The David Library of the American Revolution in Washington Crossing is Closing

David Library

I was recently contemplating a research trip to the David Library of the American Revolution (DLAR) in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania.  I have some left-over professional development money that I need to spend by the end of June and the DLAR offers me the best bang (in terms of collections) for my buck.

I enjoy research at the David Library for several reasons:

First, the early American history collections are outstanding.   I have so much stuff I still need to look at for my current project!

Second, the David Library farm is a wonderful place to work.  Fellows have 24-hour access to the library.  One does not have to worry about parking.  There is housing on site. And the farm’s location on the Delaware Canal provides opportunities for walking and other forms of exercising.  It has always been my favorite place to work.

Third, former fellows and other scholars can stay at the on-site residence at a discount.  I have taken advantage of this several times. Meg McSweeney has always been so hospitable.

Fourth, I am nostalgic.  I attended my first McNeil Center for Early American Studies (it was then called the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies) seminar at the David Library in 1995.  I held a research fellowship at the DLAR in 2008-2009.  I wrote my first The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog post in my room at the residence. I have lectured at the DLAR on several different occasions.  My family even visited one rainy Saturday afternoon during my fellowship and we organized baseball cards in my room.

David Library 2

But the days of the David Library–at least the Washington Crossing days–are coming to an end. The DLAR has just announced that it will be selling the farm and moving its collections to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.  Here is a taste of the press release:

In a bold decision that will preserve the material record of American Revolutionary history and make it accessible to scholars across the globe, the David Library of the American Revolution (DLAR) and the American Philosophical Society (APS) announce a new partnership that will create an unparalleled single site for the comprehensive study of early U.S. history.

The newly formed David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society will provide for the long-term care and protection of the David Library’s collections, permit expanded public access to the materials, advance the current fellowship program, and enable the digitization of the documents. This new model of preservation comes at a time when many American historical institutions are struggling to maintain their collections.

“As a former research fellow at both the David Library and the American Philosophical Society, I am incredibly excited about this partnership,” said Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, President & CEO of the Museum of the American Revolution. “In an era of tight budgets and uncertainty about the future of some of our most venerable historical organizations, this collaboration will make the David Center a powerhouse of scholarship on the American Revolution.  With the 250th anniversary of the nation fast approaching, this is definitely a case of 1 + 1 = 3.”

The David Library will continue to operate as usual in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania until the end of 2019.The transition period is expected to begin as early as this summer, as various committees work to fulfill the joint vision of the partnering institutions. Relocation of the collection from the David Library’s Bucks County campus to the American Philosophical Society will begin after the Library closes at the end of this year.

James J. Linksz, President of the David Library said that the partnership will ensure the long-term success of the David Library. “For the David Library to fulfill its potential to be the pre-eminent institution for scholarship and study of American history in the era of the American Revolution, the Board of Trustees determined that we needed a strong and distinguished institutional partner. In the American Philosophical Society, we think we have found the best partner possible. We are sad to leave Bucks County, the David Library’s home since its founding in 1959, but we are excited to join the APS in Philadelphia, the city where the United States of America began, and we look forward to our future as the David Center.”

The new Center will house the vast collection of rare and important documents, microfilm and other material from the David Library of the American Revolution, including original letters and journals from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and other founding fathers.

The David Library Board of Trustees will be tasked with determining the next life for portions of the 118-acre Bucks County property along River Road in Upper Makefield Township (Washington Crossing), where the Library has been located for the past 45 years.  A significant portion of the property, 52.53 acres, has already been protected from development through the Bucks County Agricultural Land Preservation program, and will remain open space. With that restriction, the entire property will be offered for sale and the proceeds will help to fund future programming and collections care at the David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society.

“The DLAR and the APS have long shared missions to support scholarship and disseminate knowledge about the birth of our nation,” said Robert M. Hauser, Executive Officer of the APS. “This new partnership allows the DLAR to preserve that mission while leveraging professional, financial, and technological resources at APS that will expand the David Library’s reach and impact.”

Read the rest here.

I will reserve judgement until I learn more about the nature of “David Center for the American Revolution.”

Robert Caro on Working in Archives

Robert Caro, author of "The Power Broker," a biography on Ro

Robert Caro, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and Lyndon Johnson biographer, recently published Working: Research, Interviewing, Writing.  Here is a the publisher’s description:

For the first time in book form, Robert Caro gives us a glimpse into his own life and work in these evocatively written, personal pieces. He describes what it was like to interview the mighty Robert Moses; what it felt like to begin discovering the extent of the political power Moses wielded; the combination of discouragement and exhilaration he felt confronting the vast holdings of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas; his encounters with witnesses, including longtime residents wrenchingly displaced by the construction of Moses’ Cross-Bronx Expressway and Lady Bird Johnson acknowledging the beauty and influence of one of LBJ’s mistresses. He gratefully remembers how, after years of working in solitude, he found a writers’ community at the New York Public Library, and details the ways he goes about planning and composing his books. 

Caro recalls the moments at which he came to understand that he wanted to write not just about the men who wielded power but about the people and the politics that were shaped by that power. And he talks about the importance to him of the writing itself, of how he tries to infuse it with a sense of place and mood to bring characters and situations to life on the page. Taken together, these reminiscences–some previously published, some written expressly for this book–bring into focus the passion, the wry self-deprecation, and the integrity with which this brilliant historian has always approached his work.

Over at Popular Mechanics, Eleanor Hildebrandt talks to Caro about his work in the archives.  Here is a taste of their conversation:

Popular Mechanics: What do you bring with you when you go to the archives?

Robert Caro: It depends on the archive. I have a computer on my desk [a Lenovo Thinkpad], although I still write and do most of my stuff on this typewriter. The reason I have a computer is that some years ago, the Johnson library said that my typewriter was so noisy, it was disturbing the other researchers. So I bought a computer and I took all my Vietnam notes on it, but I still write on the typewriter and in longhand.

It makes me think more. Today everybody believes fast is good. Sometimes slow is good.

Almost two years ago, Ina [Caro’s wife] and I went down [to the archives], and I’m sitting there, in the reading room, writing my notes. Everybody else is standing there taking photographs of their documents. They do it with cell phones now. If you saw me there, you’d see one person who’s not in the modern age.

PM: Have you ever been tempted to switch to pictures?

RC: No. I feel there’s something very important, to be able to turn the pages yourself. I don’t want anything standing in between me and the paper. People compliment me on finding out how [Johnson] rose to power so fast in Congress by using money. That happened down there, and it was a vague, amorphous thing. I was sitting there with all these boxes, taking all these notes. And you saw letters, his very subservient letters—“Can I have five minutes of your time?”—and then you see the same letters coming back to him. And I said, Something happened here. What’s the explanation? Why is a committee chairman writing to Lyndon Johnson, asking for a few minutes of his time? So I sat there and put my notes into chronological order. And then it became absolutely clear.

Would the same thing have happened if I’d stood there taking photographs and went back? Possibly. But I don’t believe it. To me, being in the papers is really important.

Read the entire interview here.

Slavery Databases

9d6eb-slaveryOver at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell has a nice roundup of some of the best databases about enslaved people.

Here is a taste:

This is just one of several online databases about enslaved people that researchers can now use. There’s the venerable Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, which has numbers (not names) of every known slaving voyage from Africa to the New World. This project has recently received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to expand with information about shipments from one American port to another.

The New York Slavery Records Index has collected records that “identify individual enslaved persons and their owners, beginning as early as 1525 and ending during the Civil War.”

Runaway Connecticut is based on a selection of the runaway notices that appeared in the Connecticut Courant between 1765 and 1820. Those advertisements involve different sorts of people—escaping slaves, runaway apprentices, deserting soldiers, escaped prisoners, and dissatisfied husbands and wives.

The Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy site is based on databases created by Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall and published on CD-ROM by the Louisiana State University Press in 2000.

The Virginia Historical Society’s Unknown No Longer website collects “the names of all the enslaved Virginians that appear in our unpublished documents.” That means it’s not as comprehensive as other compilations, but the society felt it was better to share what they had which would otherwise remain hidden than to wait for more. 

Read the entire post here.

Archives Season

PHS

I’ve spent many summer hours toiling away at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia

Over at AHA Today, Christina Copland, a Ph.D candidate at University of Southern California, has a nice piece on summer archive work.  Here is a taste:

 

Larger archives are the watering holes of the history world. Some offer meet & greet opportunities—the Huntington Library where I did much of my writing hosted weekly afternoon tea breaks. In other places, sometimes all we need to do is to ask fellow researchers about the documents they’re looking at. I’ve also found that, especially in smaller and more specialized repositories, archival staff love to talk about sources and are keen to hear about where we might take our projects. Some of the people who were most enthusiastic about my PhD research were the staff at the Biola University library, the archive where I spent the bulk of my time (once the mold problem was fixed, that is). The fact that archivists are passionate about their collections—and know them better than anyone else—means that they can help point us in the direction of potentially useful sources. Often an archive will offer funding to researchers. The time spent building up a network of library contacts might prove invaluable to getting these fellowships.

It’s not just records we access at an archive. These are spaces in which we find future conference panelists, encounter other grads and faculty members working in our fields, or meet archivists who help us out of a research roadblock. The archival landscape is shifting, however, perhaps with significant consequences for this part of our lives as historians. More archives are moving their collections online, accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Digital archives make our lives easier; there’s no travelling involved, no risk of running out of time on a research trip. But what’s the trade off? What we gain in research convenience, might we potentially lose in community?

Read the entire piece here.

I can’t remember a summer when I did not spend at least a few days in the archives.  I will be spending most of this summer promoting Believe Me, but I still hope to steal away from the book tour and get to one or two archives.  We will see how things go.

Here’s a piece I published fifteen years ago at Common-Place.

An Unusual Damage Claim Sheds Some Light on the Battle of Connecticut Farms

plaque

This summer, when I am not writing about the court evangelicals, I have been working on a book on the American Revolution.  On a good day I get in about five hours of research, and I am fortunate to have a couple of former students helping me.

One of my research assistants, Abigail, is transcribing damage claim reports from the Revolution.  These virtually untapped sources (at least for New Jersey, where I am working right now) tell us a lot about the kinds of goods ordinary people owned at the time of the Revolution.  They also give us a glimpse of the damage and destruction caused by both the Continental and British armies as they rolled through local communities.

Nearly all of the damage claims in New Jersey were filed by individual property owners, but every now and then we find a break in this pattern.  Today, as I was reading through the material Abigail transcribed, I found a note calling my attention to a claim from the Presbyterian “parish” at Connecticut Farms.  Here it is (with Abigail’s not to me embedded):

Damage Claim No. 22 (NJ0407) made at Connecticut Farms on May 28, 1789, for damage done on June 7, 1780. [Dr. Fea, this claim is for the Connecticut Farms parish (including a meeting house, parsonage house, barn, and chair and school houses) and not a person/family—very different from the other claims so far.]

§ “Inventory and Apprisal of the Property of the Parish of Connecticut Farms Burnt, taken and destroyed by the British Army or their Adherents on the 7th of June 1780”

· Items: 1 large well finished meeting house burnt (1500 L), 1 bell (65 L), 1 large Bible (1 L, 10 S), 1 velvet cushion for the pulpit (2 L), parsonage house 40 by 24 (250 L), 1 barn 24 by 24 (30 L), chair house (10 L), school house (15 L), sundry sacramental vessels, de—[?], 1 large silver cup (6 L), 2 large black tin cups (10 L), 2 large pewter platters (1 L, 4 S), 1 basin (3 S), 1 fine diaper table cloth (16 S), and cloth used at buryings (3 L), for a total of 1885 pounds, 3 shillings.

June 7, 1780 was the date of the Battle of Connecticut Farms.  The British planned for one final attack on Washington’s troops in the North.  Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen received a report that Washington’s army in Morristown had been reduced, through illness and desertions, to about 3500 men. Spies had informed him that mutinies were occurring in the ranks and morale was at an all-time low.  Knyphausen thought that the time was right to attack Morristown, capture Washington’s army, and perhaps bring an end to the war.

With approximately 6000 men from three different divisions under his command, Knyphausen’s army crossed Staten Island by boat on June 6, 1780 and landed at Elizabeth-Town Point. The following morning the British forces were met by Continental troops from New Jersey under the command of Colonel Elias Dayton whose troops slowed the British advance, but they were eventually forced to retreat to Connecticut Farms later in the morning.  By 8am, Knyphausen troops and the New Jersey Brigade under the command of William Maxwell clashed in Connecticut Farms.  With superior numbers, the British forced Maxwell to retreat to Springfield.  Knyphausen’s troops moved into Connecticut Farms, set part of the town on fire, and eventually halted his attack as the sun set.  At some time during the day George Washington arrived from Morristown and employed his personal guard in an attempt to stop the British advance.

The destruction of the parish property sheds light on one of the great mysteries of the battle. During the battle, Hannah Caldwell, the wife of the Elizabeth-Town Presbyterian clergyman James Caldwell, was shot to death by a British soldier as she stood in the window of the Presbyterian parsonage. News of Hannah’s death spread quickly.  New jersey Governor William Livingston received the news in a letter from brigadier-general Nathaniel Heard.  Greene informed Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth in Springfield that Hannah had been shot in a “barbarous manner.”

A rather lengthy letter describing the battle and Hannah’s death was published in the June 13, 1780 edition of the Pennsylvania Packet.  The unidentified author of the article believed that Hannah’s death was an attempt to punish James Caldwell, “an object worthy of the enemy’s keenest resentment,” for his patriotic activity and zeal.  The article implies that clergyman had a target on his back, but had always “evaded every attempt to injure him.”  Earlier in the day, the author claimed, a woman on the street in Connecticut Farms was approached by a British soldier who put a bayonet to her breast and threatened to kill her because she was the wife of James Caldwell.  The woman was spared when a young officer who knew her told the soldier that she was not Hannah Caldwell. Eventually, however, they did find the real Hannah. The author of the Pennsylvania Packet story described a British soldier coming to the window of the room of the Connecticut Farms parsonage where Hannah, her maid, and some of her smaller children were seated, and shooting Hannah in the lungs. Immediately following the shooting, a British officer and two Hessians dug a hole, placed the body inside it, and set the house on fire.  All of James Caldwell’s personal effects and papers were lost in the fire. Later an American officer managed to pull Hannah’s body from the grave and bring it to a “small house in the neighborhood.”  There was also a rumor circulating that the soldier who shot Hannah was later seen bragging about the killing.

Seal_of_Union_County,_New_Jersey

The seal of Union County, New Jersey represents the “murder” of Hannah Caldwell

There is more to this story, and I hope to tell it soon.  But this damage claim is going to help me flesh out the impact of the American Revolution on religious life in this New Jersey town.  Not only was the church and the outbuildings burned, but the British troops desecrated several of the church’s sacred and sacramental objects. This was not an unusual practice, but such detailed damage claims, at least for New Jersey, are rather rare.

Yesterday’s Research Finds

new jersey

New Jersey, 1776 (Wikipedia Commons)

Yesterday I read the minutes of the New Jersey Provincial Congress that met in Burlington, Trenton, and New Brunswick between June 10 and August 21, 1776.  Here are some of my favorite passages:

June 14, 1776:

“That in the opinion of this congress, the said William Franklin, Esquire, by such proclamation, has acted in direct contempt and violation of the resolve to the Continental Congress of the 15th day of May last. “That in the opinion of this congress, the said William Franklin, Esquire, by such proclamation, has acted in direct contempt and violation of the resolve to the Continental Congress of the 15th day of May last. 

“Resolved, That, In the opinion of this congress, the said William Franklin, Esquire, has discovered himself to be an enemy to the liberties of this country; and that measures ought to be immediately taken for securing the person of the said William Franklin.” 

June 18, 1776:

Nathan Heard to Samuel Tucker (President of Provincial Congress):

I this morning, with major Deane, went to governor Franklin, and desired him to comply with the order of Congress, and sign the parole sent me, which he absolutely refused to do, and forbid me, at my peril, to carry the order into execution.  We then left the governor’s house, and ordered a company of militia, which were in readiness, to attend, and have placed a guard of about sixty men at and around his house.  I expect he will persist in refusing to comply, and therefore send this per express, and beg the further directions of the Congress respecting this matter as soon as possible…

July 1, 1776

“Whereas by a regulation of the late Congress, the several committees in this colony, were authorized and directed to disarm all the non-associators and persons notoriously disaffected within their bounds.  And whereas it appears that the said regulations hath not been carried into effect in some parts of the colony; and it being absolutely necessary, in the present dangerous state of public affairs when arms are much wanted for the publick defense, that it should be instantly executed.  That the several colonels in this colony do, without delay, proceed to disarm all such persons within their districts, whose religious principles will not permit them to bear arms; and likewise all such as have hitherto refused and still refuse to bear arms; that the arms so taken be appraised by some indifferent person or persons; that the said colonels give vouchers for the same and that the appraisement and receipt be left in the hands of the person disarmed. (Italics mine)

July 18, 1776:

In this interesting situation—viewing on the one hand—an active, inveterate and implacable enemy, increasing fast in strength, daily receiving large reinforcements, and industriously preparing to strike some decisive blow: on the other—a considerable part of the inhabitants supinely slumbering on the brink of ruin—and moved with affections, apprehensions, the convention think it incumbent upon them to warn their constituents of the impending danger.  On you, our friends and brethren, it depends, this day, to determine—whether you, your wives, your children, and millions of your descendants yet unborn, shall wear the galling, the ignominious yoke of slavery; or nobly inherit the generous, the inestimable blessings of freedom.  The alternative is before you—can you hesitate in your choice?  Can you doubt which to prefer?  Say!  Will you be slaves?  Will you toil and labour and glean together a little property, merely that it may be at the disposal of a relentless and rapacious conqueror?  Will you, of choice, become hewers of wood and drawers of water?  Impossible!  You cannot be so amazingly degenerate as to lick the hand that is raised to shed your blood!  Nature and nature’s God have made you free!  Liberty is the birthright of Americans! the gift of heaven! and the intent it is forced!…Your happiness and misery, virtuous independence or indignant servitude, hang trembling in the balance!—Happily we know!  We can anticipate your virtuous choice—With confident satisfaction we are assured, that not a moment will delay your important decision—that you cannot feel hesitation, whether you will tamely and degeneratively bend your necks to the irretrievable wretchedness of slavery—or by your instant and animated exertions enjoy the fair inheritance of heaven—born freedom, and transmit it unimpaired to your posterity.”

How to Have a Great Experience in the Archives

Archives 3

Apparently today is archive day at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

If you are new to working in the archives, I recommend taking a look at Andrea Turpin’s recent post at Religion in American History: “Adventures in the Archives: Tips for Minimizing Expenses, Maximizing Time, & Having Fun.”

Turpin offers five pieces of advice:

  1. Apply for grants
  2. Be shameless
  3. Let archivists help
  4. Tailor your research style to the nature of the archives
  5. Have fun both inside and outside the archives

See how Turpin unpacks these points at Religion in American History blog.  This is helpful stuff.

Can a “Discovery” Be Made in an Archive?

Archives 2I am in the archives this week.  I am hoping to discover something that will be useful to my current research project.  I am not expecting to uncover something that no one has ever seen before, but if I do stumble across a manuscript that had either been misplaced or forgotten, and somehow advances our understanding of my field in new ways, I would probably consider it a “discovery.”

Over at The Atlantic a couple of archivists are debating the meaning of the term “discovery.”  A lot of it seems to be semantics, but it is still an interesting debate.

Suzanne Fischer of The Henry Ford says that if you “discover” something in an archive it is not a “discovery.”   Helena Iles Papaioannou of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln argues that it is a “discovery” if you find something in an archive that no one knew was there.

This debate arose in the context of Papaioannou’s find of a Surgeon General’s report on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

So what does count as a “discovery?”

Summer in the Archives

ArchivesMicrofilm

I will be in the archives this summer.  If all works out as I have planned it, I hope to be spending some time at the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton.  Stay tuned.

Over at Religion in American History, Cara Burnridge has collected some of that blog’s “‘greatest hits” on American religious history archives.

Here’s a small taste:

Now that RAAC2017 has come and gone,* summer is in full swing. For me, and I suspect many readers too, that means it’s time for archival research. Fortunately, we’ve accumulated a quite a few posts for those who might be researching for the first time or heading somewhere new. Here’s a round-up of what we’ve posted previously.

Read the rest here.

From the Archives: Messiah College History Department in *The American Scholar*

9e36b-boyerThis post originally ran at The Way of Improvement Leads Home on December 14, 2014–JF

Anthony Grafton (Princeton University) and James Grossman (American Historical Association), the authors of the “No More Plan B” proposal that challenged graduate programs in history to think about training Ph.D students for careers outside of the academy, have now turned to the pages of the prestigious American Scholar to extol the value of undergraduate historical research.

I think I will just let them explain. But before I do, I am proud to say that Grafton and Grossman use the Messiah College History Department as an example of a department in which students are engaged in extensive student research.  We are indeed a department that uses the study of the past to help students build “a self and a soul and a mind” that they can take with them wherever they go.

Here is a taste of their article, “Habits of the Mind“:

Students of history learn how to do research in institutions of many kinds…Go, for example, to the webpage of the history department at Messiah College, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and you’ll read about students doing every kind of research you can imagine, from working with a museum professional to excavate and restore a historic cemetery, to pursuing the family histories of African Americans in the documents at the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library, to developing a digital archive on the history of Harrisburg. Go to the webpage of the history department at the University of California, Berkeley and you’ll find a student-edited journal, Clio’s Scroll, showcasing detailed and imaginative historical research—often drawn from senior theses—on subjects such as drama, landscape, and political thought.

Why do we teach these students—fresh, bright young undergraduates—to do research? Why take people who are forming themselves, who should be thinking about life, death, and the universe, and send them off to an archive full of dusty documents and ask them to tell us something new about the impact of the Civil War in a country town in Pennsylvania or Virginia, or the formation of Anglo-Norman kingship, or the situation of slaves in the Old South?

The answer is so simple that we sometimes forget to give it, but it matters. We teach students to do research because it’s one powerful way to teach them to understand and appreciate the past on its own terms, while at the same time finding meaning in the past that is rooted in the student’s own intellect and perspective. Classrooms and assigned readings are necessary to provide context: everyone needs to have an outline in mind, if only to have something to take apart; and everyone needs to know how to create those outlines and query them constructively. Reading monographs and articles is vital, too. To get past the big, generalized stories, you have to see how professional scholars have formed arguments, debated one another, and refined theories in light of the evidence.

But the most direct and powerful way to grasp the value of historical thinking is through engagement with the archive—or its equivalent in an era when oral history and documentary photography can create new sources, and digital databases can make them available to anyone with a computer. The nature of archives varies as widely as the world itself. They can be collections of documents or data sets, maps or charts, books with marginal notes scrawled in them that let you look over the shoulders of dead readers, or a diary that lets you look over the shoulder of a dead midwife. What matters is that the student develops a question and then identifies the particular archive, the set of sources, where it can be answered.

Why do this? Partly because it’s the only way for a student to get past being a passive consumer and critic and to become a creator, someone who reads other historians in the light of having tried to do what they do. Partly because it’s the way that historians help students master skills that are not specific to history. When students do research, they learn to think through problems, weigh evidence, construct arguments, and then criticize those arguments and strip them down and make them better—and finally to write them up in cogent, forceful prose, using the evidence deftly and economically to make their arguments and push them home.

The best defense for research, however, is that it’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self—a self that, when all goes well, is intolerant of weak arguments and loose citation and all other forms of shoddy craftsmanship; a self that doesn’t accept a thesis without asking what assumptions and evidence it rests on; a self that doesn’t have a lot of patience with simpleminded formulas and knows an observation from an opinion and an opinion from an argument.

This self, moreover, is the student’s own construction. Supervision matters: people new to historical work need advice in framing questions, finding sources, and shaping arguments. In the end, though, historical research is always, and should always be, a bungee jump, a leap into space that hasn’t been mapped or measured. The faculty supervisor straps on the harness and sees to the rope. But the student takes the risk and reaps the rewards. This isn’t just student-centered learning, in which the student’s interests are put first; it’s student defined and student executed, the work of a self-reliant, observant, and creative person.

A self like this can seem unworldly, especially if the “real world” resembles a political culture that dismisses complexity and context as “academic.” But in a deeper sense, this is a worldly education, in the traditional way that humanistic education has always embodied. A good humanities education combines training in complex analysis with clear communication skills. Someone who becomes a historian becomes a scholar—not in the sense of choosing a profession, but in the broader meaning of developing the scholarly habits of mind that value evidence, logic, and reflection over ideology, emotion, and reflex. A student of history learns that empathy, rather than sympathy, stands at the heart of understanding not only the past but also the complex present.

That is because in the archive the historian has the opportunity and the obligation to listen. A good historian enters the archive not to prove a hypothesis, not to gather evidence to support a position that assumptions and theories have already formed. But to answer a question. It’s an amazing experience to see and talk with and learn from the dead. As Machiavelli said so well, you ask them questions about what they did and why, and in their humanity, they answer you, and you learn what you can’t learn any other way.

History has many mansions nowadays. Historians work on every period of human history, every continent, and every imaginable form of human life. But they all listen to the dead (and yes, in some cases, the living as well): that’s the common thread that connects every part of history’s elaborate tapestry of methods. All historians muster the best evidence they can to answer their questions. They offer respect and admiration to those who show the greatest ingenuity in raising new questions, bringing new characters onto the stage of history, and finding new evidence with which to do so.

As for talking with people who don’t work in universities—a student who writes a good history paper has learned how to communicate knowledge to anyone. History has been a form of narrative art, as well as of inquiry into the past, since the first millennium BCE, when Jewish and Greek and Chinese writers began to produce it. That’s why Herodotus could read his history of the Persian Wars aloud at the Olympic Games—a performance for which he received the large sum of 10 talents. Historians care about clear speech and vigorous prose, and believe that even complex and technical forms of inquiry into the past can be conveyed in accessible and attractive language. Accordingly, we don’t separate research from writing. Just ask the students whose papers and chapters we send back, adorned with marginalia in blue pen or the colors of Track Changes.

When a student does research in this way—when she attacks a problem that matters to her by identifying and mastering the sources, posing a big question, and answering it in a clear and cogent way, in the company of a trained professional to whom she and her work matter—she’s not becoming a pedant or a producer of useless knowledge. She’s doing what students of the humanities have always done: building a self and a soul and a mind that she can take with her wherever she goes, and that will make her an independent, analytical thinker and a reflective, self-critical person. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

More Archival Research Tips from Lisa Munro

Archival

Last week we did a post on Lisa Munro‘s tips for historians doing archival research.  Now Munro is back with a second post on the topic.

Here are some of her thoughts on organization in the archives:

The other thing that is vitally important to your research mission is keeping a log of some kind of what documents you’ve already read. This is absolutely necessary to avoid duplicating research efforts and saving time. Everyone develops their own system eventually. My first step involves an Excel spreadsheet with columns for the date I read the documents and the metadata mentioned above, as well as whether I photographed the document and the date of my photos. I also record all relevant data about documents I will read in the future. I like the Excel method, as I can see all of my research efforts in one place. It’s like having a main index to my research.

Second, anything that has the kind of metadata I mentioned above goes on both the spreadsheet and in my Zotero library. I cross reference the data on my Excel sheet with my Zotero database, which is where I take notes on the documents I read.

I also attach individual archive photos to my Zotero items, as seen above. If you use Zotero, be warned that it cannot perform OCR (optical character recognition) on digital photos. Performing OCR on all of my archive photos is beyond even my obsessive nature, so I just attach them to the main item and make sure that I can find it again. I’ve found that tags work better for me than collections, as an item can have more than one tag. If you look at the bottom left of my Zotero photo, you can see that I’ve tagged this with AGCA, history of archaeology, primary source, and Tikal. Once I’ve got the item tagged, I can find it again easily.

Anything I need to write down that doesn’t have specific metadata attached to it (for example, my nightly archive notes) gets stored in Evernote. If I take notes by hand, I snap photos of them and upload them to EN, which will OCR and index handwriting.  I make sure to tag all of my research notes for easy retrieval later. I use tags like: archive notes, AGCA, research, etc.     

So after all this notetaking and organizing, I’m left with an Excel sheet to index and track my research, which is then cross-referenced with my Zotero database for notes on specific documents, which is cross referenced with my photos, which is all finally cross-referenced with my Evernote research notes. If I need to find this document about Tikal, for example, I can find its metadata by searching my tag for Tikal in Zotero, find it on my research spreadsheet, find all my photos of this document, and check my research notes about it in Evernote.

Wow!  This is some great stuff.  I am hoping to get back in the archives later this week and Munro’s post has definitely provided some inspiration.  I only wish I was this organized and had started earlier in familiarizing myself with these tools.

Read Munro’s entire post here.

Some Great Tips for Archival Research

archive

Lisa Munro, a recent Ph.D in Latin American history, has started what appears to be a great introduction to archival research for historians.  (It is the first of a multi-post series at her blog).

Munro starts her series with four general tips:

  1. “Network early and often”
  2. “Do as much research ahead of time as possible”
  3. “Get a good camera”
  4. “Practice self-care

See how Munro develops each one of these points here.

Time Travel Can Get Tiring

The George Washington Presidential Library - DC

I am in Mount Vernon, Virginia for a month.  I am working on my next book project at the Fred W. Smith Memorial Library for the Study of George Washington.  I am sure I will write more about my experience at the library (and perhaps post some pictures) as my fellowship here unfolds. Stay tuned.

But in this post I want to talk about historians as time travelers.  For the past several weeks, as anyone who reads this blog knows,  I have been writing a lot about religion and politics in the 2016 presidential primary season.

Yesterday I journeyed back to the eighteenth century.  I spent most of the day in the library reading letters written by and to George Washington in November 1776. (More on this project later).

After spending a day with documents related to the American Revolution, I returned to my room and started  blogging about election coverage again. Today I am back in the 18th-century.

These kinds of transitions–from the 21st century to the 18th century and back again–can be intellectual exhausting.  Think of it in terms of the jet lag one might experience when they visit a foreign country.

If you are doing history well you should probably be experiencing such jet-lag.  If you are teaching history well, your students should also feel it.

What You Can Expect at the David Library

First, let me say that I love the David Library of the American Revolution

I was a research fellow at the library several years ago and it was one of the best research experiences of my career.  You can’t beat 24-hour access!  

Over the years I have given a couple of talks/lectures at the DLAR and attended the annual McNeil Center for Early American Studies picnic.

If you are doing serious research on revolutionary America, or just trying to add some branches to your family tree, the DLAR is a wonderful place to work.

Over at the Journal of the American Revolution, recent DLAR intern Brianna Heverly has written an informative essay on all the library has to offer, including a few insights into some of the collections.

Here is a taste:

I have driven up and down Taylorsville Road my entire life and would frequently pass a building on that road which I knew very little about.  I later found out it is the David Library of the American Revolution and this summer I had the privilege of doing an internship there.  Before my internship, I had never stepped into the library, nor did I know what it had to offer; once I finished my first day and had but a glimpse of what the library was all about, I knew that more people should know about it and could benefit from their resources.  The David Library is a place where everyone is welcome, and provides programs and collections unlike any other to encourage learning about the colonial and Revolutionary time periods.
The David Library of the American Revolution, founded by Sol Feinstone in 1959 in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, collects material that covers the time period 1750 to 1800.  The David Library is a non-profit organization that provides exceptional services to the public.  It is open to everyone, including every age and experience level, regardless of whether or not they know about the time period or where to start their research.  From students of all levels of education, to authors and members of the general public, the library can help them find both primary and secondary resources needed to strengthen their arguments or to simply satisfy their curiosity of the Revolutionary time period.  
A significant number of visitors to the library are interested in family history.  The library has primary resources on microfilm and in books to help people find original documents about their ancestors.  Others visit the library to explore a topic that they will later develop into an article or book. Visitors are free to explore the library’s multiple resources on their own or with guidance from the staff.  Besides a full-time librarian, the library relies on volunteers and interns who are welcoming and willing to help everyone.  They have dedicated their time to supporting the library and will do their best to get people the sources they need, from help finding a book to obtaining a clear copy of a document.  If a researcher is unfamiliar with using microfilm, the staff will help from start to finish; however, visitors are free to work with the microfilm on their own if they know how. Not everyone helped by the staff walks through the door; the library also receives many phone calls and emails from all over the country, from Maine to California, with research questions that the staff will assist with answering.
Some revisit the library after they finish their research to speak about their findings. Besides being open to the public, the David Library hosts scholarly lectures throughout the year, divided into two series consisting of four to five lectures each.  The speakers come to discuss their research about a particular event or study within the time period 1750 and 1800.  Each lecture is about forty-five minutes to an hour followed by questions from the audience, after which the library hosts a reception which frequently includes the author’s book sale and signing.  Several of the lectures are recorded and are in the process of being uploaded onto the David Library website, which will be advantageous for those who are unable to attend.  There are no lectures during the summer, but instead the library shows movies about the time period.  Admission for both the lectures and movies are free and everyone in the public is welcome to these events.
The David Library offers a fellowship program that is open to both Ph.D. candidates and postdoctoral candidates who are either working on their dissertation or fine-tuning previous work into a book.  The library has hosted fellowship recipients from all over the world including Canada, China and Germany, as well as all over the United States.  The most noteworthy aspect of the fellowship is that the fellow is offered onsite residency and given a key to the library, which allows them access at any time of day or night.  More information about the process and the program itself can be found on the David Library website.
Collections are, of course, the centerpiece of the David Library.  There are a number of different kinds of primary and secondary resources all under the same roof, which makes it a “one-stop shopping” experience.  Because the library limits its scope to the short time span of 1750 to 1800, it enables the library to carry a great deal of depth within those fifty years.  This time period includes two major military conflicts, the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, as well as the establishment of our first National government, and the library’s resources are focused on those areas.  In addition to the military events, there were also a lot of social, political and economic changes that America faced within this time frame, and the library’s primary and secondary sources cover these topics as well.
Read the entire piece here.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #100

It is time for another update on the ABS project as it enter its final month.  I have been doing three things lately:

1.  Oral history.  Over the last couple of months I have been to New York City; Crawford, Nebraska; Columbia, Missouri; Easton, PA; Cleveland, TN (actually, I am heading there on Monday); and Upland, Indiana.  I have or will have interviewed three ABS presidents, an ABS General Secretary, three deans of the Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship, and three current vice-presidents.  I am thankful to my team of student assistants who have been frantically transcribing these interviews so that I can send them off to the interviewees for final approval.  These interviews will be important sources as I write the final one or two chapters of the book.
2.  Picking images.  I have chosen 30 images for the book.  This was not an easy process because the ABS photo collection is so rich.  I think I have chosen a nice blend of sketches (mostly from the early 19th century), photographs, and other images (such as ABS seals and posters).  Oxford University Press has been very generous in allowing me so many images.
3.  Research.  I have been reading through the papers of some of the ABS presidents and general secretaries from the 20th century.
4.  Writing.  Most of my time, of course, is now involved in writing.  The research is 95% complete, but I still need to do a lot more writing between now and the beginning of May.  In other words, I have my work cut out for me. 
Stay tuned.

Messiah College History Department in The American Scholar: The Power of Undergraduate Research

Messiah College history students conducting research in a 19th c. cemetery
Anthony Grafton (Princeton University) and James Grossman (American Historical Association), the authors of the “No More Plan B” proposal that challenged graduate programs in history to think about training Ph.D students for careers outside of the academy, have now turned to the pages of the prestigious American Scholar to extol the value of undergraduate historical research. 
 
I think I will just let them explain. But before I do, I am proud to say that Grafton and Grossman use the Messiah College History Department as an example of a department in which students are engaged in extensive student research.  We are indeed a department that uses the study of the past to help students build “a self and a soul and a mind” that they can take with them wherever they go.
 
Here is a taste of their article, “Habits of the Mind“:
 
Students of history learn how to do research in institutions of many kinds…Go, for example, to the webpage of the history department at Messiah College, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and you’ll read about students doing every kind of research you can imagine, from working with a museum professional to excavate and restore a historic cemetery, to pursuing the family histories of African Americans in the documents at the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library, to developing a digital archive on the history of Harrisburg. Go to the webpage of the history department at the University of California, Berkeley and you’ll find a student-edited journal, Clio’s Scroll, showcasing detailed and imaginative historical research—often drawn from senior theses—on subjects such as drama, landscape, and political thought.
Why do we teach these students—fresh, bright young undergraduates—to do research? Why take people who are forming themselves, who should be thinking about life, death, and the universe, and send them off to an archive full of dusty documents and ask them to tell us something new about the impact of the Civil War in a country town in Pennsylvania or Virginia, or the formation of Anglo-Norman kingship, or the situation of slaves in the Old South?
The answer is so simple that we sometimes forget to give it, but it matters. We teach students to do research because it’s one powerful way to teach them to understand and appreciate the past on its own terms, while at the same time finding meaning in the past that is rooted in the student’s own intellect and perspective. Classrooms and assigned readings are necessary to provide context: everyone needs to have an outline in mind, if only to have something to take apart; and everyone needs to know how to create those outlines and query them constructively. Reading monographs and articles is vital, too. To get past the big, generalized stories, you have to see how professional scholars have formed arguments, debated one another, and refined theories in light of the evidence.
But the most direct and powerful way to grasp the value of historical thinking is through engagement with the archive—or its equivalent in an era when oral history and documentary photography can create new sources, and digital databases can make them available to anyone with a computer. The nature of archives varies as widely as the world itself. They can be collections of documents or data sets, maps or charts, books with marginal notes scrawled in them that let you look over the shoulders of dead readers, or a diary that lets you look over the shoulder of a dead midwife. What matters is that the student develops a question and then identifies the particular archive, the set of sources, where it can be answered.
Why do this? Partly because it’s the only way for a student to get past being a passive consumer and critic and to become a creator, someone who reads other historians in the light of having tried to do what they do. Partly because it’s the way that historians help students master skills that are not specific to history. When students do research, they learn to think through problems, weigh evidence, construct arguments, and then criticize those arguments and strip them down and make them better—and finally to write them up in cogent, forceful prose, using the evidence deftly and economically to make their arguments and push them home.
The best defense for research, however, is that it’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self—a self that, when all goes well, is intolerant of weak arguments and loose citation and all other forms of shoddy craftsmanship; a self that doesn’t accept a thesis without asking what assumptions and evidence it rests on; a self that doesn’t have a lot of patience with simpleminded formulas and knows an observation from an opinion and an opinion from an argument.
This self, moreover, is the student’s own construction. Supervision matters: people new to historical work need advice in framing questions, finding sources, and shaping arguments. In the end, though, historical research is always, and should always be, a bungee jump, a leap into space that hasn’t been mapped or measured. The faculty supervisor straps on the harness and sees to the rope. But the student takes the risk and reaps the rewards. This isn’t just student-centered learning, in which the student’s interests are put first; it’s student defined and student executed, the work of a self-reliant, observant, and creative person.
A self like this can seem unworldly, especially if the “real world” resembles a political culture that dismisses complexity and context as “academic.” But in a deeper sense, this is a worldly education, in the traditional way that humanistic education has always embodied. A good humanities education combines training in complex analysis with clear communication skills. Someone who becomes a historian becomes a scholar—not in the sense of choosing a profession, but in the broader meaning of developing the scholarly habits of mind that value evidence, logic, and reflection over ideology, emotion, and reflex. A student of history learns that empathy, rather than sympathy, stands at the heart of understanding not only the past but also the complex present.
That is because in the archive the historian has the opportunity and the obligation to listen. A good historian enters the archive not to prove a hypothesis, not to gather evidence to support a position that assumptions and theories have already formed. But to answer a question. It’s an amazing experience to see and talk with and learn from the dead. As Machiavelli said so well, you ask them questions about what they did and why, and in their humanity, they answer you, and you learn what you can’t learn any other way.
History has many mansions nowadays. Historians work on every period of human history, every continent, and every imaginable form of human life. But they all listen to the dead (and yes, in some cases, the living as well): that’s the common thread that connects every part of history’s elaborate tapestry of methods. All historians muster the best evidence they can to answer their questions. They offer respect and admiration to those who show the greatest ingenuity in raising new questions, bringing new characters onto the stage of history, and finding new evidence with which to do so.
As for talking with people who don’t work in universities—a student who writes a good history paper has learned how to communicate knowledge to anyone. History has been a form of narrative art, as well as of inquiry into the past, since the first millennium BCE, when Jewish and Greek and Chinese writers began to produce it. That’s why Herodotus could read his history of the Persian Wars aloud at the Olympic Games—a performance for which he received the large sum of 10 talents. Historians care about clear speech and vigorous prose, and believe that even complex and technical forms of inquiry into the past can be conveyed in accessible and attractive language. Accordingly, we don’t separate research from writing. Just ask the students whose papers and chapters we send back, adorned with marginalia in blue pen or the colors of Track Changes.
When a student does research in this way—when she attacks a problem that matters to her by identifying and mastering the sources, posing a big question, and answering it in a clear and cogent way, in the company of a trained professional to whom she and her work matter—she’s not becoming a pedant or a producer of useless knowledge. She’s doing what students of the humanities have always done: building a self and a soul and a mind that she can take with her wherever she goes, and that will make her an independent, analytical thinker and a reflective, self-critical person. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #72

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

Here is today’s writing lesson:  If you want to get up early to get some writing done try not to stay up too late watching your daughter play volleyball.  I did not get enough sleep last night and it affected my writing session this morning.  I only managed to string together a couple of good hours and 387 total words. 

I think my work is the strongest when I am writing about the way ideas connect with everyday life. Today I wrote a paragraph about how the ABS understood the General Supply (1829-2813) as part of the progressive advance of Christian history.

I also had a productive meeting today with Alyssa, one of my undergraduate research assistants. Alyssa is doing some preliminary research on Good News for Modern Man (New Testament)  and The Good News Bible (Old and New Testaments).  These books were published by the ABS in the 1966 and 1976 respectively as the first translations to employ “dynamic equivalence.” 

Alyssa and I wondered how much space in the book we should devote to the translation theory behind this popular Bible.   Since I am writing for a popular audience I do not want to get too bogged down in theory.  I am actually more interested in the reception of these Bibles by Christian leaders, pastors,and ordinary readers.  How did these Bibles transform the way people read and thought about the Bible?  (When I look at the cover art on Good News For Modern Man I flash back to my childhood CCD classes where we used this Bible).  

We are still VERY early in the process of trying to understand the intellectual and cultural history of the Good News Bible and we COULD USE YOUR HELP.  If any of you are old enough to remember the release of Good News for Modern Man (New Testament) or the entire Good News Bible we would love to hear from you.  Did this publication, which was written in popular and accessible language, change the way you read the Bible?  Do you have any memories or stories related to the Bible?   Contact me at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu.  I would love to hear your story and perhaps even interview you for the book.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #69

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

Sometimes a historian/writer will sit down to start a chapter and realize that his or her research is lacking on a particular section of that proposed chapter.  This happened to me today. 

I was hoping to start Chapter Four, but as I stared at my computer screen trying to form the opening words of the chapter, I realized I did not have enough research material to support what I had hoped to say in those opening words. 

Needless to say, I did not write a word this morning.  Instead I spent roughly four hours reading through newspaper articles about the General Supply.  In the process I realized that I had never really analyzed the 1829 ABS circular letter announcing the General Supply.  What did the ABS hope to achieve?  What were the theological and political underpinnings behind the ABS attempt to distribute a Bible to every American family?  

I was also amazed to see how much coverage the General Supply received in newspapers across the country.  Does the fact that most of the coverage was very positive say anything about America in the 1820s?  I think it does. 

I hope to finish my newspaper (and some religious periodicals) reading this weekend.  By that point, I hope, I will be able to start writing Chapter Four on Monday morning.  Stay tuned.