book — used as the official record of orders issued.

Plante found that book yesterday in the stacks of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., and located the now-famous order within — handwritten by the major general’s aide, F.W. Emery, and still in good condition. It bears the number three because it was just the third order that Granger had issued since taking over the Texas command.

In 1865, the book was in Galveston, then the Union Army’s headquarters for the district of Texas. Later on, Plante says, it would have been sent to the War Department in Washington, D.C., and then on to the National Archives, where it has been since probably the 1940s, available for researchers to request and peruse.

With the document’s fresh resurgence, it will now be digitized and added to the Archives’ catalog, as well as highlighted on the National Archives and Records Administration’s African American history page. The Archives’ museum and buildings are currently closed to the public and its in-person services suspended, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in the future, there may be keen interest in viewing the physical version of Order No. 3.

Read the entire piece here.

Here is a transcript:

General Orders

No. 3.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

          By order of Major General Granger

                    F.W. Emery

                    Major A.A. Genl.

How Future Historians Might Use Your Quarantine Diary

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A couple weeks ago I encouraged everyone to keep a coronavirus diary.  Read that post here.

Over at The New York Times, Amelia Nierenberg reports on the diaries and journals that “tell the story of an anxious, claustrophobic world on pause.”  Here is a taste:

When future historians look to write the story of life during coronavirus, these first-person accounts may prove useful.

“Diaries and correspondences are a gold standard,” said Jane Kamensky, a professor of American History at Harvard University and the faculty director of the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute. “They’re among the best evidence we have of people’s inner worlds.”

History isn’t usually told by the bigwigs of the era, even if they are some of its main characters. Instead, it is often reconstructed from snapshots of ordinary lives. A handwritten recipe. A letter written by a soldier at the front. A drawing of a kitchen sink. One of the most famous works of academic history — “A Midwife’s Tale,” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich — came from the diary kept by a woman living in Maine from 1785 to 1812. It won a Pulitzer Prize.

The personal that is presented in diaries gives us the truth of the era,” said Carole Ione Lewis, a diarist and the author of “Pride of Family: Four Generations of American Women of Color,” which she wrote using her relatives’ diaries.

Today’s journals convey the shared experience of life in isolation.

Some diarists record statistics: the number of infections, the number of deaths. Others keep diaries that are part shopping list, part doodle pad. Unidentified phone numbers are scratched out in the margins of punctuation-less pages filled with the frustration of being separated from family and friends. Among these accounts, anxiety is the constant.

Read the entire piece here.

The National Archives is “out of the photoshop business”

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On Friday we called your attention to the doctored picture of the 2017 Women’s March on display at the National Archives.  Now the National Archives are apologizing for the picture.  Here is a taste of Steven Thompson’s and Joe Heim’s piece at The Washington Post:

The museum said in tweets Saturday that the display would be replaced “with one that uses the unaltered image” and that museum officials would “start a thorough review of our exhibit policies and procedures so that this does not happen again.”

But in a Washington Post article published Friday, prominent historians expressed dismay.

After the museum’s apology, Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley said he was pleased that the National Archives is “out of the Photoshop business.”

“It’s refreshing that the National Archives stepped up and fixed a grave wrong,” he said. “It’s more important than ever that U.S. government institutions keep their integrity intact with the American public.”

Read the entire piece here.

The National Archives Edited-Out Anti-Trump Signs in an Image of the 2017 Women’s March

 

Archives

Here is Joe Heim at The Washington Post:

The large color photograph that greets visitors to a National Archives exhibit celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage shows a massive crowd filling Pennsylvania Avenue NW for the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Trump’s inauguration.

The 49-by-69-inch photograph is a powerful display. Viewed from one perspective, it shows the 2017 march. Viewed from another angle, it shifts to show a 1913 black-and-white image of a women’s suffrage march also on Pennsylvania Avenue. The display links momentous demonstrations for women’s rights more than a century apart on the same stretch of pavement.

But a closer look reveals a different story.

The Archives acknowledged in a statement this week that it made multiple alterations to the photo of the 2017 Women’s March showcased at the museum, blurring signs held by marchers that were critical of Trump. Words on signs that referenced women’s anatomy were also blurred.

In the original version of the 2017 photograph, taken by Getty Images photographer Mario Tama, the street is packed with marchers carrying a variety of signs, with the Capitol in the background. In the Archives version, at least four of those signs are altered.

A placard that proclaims “God Hates Trump” has “Trump” blotted out so that it reads “God Hates.” A sign that reads “Trump & GOP — Hands Off Women” has the word Trump blurred out.

Signs with messages that referenced women’s anatomy — which were prevalent at the march — are also digitally altered. One that reads “If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED” has “vagina” blurred out. And another that says “This Pussy Grabs Back” has the word “Pussy” erased.

The Archives said the decision to obscure the words was made as the exhibit was being developed by agency managers and museum staff members. It said David S. Ferriero, the archivist of the United States who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, participated in talks regarding the exhibit and supports the decision to edit the photo.

Read the rest here.

Here is presidential historian Douglas Brinkley: “There’s no reason for the National Archives to ever digitally alter a historic paragraph…If they don’t want to use a specific image, then don’t use it.  But to confuse the public is reprehensible.”

It is hard to argue with Brinkley here.

“My Folly makes me ashamd and I beg you’ll Conceal it”

st croix harbor

I love teaching this letter.  In his first extant piece of writing, Alexander Hamilton writes from St. Croix to his childhood friend Edward Stevens in New York City.  He reveals his ambitions, but is ashamed that he has them.  There is a lot to unpack here.  It also works very well when paired with Hamilton’s reflection on the 1771 St. Croix hurricane.

Dear Edward,

 

This just serves to acknowledge receipt of yours per Cap Lowndes which was delivered me Yesterday. The truth of Cap Lightbourn & Lowndes information is now verifyd by the Presence of your Father and Sister for whose safe arrival I Pray, and that they may convey that Satisfaction to your Soul that must naturally flow from the sight of Absent Friends in health, and shall for news this way refer you to them. As to what you say respecting your having soon the happiness of seeing us all, I wish, for an accomplishment of your hopes provided they are Concomitant with your welfare, otherwise not, tho doubt whether I shall be Present or not for to confess my weakness, Ned, my Ambition is prevalent that I contemn the grov’ling and condition of a Clerk or the like, to which my Fortune &c. condemns me and would willingly risk my life tho’ not my Character to exalt my Station. Im confident, Ned that my Youth excludes me from any hopes of immediate Preferment nor do I desire it, but I mean to prepare the way for futurity. Im no Philosopher you see and may be jusly said to Build Castles in the Air. My Folly makes me ashamd and beg youll Conceal it, yet Neddy we have seen such Schemes successfull when the Projector is Constant I shall Conclude saying I wish there was a War.

Yours

Alex Hamilton

Teaching Reading Through Historical Sources

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Do you want to teach your students how to think historically?  Do you want to teach them to read in a deeper way?  Do you want to teach them about the past?

If your answer to all these questions is a resounding “yes” (as it should be), you will like this piece at Education Week. Reporter Sarah Schwartz spent some time with the teachers attending a Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History summer seminar on native American history at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Here is a taste of her piece:

Gathering in small groups around folding tables laden with 250-year-old maps, pamphlets, and images, the teachers thought aloud about what the documents could tell their students—and what questions the pages couldn’t answer.

“Even before getting into information—who wrote this?” said Mark Stetina, a local middle school history teacher, pouring over a political cartoon and imagining how he would introduce it to his students. “Then, almost more important is—who’s missing?” he said. This question of missing voices was central to the day’s workshop, part of a project at the Library Company called Redrawing History. The library has digitized hundreds of documents about this massacre, but almost none are from Native American sources. Now, the organization is working with native artists to create an original graphic novel that attempts to recover some of those voices.

For teachers, the workshop offered a look into the archives and lessons on how to use the forthcoming novel. And it raised a question about teaching history: How do you paint a full picture of the past for your students when some voices have long been silenced?

Since the introduction of the Common Core State Standards a decade ago, teachers have been encouraged to give primary sources a more prominent place in the classroom. The standards emphasize close analysis of texts across subject areas, which in history and social studies can mean reading these kinds of archival documents. In the years since, both the U.S. Library of Congress and the National Archives have expanded their digital collections in an effort to make resources available for teachers.

Read the entire piece here.

By the way, you can view of a lot of the sources used in this Gilder-Lehrman seminar at the Digital Paxton website.

Historians on Assessment

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In his recent book Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone), Stanford University professor Sam Wineburg challenges history teachers to develop new assessments of student learning to see if the study of history really does teach the skills we claim it teaches. (Wineburg is scheduled to visit The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast in the next few weeks to talk about the book). The chapter in Why Learn History is based on research conducted by Wineburg’s the Stanford History Education Group.  You can read more about that work here.

Yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, a group of history educators explored some of Wineburg’s findings in a session titled “What Are We Learning?”: Innovative Assessments and Student Learning in College-Level History Classes.”  Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed reported on the session.   Here is a taste:

CHICAGO — A 2018 paper by members of the Stanford History Education Group called out historians for failing to value evidence of student learning as much as they value evidence in their historical analyses.

The authors’ occasion for rebuke? Their recent finding that many students don’t learn critical thinking in undergraduate history courses — a challenge to history’s sales pitch that its graduates are finely tuned critical thinkers.

Even among juniors and seniors in a sample of public university students in California, just two out of 49 explained that it was problematic to use a 20th-century painting of “The First Thanksgiving” to understand the actual 1621 event, wrote lead author Sam Wineburg, Margaret Jacks Professor of Education and professor of history at Stanford University, and his colleagues.

The paper, which included other similar examples, was distressing. But it wasn’t meant to damning — just a wake-up call, or, more gently, a conversation starter. And that conversation continued Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. A panel of professors here urged a sizable crowd of colleagues to embrace not just grades but formative, ongoing assessment to gauge student learning or lack thereof in real(er) time.

Suggested formative assessments include asking students to engage with primary-source documents such as maps, paintings, eyewitness event accounts, newspaper ads and unconventional historical artifacts via specific prompts. Others include asking students to examine a symbol of American nationhood, a local historical site or how pundits use history to advance arguments.

Panelist Lendol Calder, professor of history at Augustana College in Illinois, ran a study very similar to Wineburg’s on his own campus, and said the disappointing results held up. In general, he said, students either take any historical source at face value or — when they discover it was created by a human being — dismiss it outright as “biased,” he said, to chuckles.

Partly in response to that finding, Calder and his colleagues have doubled down on their ongoing campaign to discuss historical “sourcing” in every single class. That is part of a larger, existing departmental motto: LASER, an acronym for Love history, Acquire and analyze information, Solve difficult problems, Envision new explanations, and Reveal what you know. Sourcing work, which Calder called a “threshold concept” in history, means asking students to evaluate the reliability of various historical texts. Who made it? When? Why? What value does it hold for historians, if any?

Read the rest here.

High School Yearbooks are Historical Documents

Kavanaugh

We learned this during Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings.

John Thelin, a historian at the University of Kentucky, reminds us that “yearbooks are documents that can go beyond casual nostalgia.”  Here is a taste of his piece at Inside Higher Ed:

Campus yearbooks are in the news. This unlikely attention came about with recent media coverage of Senate confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court nomination. For several days, The New York Times provided readers with front-page articles featuring clinical dissections of the biographical profiles of graduating seniors. Reporters analyzed yearbook inscriptions with the care usually reserved for decoding the Dead Sea scrolls.

The spotlight was surprising because higher education usually relies on databases such as the National Center for Education Statistics’ IPEDS, which lead to projections on enrollments, percentage returns on endowments, scorecards on institutional compliance or rankings of federal research funding. One of my colleagues, who is a statistician, exclaimed, “Yearbooks? Is this some kind of a joke?”

It was no joke. Yearbooks from high school and college are an American tradition, familiar to alumni whose photographs and captions lead them to say, “Thanks for the memories!” They also are documents that can go beyond casual nostalgia. Yearbooks have potential for serious research, but only if handled with care in analyzing their scripts of stilted, ritualized images and selective coverage of student life. Reliability, consistency, validity and significance — the concepts that shape statistical analysis — are equally pertinent in the content analysis of yearbooks.

These dusty, heavy bound volumes that end up in used bookstores, garage sales and library storage centers can be thoughtfully mined to reconstruct campus life and student cultures. They are simultaneously a source about the biography of an individual as well as a key to understanding the statistics of group patterns and dynamics of a college or high school class.

Read the rest here.

Elizabeth Craft’s Diary, 1770-1771

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White diary can be read at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston

Over at The Beehive, the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Erin Weinman introduces us to the diary of Elizabeth Craft White.  From December 27, 1770 to January 23, 1771 White wrote about her spiritual life in the wake of her husband’s death.  This looks like a wonderful source for those working in 18th-century lived religion.

Here is a taste of Weinman’s piece:

The diary is heartbreaking, but Elizabeth White’s thoughts were not uncommon during a period in which mourning became intertwined with religious culture. In early Massachusetts, it wasn’t uncommon for people to use the death of a loved one as a time to reflect upon their own souls and ask God to forgive their sins, faced with the reality that their own end could be near. Ministers often encouraged their parishioners to keep diaries to embellish their faith in Heaven, viewing this as another way to become closer to God and to understand what death meant. Sermons often revolved around the topic of dying, such as Timothy Edwards’ All the living must surely die, and go to judgement.

Man is born to trouble as the Sparks fly upward tears sorrow & Death is the Portion of every person that is Born into the world. I have been born, most certainly & it is as certain that I must die & I know not how soon. Die I must! & die I shall! (Elizabeth White, January 18, 1771).

Read the entire piece here.

Historical Thinking and the Nunes Memo

Image: House memo

How might a historian interpret the now-famous Nunes memo?

Mark Byrnes, chair of the Department of History at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, breaks it down for us.  Here is a taste of his History News Network piece: “The Nunes Memo: ‘Bias,’ and the Skills of the Historian“:

The entire “argument” (such as it is) depends on the idea that a FISA warrant based—to any extent—on the so-called Steele dossier is inherently tainted, because the research done by the author, former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, was paid for at some point by Democrats. Since the warrant targeted Carter Page, who had been part of the Trump campaign, the motive of the funders (not the researcher, it bears noting) to get “dirt” on Trump somehow discredits everything Steele found.

The memo contains not a single argument that the evidence used to obtain the warrant against Carter Page was actually false—only that it is somehow untrustworthy due to the alleged motive behind the research that produced the evidence.

In history, we deal with this problem all the time. We uncover evidence in primary sources, and must judge its credibility. Do we have reason to believe that the person who produced the evidence might have an agenda that should cause us to doubt the veracity of the evidence? What do we do if the answer to that question is “yes,” or even “maybe”?

I do a primary source exercise in my methods class that does just this: presents the students with conflicting primary source accounts of an event. I then explain why the people who produced the evidence might have self-serving reasons for portraying the event in a particular light.

Most students, when first faced with this dilemma, immediately say “bias!” and dismiss the evidence as worthless. That is the reaction the Nunes memo seems intended to produce among the general public.

But that is not how the historian reacts. Yes, the source of the evidence may have some bias. That does not, however, by itself mean that the information is false. It does mean that when weighing its validity, the historian must look for other, independent, corroborating evidence before trusting it.

It seems likely that is what the officials who used the Steele dossier to obtain the FISA warrant did: they compared what Steele wrote to other information they had about Carter Page to see if it lined up.

Read the rest here.  Thanks to TWOILH reader John Shaw for bringing this piece to my attention.

More on David Barton’s Use of That John Adams Quote

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Yesterday we did a lengthy post showing how Christian Right activist David Barton manipulated a John Adams quote to make it sound like Adams supported the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.

Barton is up to his old tricks here.  He is being deliberately deceptive. He seems to have no problem manipulating the past in this way to promote his agenda.

After I published my post, Southern Methodist University historian Kate Carte Engel took to twitter to give her take on Adams, Christianity, and the American founding.

Here it is:

Primary Sources for a Future History Class

Trump on May 19, 2017:

Former FBI Director Jim Comey on June 7, 2017:

On February 14, I went to the Oval Office for a scheduled counterterrorism briefing of the President. He sat behind the desk and a group of us sat in a semi-circle of about six chairs facing him on the other side of the desk. The Vice President, Deputy Director of the CIA, Director of the National CounterTerrorism Center, Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and I were in the semi-circle of chairs. I was directly facing the President, sitting between the Deputy CIA Director and the Director of NCTC. There were quite a few others in the room, sitting behind us on couches and chairs.

The President signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair. As the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the Attorney General lingered by my chair, but the President thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me. The last person to leave was Jared Kushner, who also stood by my chair and exchanged pleasantries with me. The President then excused him, saying he wanted to speak with me.

When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” Flynn had resigned the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.

The President then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information — a concern I shared and still share. After he had spoken for a few minutes about leaks, Reince Priebus leaned in through the door by the grandfather clock and I could see a group of people waiting behind him. The President waved at him to close the door, saying he would be done shortly. The door closed.

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”

The President returned briefly to the problem of leaks. I then got up and left out the door by the grandfather clock, making my way through the large group of people waiting there, including Mr. Priebus and the Vice President.

I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.

Revolutionary America: An Update on Textbook Selection

brown-and-carpIn the past I have spent a lot of time stressing over readings for my 300-level course on the American Revolution at Messiah College.  How many  monographs should I assign? How should I balance new works with classics in the field? What are the seminal scholarly articles that must be assigned?  What about important primary sources?

This year I decided to avoid the stress and assign only two textbooks. The first text is Gordon Wood’s short and concise The American Revolution: A History.  Wood’s text is limited in what it accomplishes, but I want students to have a political overview of the events leading up to the revolution, the war, and the confederation period.

The second text is Richard D. Brown and Benjamin Carp’s reader Major Problems in the Era of the American Revolution, 1760-1791.  This text is loaded with excerpts from some of the best secondary essays in the field (Gordon Wood, Alfred Young, Gary Nash, Fred Anderson, Carp, McConville, Armitage, Jasanoff, Dowd, Sinha, Zagarri, Crane, Butler, Noll, Onuf, Gross, Beeman, Cornell, Bouton) and some very teachable primary sources.

Most importantly, Major Problems allows me to assign manageable readings that my students can actually digest and discuss.  It allows us to spend more time analyzing primary sources and has enabled me to introduce historiography more effectively.  The discussions in class have been much better because we are not rushing to finish one monograph and get to another.  After fifteen years of teaching this course it now feels less like a graduate seminar and much more like an undergraduate history course.

Here is what we have done so far:

Day 1: Introduction to the course.

Day 2:  Discussion of the “Britishness” of the colonies of the eve of the American Revolution. Here I reveal my preference for the Anglicization interpretation of British America. Ben Franklin’s “For Interest of Great Britain Considered” (1760) was perfect for this discussion.

Day 3: We talked about the 12-15 research paper the students will write.  I introduced students to the Early American Imprints and Early American Newspapers collections. (We are fortunate to have these resources at Messiah College–thanks Beth Mark!).

Day 3: Discussion of four documents on changes in British customs policy and the Proclamation of 1763.  My favorite is George Washington’s letter to his land agent about trying to illegally buy land beyond the Proclamation line.  It portrays Washington as a self-interested land speculator.  This is a side of Washington that is new to most of my students.

Day 4: We read documents on the Stamp Act.  Brown and Carp include sources chronicling the violent resistance to the Act as well as the more intellectual opposition that came through people like Patrick Henry and the Stamp Act Congress.  The students really enjoy the descriptions of mob activity in New York written by Lieutenant Governor Cadwallader Colden and his son David.  Today one student pointed out David Colden’s blatant attempt to land a job as a stamp collector and court the favor of the powers-that-be in London. Rank ambition indeed!  (Colden would end up fleeing to Canada).

Stay tuned.

Jared Burkholder’s “Open Letter to the Bartons”

jared-burkholderJared Burkholder teaches and writes history at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana.  I have been to Grace. It is a great Christian college.  I also think it is fair to say that Grace is not a bastion of secularism, liberalism, atheism, or paganism.  Having said that, it is not pure enough for David Barton, the political activist who uses the past to promote his political agenda that the United States is a Christian nation. Grace did not make his list of acceptable schools.

Over at The Pietist Schoolman,  Chris Gehrz’s Christian history blog with a wide readership among evangelicals, Burkholder has published “An Open Letter to the Bartons.” Here is a taste:

Dear David (and now Tim) Barton,

Maybe you can clarify something for me. Why do you continue to insist that because you read primary sources you have a unique voice when compared to professional Christian historians like me, who you say fail to make use of original sources?

I am hardly the first to be annoyed by this, but suffice it to say this is utterly incomprehensible to me. Primary sources are to historians what hammers are to carpenters; what keyboards are to composers; what language is to writers. They are the tools of our trade, the most basic implements we learn to use.

We wrestle with their complexity. We wade through mountains of them. We have realized that using them with integrity requires difficult work and a whole lot of time. Often, we don’t just read and use primary sources, we live in them. We spend so much time with them they become part of our present reality. They show up in our dreams at night and in the space of our daydreams. We ask other people for grant money so we can go and see them. We cross oceans to handle them — maybe just to decipher the notes in the margins. We struggle with foreign languages so we can break their codes and take courses in paleography to learn how the ancients made their letters. Visit any of our classes and you’ll find we not only use original documents for our research, we assign them to our students. We might print out digital photos of documents crammed into our hard drives from our research trips so students can practice with them. We take joy when we inspire in our students the same sense of awe we ourselves feel every time we step into the archives.

Read the whole thing at The Pietist Schoolman.

I offer this for some additional context.

 

What Constitutes a Historical Document?

Mount VernonAHA Today, the blog of the American Historical Association, is featuring the work of several history graduate students who will be writing regular posts throughout the summer.  I am thrilled to see that one of the students chosen to write for the blog is Erin Holmes, a Ph.D candidate in early American history at the University of South Carolina.  I got to know Erin and her work a little bit during my one-month residency as a visiting scholar at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.  When I arrived Erin was in the midst of a longer six-month fellowship devoted to work on a dissertation on 18th-century plantation landscapes in Virginia, South Carolina, and Barbados.

In her first post at AHA Today, Erin reminds us that the primary documents historians use to tell stories about the past do not have to be words on paper.

Here is a taste:

In 1953, L.P. Hartley wrote that “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Historians and lay readers alike are familiar with the idea that the past is a different place, but often lose sight of the word “place” in that discussion. Like any other place, we can travel to the past. Most often, we do this through the written word. We read primary sources that introduce us to foreign cultures and practices that once existed in the very location (sometimes down to the exact longitude and latitude) we do today, albeit in a place—a historical context encompassing geography, culture, and more—that would be utterly alien.

“Visiting the Past and the Places in Between” is based on my belief that history is inherently place-based and that historical analysis is strengthened by comparison. We attach ourselves (to varying degrees) to the places we come from, the places we live, and the places to which we travel. Among the richest resources for historians of the early modern period seeking thick descriptions of long lost people and places are travel narratives. These accounts are fundamentally the product of comparing the familiar with the unfamiliar, and to some extent historians produce our research questions from the same cloth. Pairing travel narratives with existing (or archaeological) historic structures, as well as expanding the definition of a “historical document” to include landscapes and buildings, provides an entry point to the past that can allow us to not only answer those questions, but to push them further.

Read the rest here.

Primary Source of the Day

George Washington to Tench Tilghman

Mount Vernon Mar. 24th 1784

Dear Sir,
I am informed that a Ship with Palatines is gone up to Baltimore, among whom are a number of Tradesmen. I am a good deal in want of a House Joiner & Bricklayer, (who really understand their profession) & you would do me a favor by purchasing one of each, for me. I would not confine you to Palatines. If they are good workmen, they may be of Assia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans, Jews, or Christian of any Sect—or they may be Athiests—I woud however prefer middle aged, to young men. and those who have good countenances & good characters on ship board, to others who have neither of these to recommend them—altho, after all, the proof of the pudding must be in the eating. I do not limit you to a price, but will pay the purchase money on demand—This request will be in force ’till complied with, or countermanded, because you may not succeed at this moment, and have favourable ones here after to do it in[.]1 My best respects, in which Mrs Washington joins, are presented to Mrs Tilghman & Mrs Carroll 2—and I am Dr Sir Yr Affecte Hble Servt

Source

HT

Why You Should Do an Internship at a Historical Museum

You just might find a document that saves the museum.

This is indeed what happened to Emilie Gruchow, who interned at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Manhattan during the summer of 2013.  

Rebecca Rego Barry tells her story at Smithsonian.com:

Emilie Gruchow, then an archives intern at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, had recently begun working in the historic house’s third-floor attic. When she recalled the day, she was clear that there wasn’t any air-conditioning up there, and the room temperature was averaging about 95 degrees. Her project was to re-catalog the 17th- and 18th-century manuscripts stored in the flat file cabinets. She knew that many of them were historically noteworthy and many required immediate preservation treatment (archival storage in a hot, humid attic is definitely not recommended).

One folder contained the accounts of Nicholas Roche, an 18th-century doctor who treated slaves in New York and New Jersey. It was fascinating material, and she remembered, “I was reading these papers (admittedly straying from my work a little), which were interleaved with fragments of another document. When I was done reading through the Roche papers, I returned to the fragments. They were not in order, so I started reading fragments one by one until I got to the fourth or fifth leaf, which had the opening passage on one side.”
That line, from an urgent plea sent to the people of Great Britain by the Second Continental Congress one year before American independence was declared, was now in front of her in manuscript form.
What Gruchow had found misfiled among the doctor’s papers was a draft of a document entitled “The Twelve United Colonies, by their Delegates in Congress, to the Inhabitants of Great Britain.”
It was an appeal not to King George, but to the British people, for reconciliation, and a last-ditch effort to avoid war by touting “the glorious achievements of our common ancestors.” The Second Continental Congress had approved the strident text on July 8, 1775, a few weeks after the Battle of Bunker Hill, and commissioned a printing in broadsheet form to circulate (of which several copies exist in institutional collections.) It didn’t do much good; by then George III had already decreed that the colonies were in rebellion. For historians, however, the “olive branch” reveals the strong, conflicted feelings of the colonists in the spring and summer of 1775. In draft form, showing numerous edits and strikethroughs, that concept is amplified. As the auction catalogue states, “…This document is an important missing piece from the culminating moments in which colonists began to think of themselves not as British subjects but as American citizens.”
Until Gruchow’s discovery, no manuscript was known to exist and even its authorship was undetermined. The Continental Congress had originally appointed delegates Robert R. Livingston, Richard Henry Lee, and Edmund Pendleton to the task, but the printed version was unsigned. According to scholars, it’s evident from this recent discovery that Livingston was the primary author (the manuscript is in his hand, with notes and edits by Lee). Livingston, incidentally, was one of the five men assigned one year later to write the Declaration of Independence, along with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Roger Sherman.
Before even these details were fleshed out, Gruchow brought the document, given the moniker “the Livingston manuscript,” to the attention of the museum’s curator, Jasmine Helm, and its director, Carol S. Ward. The paper looked right to them—it was handmade from fiber pulp—and they called upon experts for second opinions and handwriting analysis. It was concluded that this was indeed a genuine, significant, Revolutionary-era manuscript. As such, they knew it was extremely valuable.
Read the rest here.  The document eventually sold at auction for nearly $1 million and secured a long-term future for the museum.
HT: Michael Hattem on FB