The Acquisitions Table: Circular to All Who Play at Billiards

L. Decker’s Circular to All Who Play at Billiards, with Incidental Advice to Purchasers of Billiard Tables… Embellished with Beautifully Engraved Diagrams. New York: L. Decker, 1859.

billiardAn early unrecorded billiards catalog published by Levi Decker was just one gem in a stack of 45 pamphlets given by AAS member Kenneth Carpenter and his wife Mary. Out of this stack, fully 40% were entirely unrecorded in OCLC! AAS’s cataloging records will provide the first access to these titles for scholars. Another 40% of the pamphlets received did have records in OCLC, but were scarce enough that only one or two copies were known to exist. The slight form and ephemeral nature of pamphlets has meant they were long considered less important recipients for bibliographic work and cataloging time. As the known universe of books has become increasingly well-cataloged and often digitized, however, pamphlets are taking on an increasingly prominent role – less for their bibliographic interest then for the singular content often contained only within their pages. The particular examples AAS just acquired will prove useful to scholars working on everything from the aforementioned billiards tables, to the auctions of Boston’s Back Bay lots, to those studying minor local poets such as Edward Kesson, who appears based on the copy now at AAS to have sent his poetic pamphlet Lallera to no less a personage than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

No Permission Required: Exploring and Using Our Digital Collections

b-w primerPolicy changes frequently will fall under the un-glamorous category. But we are hoping that our newest one will fall under the hooray-for-AAS tally marking.

When books have included images from our collection, we’ve been providing photographic reproductions and permission to use them in the form of a licensing agreement; I’ve signed a few (read: thousand) of these agreements since starting the position in late 2004. Just a generation ago, the Society would showcase a double page spread of its primer as an interior illustration recreated as an 8×10 glossy print (left) and now we can display the same item in its ENTIRETY in GIGI (below).

GIGI screenshotIn addition to providing as-needed photography of collection material, we’ve also been filling our image archive, GIGI, with digital surrogates and links within the catalog. We’ve been providing open access to these digital collections, as well as to our online exhibitions and illustrated inventories. These resources feature some of our most-often reproduced images, including the portrait of John Winthrop, the woodcut of Richard Mather, the Boston Massacre scene by Paul Revere, Militia Muster by David Claypoole Johnston, and the Philosophic Cock by John Akin. Although finding them has been easy enough, use of these items has been somewhat complicated by the permissions agreement. Until last week, the agreement and fee for use of AAS collection materials was in recognition of the Society’s ownership of the documents (which included the cost of acquiring, preserving, and making it available), rather than in any copyright claim. But we have at last done away with licensing images and the (five-page) licensing agreement.

The original policy and agreement were devised to be gatekeepers of the collection material rather than provoke a villainous archival turf war. Not helping this has been that the rules on the books have been unclear and difficult to interpret. But we’ve come a long way. Now in the twenty-first century, copyright issues still raise a lot of questions. While companies are calling for stricter protection of intellectual properties, AAS is joining the numerous cultural institutions using open access and creative commons; with few exceptions, all of our print materials fall under the pre-1923 public domain. Access to digitized collection material has always been for research and scholarship and as we continue to add material we can fill out the digital collections and provide scholars even more items to use.

In his opening address, AAS founder Isaiah Thomas said the Society would not be “confined to local purposes – not intended for the particular advantage of any one state or section of the union, or for the benefit of a few individuals – one whose members may be found in every part of our western climate and its adjacent islands, and who are citizens of all parts of this quarter of the world.”[1] We like to think he would be proud of this development to continue to allow his collection to be used and disseminated – not limited to those locally in Worcester.

mysteries photograph

“Seeking to penetrate the mysteries of photography.” Stereocard collection. Box 321.

This permissions process, coupled with ordering of new photography, causes my phone extension to receive the most frantic calls (usually by those not living locally). It is no secret that book and article authors securing image permission can be panic-inducing. I’ve been told it is burdensome on all resources – time, money, and patience, and it can delay book production. We will continue to create new photography on-demand and there is still a fee to be paid for making reproductions (alas, not everything has been digitized yet!), but we are proud to provide this access and use of AAS resources. Our attempts at simplifying the process try to address as many different types of requests as we have received. The new obtaining digital images page describes the new policy a bit, and the newly redone form page allows you to submit a request for material not already digitized. And you can always email questions or orders to! There are image rights. And there are image very rights. We hope to now be part of the latter!

[1] Thomas, Isaiah. “Abstract of the President’s Communication on the Nature and Objects of the Institution, and on the Means for carrying into Effect the Designs of the Society.” Archaeologia Americana: Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society. Oct. 1814. Volume 1, page 28.

The Peoples Free School or Dog Convention: A Tale of Two Broadsides

This past April, AAS received a plain brown envelope via U.S. Mail, with no return address.  The envelope was carefully opened by our Acquisitions staff and two folded broadsides were found inside.  There was no note included, no inscriptions or marks on the broadsides, and, as luck would have it, there was not even a legible return postmark on the envelope!  Our Acquisitions Librarian sent out an email to the curators inquiring if one of us had ordered the broadsides from a catalog or perhaps won them at an auction.  Since broadsides fall in the Graphic Arts Department, I was the likely candidate, but, in fact, I had never seen the broadside pair and had no idea who might have sent them.

The two broadsides are clearly related to each other and were likely produced in Foxborough, Massachusetts, in 1859.  In fact, they were probably made from the same set-up of type, with, as will be shown, some amusing differences.  The first broadside is a legitimate announcement for a political convention to be held in Worcester, Massachusetts, on September 1, 1859.  The convention was being organized by The Peoples Free School party.  Sylvanus D. Horton, of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, who is listed as chairman, calls for towns across the state to send delegates for nominations to a new political party that will work to repeal the “odious” School Law.

Free School Convention bdsd

The School Law had been proposed by the State Board of Education in January and February of 1859. It called for abolishing the district school system in favor of a centralized authority to control school spending, construction, and the evaluation of teachers.  District schools tended to be in rural areas where populations were spread out over multiple small towns.  Most larger town and city schools were already following protocols supported by the Board, and the School Law was an attempt to create a uniform system across the state.  A look at newspaper coverage of the time shows that the issue was clearly divided along urban/rural lines.  The Barnstable Patriot reported on May 5, 1859, “No Committee, however much they may be interested in education, can so well judge of the wants of our schools as parents themselves.  Let that odious law, undesired and unsought by the people, be by them denounced and repealed!  Leave the power in the district, unless the people, in town meetings, choose to abolish the district system.  Let the people control their own affairs.”   A few months later the Worcester Spy called for calm and reason, pleading for rural areas to let the “good gentlemen of the Board of Education” make their case to the state Senate.  It added that there was a need to “equalize the pecuniary burden of constructing school houses … [T]he present system perpetuates small and inefficient schools and the system proposed will secure the wisest and most efficient management of the schools.”  Education was a hot topic in 1859 and some of the issues under debate still resonate today – modern topics such as the rise of the charter school movement, debate over management of public school resources, implementation of standardized testing, and Common Core curriculum come to mind.

The meeting of The Peoples Free School Convention was held in Worcester as scheduled, but not many people showed up and action on forming a platform was tabled until October.  City papers made hay from this: the Boston Traveler noted on September 2, “Not a man of influence in the state was present,” and the Worcester Spy complained that less than sixty people attended and that it was wrong and distracting for the small group to politicize the issue by trying to build a political platform around it.

Free Dog Convention bdsdThe second broadside gives us some insight into the opinion of the unknown printer of The Peoples Free School Convention broadside.  This second version was actually known to AAS, as another copy is preserved in our collection.  The comic printing stands logic on its head, calling for a Free Dog Convention to be held on the impossible date September 31 at 1:00 a.m.   Instead of school laws, the text calls for the repeal of the “infamous sumptuary laws which deprive poor men of their indefeasible right to keep as many Dogs as children.”  All of the participants’ names have been changed, with Chairman Sylvanus D. Horton becoming Sylvester D. Squakman (of Canisville, not Rehoboth), and delegates like Charles Changemind, D.M. Shallowbrain, and Darius Oldfogy being called to participate from Foxborough.  It’s safe to say that the printer was probably not a supporter of district schools.

We are delighted to have this pair of broadsides at AAS.  We wish we knew who sent them to us, so we could give proper thanks!  For now, they are being listed as the gift of an anonymous donor.  Having the pair preserved together opens up the research potential of both sheets.  Scholars interested in education movements, urban/rural conflicts, state politics, and American nineteenth-century humor are all welcome to come to Worcester to have a look– we promise they will not be treated in a “loose and unequal manner” by Charles Fussyfeather or Martin Standstill.  Just please do not bring your dog to the library.

Free School-Dog Convention

Digital Antiquarian Wrap-Up: The End of the Beginning


The crowd gathers in Antiquarian Hall for opening keynote from Kenneth Carpenter (pictured here) and Michael Winship.

It is hard to believe that after a year of preparations the Digital Antiquarian Conference and Workshop are now behind us. What began as a twinkle in my and Thomas Augst’s eyes when he was an NEH fellow here blossomed into a 10-day extravaganza here at AAS, starting with the largest academic conference the Society has ever hosted and ending with a weeklong workshop taught by no fewer than fifteen AAS catalogers and curators and three guest instructors. Thanks to the generous support of the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and New York University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as the Jay Last Fund at AAS, we were able to bring together leaders in book history, curators and librarians from university and independent research libraries, and innovators in the digital humanities to exchange ideas about the past, present, and future of historical information literacy and the archive.

To accommodate the 180 guests and the 20 speakers at the conference, we had to transform the reading room from a work space to a large meeting space, complete with four large monitors to show slides. And this new arrangement was a crowd pleaser. After Michael Winship and Ken Carpenter kicked off the events with their keynote on the first day, Carl Stahmer really blew the lid off of the generous dome with his presentation of linked open data and the future of bibliography and library catalogs.


Leon Jackson delivers his paper “Historical Haptics: Digital and Print Cultures in the Nineteenth Century,” part of the Handling Newspapers panel.

Each day’s panels were organized around our collections and archival practices (Handling Newspapers, Editorial Matters, Book Ends, and Keyword Searches). The presentations were rich and full of reflections on, as one workshop participant put it, “the future of the past.” They were also incredibly jocular; as one workshop participant reflected, “This was the funniest conference I’ve ever been to.” Though this humor did not always translate to the slides, the participants have shared their visual presentations on the conference schedule website. The reception at the end of the first day featured a digital projects showcase including A New Nation VotesCassey & Dickerson Friendship AlbumsEarly Caribbean Digital ArchiveThe Occom CircleTEI Archiving Publishing and Access Service (TAPAS), and Walt Whitman Archive. This event gave conference participants a chance to speak with the designers of these impressive digital humanities projects in a convivial atmosphere. Please read the Twitter stream from the conference on our website.

After the conference ended on Saturday, the workshop got underway Sunday night with a welcome dinner for the eighteen participants selected to take part. Most of the participants also attended the conference, so the icebreaking had been done, and we immediately started to gel as a group. Under the stewardship of Tom Augst and me, workshop classes began in earnest first thing Monday morning as the participants were whisked between the Elmarion Room for computer lab-like exercises and the Council Room for hands-on archival exercises. All of the curators and most of the catalogers ran sessions that had participants engaging deeply with the MARC format and considering how they might use the data in the AAS Catalog and in NAIP for their own digital humanities projects. To complete their exercises on MARC format, they consulted a number of bibliographies and electronic databases, and of course they had to reach for the resource most dear to our hearts at AAS: The Printers’ File. They also considered what work existing databases, such as America’s Historical Newspapers, afford and how if we don’t understand the archives behind such databases, we are likely to be confused, if not misled about the role they should play in our scholarship.

Slauter-Printers File collage

Participants use the Printers’ File and duplicate newspapers to complete exercises that required the use of analog and digital tools.

Curator of Books Elizabeth Pope productively flummoxed the group with questions around digitizing atypical books, using the AAS’s friendship albums collection as her guiding example. She also showed books that defy our standard definitions and asked the group how we might digitize them.

Curator of Manuscripts Tom Knoles presented the group with the researchers’ challenges around manuscripts with an exercise centered around the William Bentley notebooks held at AAS.


Participants outline steps for digitization of William Bentley’s eclectic diaries and account books in an exercise designed by Tom Knoles.


Tom Blake walks participants through an exercise that introduces them to graphic arts metadata in the Digital Commonwealth and in the Digital Public Library of America.

In addition to the AAS staff who dazzled the participants all week, three guest instructors joined us. AAS stalwart Michael Winship gave an overview of the history of editorial practice using the many editions of James Fenimore Cooper’s Red Rover (1827) to elucidate his points. That afternoon, Dawn Childress of Penn State Libraries taught a riveting session on TEI, using Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven as her guiding example. The next day, Tom Blake of the Boston Public Library joined Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes to ask the group to consider the challenges and opportunities that come with the digitization of graphic materials, including nineteenth-century games such as “Eureka Letters,”  a game used to teach both spelling and morals. Please read the Twitter stream from the workshop on our website.

letter game collage

Participants came up with creative solutions to the exercise asking them how they might digitize nineteenth-century games.

As the week drew to a close, hearts hung heavy for the group had really bonded.

Workshop_0003 (2) (1280x853)

The Digital Antiquarian Workshop participants gather on the GDH steps with the poster from the conference in hand.

But, the sense that the Digital Antiquarian was less coming to an end and instead really just beginning here at AAS was palpable. Stay tuned for more to come!

Now In Print from the AAS Community

Every quarter at AAS we release a list of recent publications by those who have researched at
the library as fellows, members, or readers. To see this list, as well as a list of works publishedPicture1 from 2000-2014, please visit our recent scholarship page on the AAS website. If your book, article, or other achievement is not included, just let us know if you’d like to see it there!


Gallup-Diaz, Ignacio, Andrew Shankman, and David Silverman. Anglicizing America: Empire, Revolution, Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. (Silverman: Mellon Post-Dissertation Fellow, 2001-2002; ASECS Fellow, 2005-2006; ASECS Fellow, 2010-2011; AAS member)

Gura, Philip F. The Life of William Apess, Pequot. Chapel Hill: University of NorthCarolina Press, 2015. (Peterson Fellow, 1989-1990, 1998-1999, 2002-2003; Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence, 2006-2007; AAS member)

Howell, William Huntting. Against Self-Reliance: The Arts of Dependence in the Early United States. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. (NeMLA Fellow, 2013-2014)

Loker, Chris. One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature. New York: Grolier Club, 2014. (AAS member)

Luskey, Brian P. and Wendy A. Woloson. Capitalism by Gaslight: Illuminating the Economy of Nineteenth-Century America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. (Luskey: Peterson Fellow, 2003-2004; Tracy Fellow, 2012-2013. Woloson: Peterson Fellow, 2005-2006)

Moulton, Amber D. The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Shoemaker, Nancy. Native American Whalemen and the World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2006-2007; AAS member)

Wilson, Lisa. A History of Stepfamilies in Early America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2010-2011; AAS member)


Anderson, Jennifer. “’A Laudable Spirit of Enterprise’: Renegotiating Land, Natural Resources, and Power on Post-Revolutionary Long Island.” Early American Studies 13.2 (2015): 413-442. (Peterson Fellow, 2004-2005; Hench Fellow, 2006-2007)

Chaplin, Joyce. “Ogres and Omnivores: Early American Historians and Climate History.” William and Mary Quarterly 72 (2015): 25-32. (AAS member)

Chaplin, Joyce. “The Other Revolution.” Early American Studies 13.2 (2015): 285-308. (AAS member)

DeLucia, Christine M. “Locating Kickemuit: Springs, Stone Memorials, and Contested Placemaking in the Northeaster Borderlands.”   Early American Studies 13.2 (2015): 467-502. (Peterson Fellow, 2011-2012)

Fielder, Brigitte. “Visualizing Racial Mixture and Movement: Music, Notation, Illustration.” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 3.1 (2015): 146-155. (Last Fellow, 2011-2012)

Kelley, Mary. “‘Talents Committed to Your Care’: Reading and Writing Radical Abolitionism in Antebellum America.” New England Quarterly 88.1 (2015): 37-72 (Peterson Fellow, 1990-1991; Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence, 2013-2014; AAS member)

Manion, Jen. “Transbutch.” Transgender Studies Quarterly 1 (2014). (Peterson Fellow, 2005-2006; AAS-NEH Fellow, 2012-2013)

Pratt, Lloyd. “Locality and the Serial South.” In Oxford Handbook to the Literature of the US South, edited by Fred Hobson and Barbara Ladd. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. (NEMLA Fellow, 2008-2009; AAS-NEH Fellow, 2009-2010; AAS member)

Rusert, Britt. “Plantation Ecologies: The Experimental Plantation in and against James Grainger’s The Sugar-Cane.” Early American Studies 13.2 (2015): 341-373. (Peterson Fellow, 2011-2012)

Sheehan, Tanya. “Comical Conflations: Racial Identity and the Science of Photography.” In No Laughing Matter: Visual Humor in Ideas of Race, Nationality, and Ethnicity, edited by Adrian Randolph and David Bindman. Hanover: UPNE, 2015. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2009-2010)

Sheehan, Tanya.“Marketing Racism: Popular Imagery in the US and Europe.” Co-authored with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in The Image of the Black in Western Art, Vol. 5, The Twentieth Century, edited by David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014. (Sheehan: AAS-NEH Fellow, 2009-2010; Gates: AAS member)

Sheehan, Tanya. “A Time and a Place: Rethinking Race in American Art History” In A Companion to American Art, edited by John Davis, Jennifer A. Greenhill, and Jason D. LaFountain. Oxford: Blackwell Press, 2015. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2009-2010)

Shields, David S. “On the Circumstances Surrounding the Creation of Early American Literature.” Early American Literature 50.1 (2015): 21-40. (Haven Fellow, 1985-1986; AAS member)

Shields, David S. and Fredrika J. Teute. “The Republican Court and the Historiography of a Women’s Domain in the Public Sphere.” Journal of the Early Republic 35.2 (2015): 169-183. (With additional conference papers: “The Meschianza: Sum of All Fêtes”; “The Confederation Court”; “The Court of Abigail Adams”; “Jefferson in Washington: Domesticating Manners in the Republican Court”) (Shields: Haven Fellow, 1985-1986; AAS member. Teute: Botein Fellow, 1994-1995; AAS-NEH Fellow, 1997-1998; AAS member)

Thompson, Todd and Jessica Showalter. “Satire in Circulation: James Russell Lowell’s ‘Letter from a Volunteer in Saltillo’.” Scholarly Editing 36 (2015).

Yao, Christine. “Visualizing Race Science in Benito Cereno.” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 3.1 (2015): 130-137.


Cornelia Dayton and Sharon Salinger won the Merle Curti Award (Social History) for their book Robert Love’s Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston. (Dayton: AAS-NEH Fellow, 2004-2005; AAS member)

Lisa Tetrault was awarded the inaugural Mary Jurich Nickliss Prize in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History for her book The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898. (Peterson Fellow, 2007-2008)

Kyle Volk won the Merle Curti Award (Intellectual History) for his book Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2010-2011)

Christopher Florio won the Louis Pelzer Memorial Award for his article “From Poverty to Slavery: Abolitionists, Overseers, and the Global Struggle for Labor in India.” (Peterson Fellow, 2014-2015)



New AAS Online Exhibition Launched: Louis Prang and Chromolithography

Prang bird

“May” after Fidelia Bridges, 1876. This print is from a set of calendar pages published by Louis Prang in 1876. These scenic prints show the New England landscape through each month of the year, and marks Prang’s first collaboration with floral and bird painter Fidelia Bridges. Bridges created works for Prang for over fifteen years, including many successful Christmas cards and prints.

When I started working at AAS nine years ago, I did not know much about American prints and printmaking. Lithography and engraving were never the focus of my art history classes. And I only knew Currier & Ives from the prints my mother had hanging in every room in the house, and they were not my cup of tea. When I began as the visual materials cataloger, I quickly delved into the world of nineteenth-century prints, learning the difference between a wood engraving and intaglio engraving, and the difference between a colored lithograph and a chromolithograph. It was also at this time that I discovered the work of Louis Prang, the most famous Boston lithographer in the second half of the nineteenth century. I did not understand why Currier & Ives landscapes were more popular than Prang’s, whose prints looked like rich oil paintings. When I cataloged the Prang Collection in 2010, I always knew I wanted to do more with it.

I began a master’s program at the Harvard University Extension School in Museum Studies in 2010 (and will be graduating this week!), and created a mock exhibit for one of my classes which focused on AAS’s Prang material. Besides prints and advertisements, the AAS collection features progressive proof books, salesman’s sample books, and art education text books. Nothing ever came of the project, and it was not until last fal,l when the Harvard program switched their final assignment from a thesis to a capstone project, that I thought about reviving the Prang exhibition idea. Luckily for me, AAS was looking to create more online exhibitions for the website, and was going to use the online web-publishing program Omeka to do it. After an intensive two-day workshop led by Omeka web-developer Ken Albers, I was easily able to create a simple, yet informative exhibit about the work of Louis Prang, using the materials here at AAS.

“Chickens I” after Arthur F. Tait, 1866. After being unsuccessful with his first two sets of landscape chromos, Prang published this charming scene of baby chicks by Arthur F. Tait in 1866, which proved to be a big seller. Prang would continue to successfully sell animal-themed prints after Tait for the next two decades.

“Chickens I” after Arthur F. Tait, 1866. After being unsuccessful with his first two sets of landscape chromos, Prang published this charming scene of baby chicks by Arthur F. Tait in 1866, which proved to be a big seller. Prang would continue to successfully sell animal-themed prints after Tait for the next two decades.

Prang exhibit screenshotThe exhibition details the major aspects of Prang’s career from 1850 to 1900. It begins with a look at his development of the chromolithograph process and how a chromo is made, and features what Prang considered the pinnacle of his career, a 116 sheet chromolithographed set of Oriental vases from the collection of William T. Walters in Baltimore, completed in 1897. Prang is responsible for introducing the Christmas card to America in 1875, and the competitions he held in the 1880s to come up with new designs are discussed. Lastly, Prang, along with his second wife Mary Dana Hicks, was a driving force behind giving public school students a quality art education, and examples from the text books published by Prang are given. An image gallery features almost forty of the best chromolithographs by Prang in the AAS collection, so scroll through and enjoy!

Printmaking with Creative Artist Fellow Annie Bissett

20150430_170716 (2)AAS staff and fellows recently got a remarkable lesson in printmaking by Annie Bissett, who was in residence as a Jay and Deborah Last Creative Artist Fellow. Annie led a fellow’s talk one evening after the library closed, during which she shared some of her previous works and then conducted a demonstration in printmaking. She generously allowed participants to try their hand at creating an impression from one of her Chinese style woodblock prints.  Everyone soon got into the act, creating multicolored images of a sailing ship!

Annie Bissett has exhibited throughout the United States and her work is in the collections of the Yale University Art Gallery, the Portland Museum of Art, Hood Museum of Art, Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College, and the Boston Public Library, among others. She has created two projects that include both a series of prints and accompanying artist books. These projects are entitled “We Are Pilgrims,” a series of woodblock prints about the early settlers of Massachusetts, and “Loaded,” a group of prints about money. She often appropriates historical imagery and texts into her elegantly and beautifully designed prints. To learn more about her work visit her website.

Bissett demo

Annie demonstrating the printmaking process to the group.

20150430_175616_001 (2)While here at AAS, Annie conducted research for a project about the spirituality/religiosity of American national identity. She scoured the Society’s collections of children’s literature, primers, almanacs (including several almanac diaries), type specimen books, hymnals, and broadsides. As she wrote in her fellowship report, “Much of what I found exciting were book forms and conventions that I had never seen and that I think would be very interesting to recreate with contemporary content, such as: metamorphic pictures, almanacs (I can imagine using some of the almanac conventions to address climate change issues), the books called ‘Divine Emblems,’ a book type I found that presents trades and professions to a juvenile audience, and books of moral lessons and maxims.”


The Gamebrarians: AAS Plays a 19th-Century Version of Cards Against Humanity

A few months ago we posted an image on Instagram and Facebook that, while fun, we had no particular expectations for. It was a quite a surprise, then, when it garnered a massive amount of attention on both platforms. To this day it remains one of our most widely circulated posts on Facebook.

wordgame post 2The image was a picture of an 1857 word association game called “A Trip to Paris: A Laughable Game. Being a truthful account of what b fel one Jothan Podd.” It includes a small pamphlet that, through a series of random sentences with blanks for nouns, tells the story of Jothan Podd’s trip to Paris—sort of. In reality it’s more a jumble of non-sequitur sentences that are made funny by filling in the blanks with the nouns on the accompanying cards.

Does the concept sound familiar? It certainly did to our social media followers, who instantly expanded on our comparison to Mad Libs to include the now wildly popular Cards Against Humanity and Apples to Apples. And in many ways the game is indeed a cross between Mad Libs and Cards Against Humanity. Like Mad Libs, you’re filling in blanks to create a sort of story, but unlike Mad Libs, where you come up with the missing words yourself, there are cards to fill in the blanks and those only include nouns, rather than all parts of speech. This is where it becomes more like Cards Against Humanity, in that a complete thought is finished by pairing it with a noun card provided by the game.

The response gave us an idea – why not just play the game ourselves (using twenty-first-century protocol for handling material, of course) and see how it stacks up against the modern versions? And with that, “The Gamebrarians” was born.

Directions collageAlthough the rules of the original game (see left) simply call for one person to read the story while the rest of the players each take a turn flipping over a random card to create a ridiculous sentence, we decided to play the old game by the rules of modern Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity to make it a little more interesting. Each person takes a turn reading a sentence from the pamphlet, while the others finish it with one of their cards. Whoever plays the card the reader finds funniest wins a point. Here’s what happened!

We’ll leave the judging of how well the nineteenth-century plot and terms hold up to you, but the overall result of filling in a blank with a series of irrelevant, mundane, or absurd things (how does one get a clam intoxicated?) remains the same. And while at first glance it seems that this nineteenth-century version is much more PG-rated than Cards Against Humanity or even, for that matter, Apples to Apples, it’s still a word association game and it’s very likely that there was plenty of potential for a double entendre or two (we’re still trying to figure out what a star-spangled weasel is, but there has to be a joke in there somewhere).

Thanks to the generosity of Jay and Deborah Last and an anonymous AAS member, we are currently in the process of cataloging and digitizing our entire games collection, making this wonderful collection more accessible to researchers. The process has also highlighted the fact that there are plenty more anachronistic yet relatable nineteenth-century games where this one came from, and so we hope that this will not be the last you see of The Gamebrarians.

Metadata Matters: “African American” in the News and in the North American Imprints Program

This post was co-written by AAS Digital Humanities Curator/ACLS Fellow Molly O’Hagan Hardy and AAS Head of Cataloging Alan Degutis.

PhiladelphiaJournal (2)The New York Times recently reported the “discover[y]” of the earliest known use of the term “African American” from almost fifty years earlier than previously thought. The Oxford English Dictionary attributed it to The Liberator in 1835, but Fred Shapiro, an associate director at the Yale Law School Library, came across an earlier use of the term in The Pennsylvania Journal on May 15, 1782, in an advertisement for “Two Sermons, written by the African American; one on the Capture of Lord Cornwallis, to be SOLD.”

Harvard’s Houghton Library holds the only known extant copy of the pamphlet A Sermon on the Capture of Lord Cornwallis (1782) (and they have speedily digitized it in its entirety). Though AAS does not own a copy of this pamphlet, we began to wonder if it had been recorded by our North American Imprints Program (NAIP), which aims to catalog all imprints in North America before 1820. As Hardy has written about previously, NAIP includes records for items not held by the AAS, and therefore can be understood as analogous to what the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC) is for British Studies for EvansBibliography (2)early American studies. A Sermon on the Capture of Lord Cornwallis certainly fit the NAIP criteria for inclusion: it was printed in the U.S. before 1820 and though it was not recorded in Charles Evans’s monumental twelve-volume American Bibliography, if a copy existed, NAIP ought to have a record for it.

Before exploring the record, let us say a word about how and why such records were created. In the late 1970s the ESTC was established, with offices in London and Baton Rouge. As plans for the ESTC were being developed, Marcus McCorison, director of the American Antiquarian Society, proposed that AAS collaborate with the ESTC, taking responsibility for cataloging U.S. and Canadian imprints within ESTC scope. Thus, with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North American Imprints Program (NAIP) was established as a sister project to the ESTC. As work on the ESTC began, Henry Snyder, director of the North American office, began to solicit North American libraries to contribute reports of their eighteenth-century holdings. Reports could come in three forms: 1) photocopy of the title pages with bibliographic information filled out (this was the preferred form); 2) 5X7 note cards with bibliographic information filled out; 3) copy of a main entry catalog card (this was the least preferred form because the information was not standardized). Reports for North American imprints were forwarded to the NAIP office at AAS. Last week, we went down to the basement  to dig up this very report, and were pleased to see that it came in the first of these three formats:
LordCornwallis_Page_2By 1985, AAS NAIP catalogers had completed the cataloging of AAS holdings, and had begun to create records from ESTC reports for North American imprints. It is at this time that the initial record for A Sermon on the Capture of Lord Cornwallis was created, with the minimal genre heading of “Sermons” in the MAchine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) 655 field.


NAIP records were integrated into the ESTC file in 1990, and these records were made available through the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN), as a microfiche catalog, as a CD-Rom catalog, and eventually in the online version of the ESTC we use today. Part of the work of NAIP was not only to create this comprehensive catalog, but also to enhance the records that AAS received with more complete metadata wherever possible. And an AAS cataloger eventually did just that by adding two subject headings. The NAIP record (below) now includes information about the content of the pamphlet. The MARC 651 field contains the subject heading Yorktown (Va.)—History—Siege, 1781. A NAIP-specific heading (“Blacks as authors”) appears in the 650 field; the heading allows researchers to search for titles written by Black authors. To the heading is added the name of the author; in this case, the author can be identified only by the phrase “an African American” found on the title page of the pamphlet.

AASRecord (2)Degutis has since added a “General Note” in the 500 field with a citation to the advertisement Shapiro found in the Pennsylvania Journal. We are grateful to have this additional information in our record. This news also offers us a chance to realize once again how much crucial information is contained in the metadata of the NAIP records; it is just waiting for scholars to put that information to work as data in the role of evidence, to paraphrase Trevor Munoz’s useful definition of data. We at AAS have been dedicated to assisting such efforts for decades, and the tools and methodologies of digital humanities offers us new ways to do so.

Gen. Benjamin Butler and Shoo Fly Chewing Gum

ShooFlyTradeThis past winter, while hunting in the stacks for a trade card for a reader, I spotted this intriguing advertisement for chewing gum.  As editor of the Society’s Instagram account, I had been participating in an event called #bugginout, which featured posts by libraries around the world focused on illustrations of anthropomorphic insects.  These posts had been appearing for a few weeks, every Wednesday, and all of the participants were amazed at how much material we were finding in our collections.  I thought immediately of using the Shoo Fly trade card for #bugginout, but first I had to do some research.  Why, I thought, was Benjamin Butler’s head on the body of a fly? And why was that image used to sell chewing gum?

Butler, of course, was a Civil War general in the Union Army, infamous for his controversial policies during occupation of the South and his BenButlermanagement of soldiers and wartime funds.  After the war he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (representing Massachusetts) for consecutive terms from 1867 through 1875, and he ran for governor a few times as well (he served in that post from 1883-1884). Did he chew gum, I wondered?  Or was the advertisement intended to be insulting, perhaps? An in-depth look through the Society’s online newspaper databases soon provided a slew of clues, and I realized I had too much information for an Instagram post.  This would require a longer blog entry.  So, here it is!

First, some history on chewing gum.  According to Kerry Segrave in Chewing Gum in America, 1850-1920: The Rise of an Industry (2015), Americans chewed natural gums (usually the sap of trees—spruce was popular) well before 1850, but it was around this time that commercially produced gum began appearing on the market.  The gums were made of natural ingredients and were either plant-based, or, oddly, petroleum-based.  Some producers touted the health benefits of chewing gum, stating it could be used for “the cleansing and preserving of the Teeth, a most desirable article for sweetening the breath, imparting a delicious fragrance to it, and leaving the Teeth and Gums in a healthy state.” By 1860, chewing gum was being produced and consumed all over the country and newspaper editors, ministers, and social commentators all bemoaned the practice as disgusting, unattractive, and unhealthy.  It appears that gum chewing was a distinctly American habit, and was often noted by European visitors as odd and faddish.

ShooFlyBalladBut still, Benjamin Butler on a chewing gum trade card?  The next turn in my research took me to the publication of the minstrel tune “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me,” which appears first in the newspapers during the winter of 1869.  There is a dispute among today’s scholars over the composer and exact date the tune was written, with the most likely candidate being the Maine composer T. Brigham Bishop, who claimed to have written the song during the Civil War.  Other composers of the day, like Billy Reeves and Frank Campbell, have also been credited with writing “Shoo Fly.” Regardless of authorship, it is clear from the newspapers that the song “broke out” in December of 1869 when it was performed in minstrel acts from New York to California. Multiple editions of single sheet ballads and sheet music exist from 1869 and 1870 featuring the tune and lyrics (see above). Playbills in the Society’s collection feature the number starting in 1869 and continuing until nearly 1880. It was a popular song, indeed.

The connection to Butler became clear when a search in the Congressional Record turned up a reference to the Congressman using the phrase during debate.  Butler was giving a speech on the floor when he was interrupted by Samuel Cox of New York, who lost his temper over something Butler had said and threw numerous insults at the Massachusetts representative.  Cox, although only 5’3” tall, was known for his fiery rhetoric.  Butler apparently paused and gazed at Cox across the floor before waving his hand and saying dismissively, “Shoo fly, don’t bother me.” (Revealing, might we add, an impressive awareness of pop culture for the 51-year-old Butler.) This sarcastic reference was picked up immediately in the press and crossed over to theater performances of the song, which began to feature performers of similar stature to Butler (tall and round) and Cox (short and wiry). Scholars today credit the Butler/Cox verbal altercation with helping prolong the popularity of the tune.

According to the April 28, 1870, edition of the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune, one of Butler’s constituents sent him a box of chewing gum in April 1870.  Each piece was individually wrapped with the words “Shoo Fly” printed on the wrapper and the box contained a likeness of Cox as a fly. No mention of a fly with the head of Butler, alas, nor any indication of who sent the gift to Butler.  The first reference to Shoo Fly Chewing Gum as a brand comes later in the printed record, in 1880, but it is likely that the product was around earlier. The gum was produced in Cleveland, Ohio, by E.A. Palmer & Bro., a druggist and extract manufacturer, but no exact start date for the brand has yet been revealed. Palmer made candies, patent medicines, and laundry soaps, and sold toothbrushes and extracts. The Cincinnati Daily Gazette published a history of gum chewing in January of 1880 and mentioned Shoo Fly as a popular brand that had been around for years.  It appears that Palmer may have taken advantage of the popularity of the song and Butler’s association to the phrase “shoo fly” in 1869/1870 to issue this trade card promoting the gum.  Co-opting a popular trend in advertising was certainly not unusual.  There are other products that jump on the “Shoo Fly” bandwagon in the 1870s, too, including Shoo Fly soap, Shoo Fly button garters, and Shoo Fly window screens. Why not chewing gum?

Shoo Fly Harper'sThe song “Shoo Fly” continued to be referenced in the press frequently in the 1870s, including in Harper’s Weekly with a March 12, 1870, cartoon regarding the 15th Amendment showing an African American voter swatting away opposition flies as he puts his vote in a ballot box.  This same image was reused by E. A. Palmer on the box lids of his chewing gum (and example of the box is in a private collection), but the image was revised, with the voter holding a placard with Palmer’s address and the flies each labeled with the various flavors offered (spruce, cream, mastic).

While most of my initial questions about this 6” x 4” piece of ephemera have been answered by research in the library, and while I learned a lot about popular music and gum chewing habits, there is still more work to be done.  The black and white wood-engraved image lacks a printer’s imprint, although the image is signed “DAMMEYER.”  Did E.A. Palmer borrow the image from a periodical or newspaper, as he did later with the 15th Amendment image?  Who is Dammeyer?  And perhaps most importantly, from an advertising perspective, would Americans buy chewing gum associated with a giant fly with Benjamin Butler’s head?  If not, perhaps that explains why other copies of this motif seem so scarce.  I think I will go post the card on Instagram and see what social media and the #librariesofinstagram can turn up!

A Brief History of Mother’s Day

Candace Ruby is a senior history major at Assumption College and currently interns in the AAS Readers’ Services Department.

“Were we to select the dearest and most responsible of all relations in this fallen world, it would be that of a mother.” –The Mother’s Manual, : Containing Practical Hints, by a Mother

As Mother’s Day approaches, it is time to reflect on all that our mothers have done for us over the years. They raised us, they taught us right and wrong, and they sacrificed for us more than they would care to admit. While the annual holiday of Mother’s Day is a rather new phenomenon (only being recognized as a national holiday in 1914), the concept of expressing respect and honoring one’s mother has deep roots in antiquity. Many ancient civilizations bekindtoyourmother_0001 (2) (837x1280)possessed some concept of a mother goddess: the Greeks worshipped the mother goddess Cybele, the Egyptians with the goddess Hathor, the Aztecs with Toci, and Hinduism with Durga. The American tradition, however, is more rooted in Christian doctrine, namely the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments. It was a parent’s Christian duty to teach the Bible to his or her children, and children were expected to follow the rules set out for them and live life as a “good Christian.”

Early American literature does much to encourage this behavior, with titles such as Be Kind to Your Mother and How to Help and Comfort Your Mother within AAS’s collection of children’s literature. How to Help and Comfort Your Mother, published by the Mass. Sabbath School Society in 1836, urges children to help their mother whenever she needs it: “When you see that she is very busy, you must not give her your ball to fix, or doll to dress. You must be ready to go up stairs or down stairs for her, or do any thing that she may want you to do.” Mothers in particular were responsible for the nurturing and the instruction of their children, especially regarding prayer and Christian teachings. All good children were expected to honor both of their parents and to do something every day to help them. How to Help and Comfort Your Mother urges children: “Begin early ; see to-day and to-morrow, and next day, and every day of your life, in how many ways you can be a help and comfort to your mother.”

mothersmanual_0001 (767x1280)The desire for an annual appreciation of mothers led to the conception and celebration of the first “Mother’s Day” in the early twentieth century. The American holiday of Mother’s Day was first conceived by Anna Jarvis upon the death of her mother in 1905. She wished to memorialize her own mother, who had worked as a peace activist during the American Civil War, as well as recognize all mothers for their caring and compassion. The first celebration of Mother’s Day occurred in 1908 in Grafton, West Virginia, when Jarvis held a memorial for her mother. In 1910, West Virginia became the first state to recognize Mother’s Day as a holiday and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation that declared Mother’s Day to be a national holiday, which would be celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Since its creation in 1914, Mother’s Day has become one of the most popular holidays and is now celebrated all over the world.

So as this holiday approaches, take time out of your busy schedule to visit your mother, or call her to express your gratitude for all that she has done. If she has already passed, take a moment to reflect on some moments that the two of you have shared. For indeed, as Washington Irving once wrote, “A mother is the truest friend we have.”

Richard and Claudia Bushman, AAS Distinguished Scholars in Residence

Bushman-Claudia-cr-rsRichard and Claudia Bushman are the AAS Distinguished Scholars in Residence for the 2014-2015 academic year. Richard is Gouverneur Morris professor emeritus of history at Columbia University and the recipient Bushmanof many honors, including the Bancroft Prize. His new book, which he plans to finish while at AAS, is on American farming in the eighteenth century. Claudia is professor of American Studies emerita at Columbia University and is at work on a new book about Harriet Hanson Robinson.

Past is Present: I guess we’ll start out with your new projects. Could you both describe the projects you’re working on here?

Claudia Bushman: What I’m doing is an extension of a project I began my scholarly work with, which is a study of Harriet Hanson Robinson, second echelon reformer who spent a lot of time in Boston. I have her 1870 journal, and when I wrote about her before, because I was writing a full biography of the family for several generations, I felt I had to skip over things very briefly. What I’m doing this year is expatiating, expanding, and explaining this 1870 journal, which I think is just pure gold. We’re really using her words. That’s what I love–her voice, her style, and how she talks about the period. I’m telling many stories.

Richard Bushman: I’m working on a story of American farming in the eighteenth century. I came to it because 80 percent of the population in British North America lived from the soil. It’s a very large project and I’ve been working on it for a number of years, really bringing it to a culmination now. AAS is terrific because any time I need a book I just whistle and it’s there. It’s a fabulous place and especially because there’s a very stimulating atmosphere to work in, too. You just really get rolling, and I think I’m going to be able to finish it up by the time I leave this summer.


Past is Present: How do you generally become interested in a project? We know that you, Claudia, wrote a biography of Robinson, but how did you first become interested in her life?

CB: I believe that everything I write, which is quite varied, is autobiographical, so I come upon things and then I just know I have to do them. When I began graduate school I was already an older person and I decided that I would do female studies. I never knew anyone who had studied anything like this (that’s how far back I go). I wanted to do women’s work, domestic and paid, and take both seriously. I right away became aware of the mill scene, which I had never known anything about since I’m from California. I read the books, did all kinds of things, learned to spin, and then I found the book Loom and Spindle, which is by Harriet Hanson Robinson, her memoir of her time working in the mills as a young girl. It was certainly the best thing that I’d read. It was just illuminating and wonderful. I was so pleased by those spunky mill girls. When I discovered that all of her papers were in the Schlesinger Library, which was a 15 minute bus ride from my house, without even looking at them, I said, “This is my dissertation.”


Past is Present: Richard, same question for you. How do you first become interested in a project? You have two strains in your work, one on American life and culture more generally and one on Joseph Smith and Mormonism.

RB: It’s that double life that lies behind this project. I’m basically an early American historian, but from time to time I’ve been asked to do something on Mormonism, so I got involved in writing about Joseph Smith. As I was looking for a new project on the early American history side, I thought I ought to do something that would interact with the work I was doing on Joseph Smith. His family were farmers, so I thought, “Well, I’ll see what I can find out about farmers.” And it worked out well. The two halves fed into each other. I use the Joseph Smith example, his family, in the farm work and the other way around.


Past is Present: We were on the topic of graduate school earlier. Richard, I know you worked with Bernard Bailyn. What kind of influence did he have on you? How has his being a mentor affected your work? I’m sure you still hear things that he said to you as you write.

RB: I really had two major mentors. He directed my dissertation, but the book was published by Oscar Handlin in his series. Oscar was really the one who line-edited it. They were quite different. Bailyn was very critical. He would cut you apart. You’d give him a chapter and it would come back in shreds. Handlin was very permissive. He would say, “OK, that’s interesting. Give me more.” So you sort of were off doing your own thing. And, of course, both of those ways of responding are useful, and so I’d say I learned a lot from both of them. As you go along, of course, there are other people who come to influence you. As I was writing the biography of Joseph Smith, and this is true for all my writing, I like to have close at hand the writing of someone I admire. It may not be on my topic, but I like to hear the rhythms, the structure of their sentences. I like very much the writing of Ron Chernow, who writes biographies. I kept his biography of John D. Rockefeller on my desk while I was doing Joseph Smith. And then Walter Jackson Bate wrote a biography of Samuel Johnson that I admired, because it was so compassionate and so deeply penetrating into the character of this man. But of all the historians practicing today, I think William Cronon is the one I admire because he writes so well and is so lucid in his explanation of how things work. So that’s meant a lot to me. There’s an English historian, I believe now dead, W.G. Hoskins, who wrote a book called The Midland Peasant, which had a kind of gritty texture to it, rooted right in the way people were really living, that I just loved. So that’s been kind of an inspiration for the farming book.


Past is Present: As teachers yourselves, what is your strategy? Do you take the Bailyn route, or do you take the Handlin route when you’re critiquing students’ work?

RB: I tend to be more Handlin. I think people have to learn it themselves. I think there’s very little gained by being hard on students. I think mainly you have to teach them to think for themselves. Students so often come in with a set of questions they’ve learned in seminars or from theory and they want the material to answer the questions they bring. But you have to realize it’s a dialogue, that you have to say, “Here it is, this is what they left, what does that mean?” The most telling historical question of all time is “What’s going on here?” And then other kinds of ideas fit in. Students have to learn to develop that confidence that, without an interpretive structure already in mind, they can create an idea out of the materials.

CB: I try not to be hard on my students. You want to put them in a position where they can learn things. What I tell them is, “Yes, you can go search for that idea, but if you’ve got a short period of time and you’re looking for just this, you’re not likely to find it.” What you want is a body of information. If you have any body of information, you have a paper, because there is something there. I worked a lot with continuing students, people who are just really eager to get back to school and are so thrilled to have the chance and so scared that they can’t manage to do it. To see them find something that they really love and continue on with it, that’s really a thrill. I don’t want to hold a whip against those people. It spoils the wonderful experience.


Past is Present: I guess one more question. If there’s one book that you could write that you haven’t written yet, what would it be? One topic that you would love to cover.

CB: Well, I have two projects. One is [an oral history project on Mormon women]. The other one is my autobiography. I’m doing this for lots of reasons, but one is that women don’t write their autobiographies and they always apologize for doing it. They say, “I wouldn’t have done this, but my children, my neighbors asked me.” Because that’s the way we feel. Women shouldn’t, we’re just not important enough to write about ourselves. So I decided that that would be one of my final women’s studies projects, that I would tell my own story, and I’m about halfway done with it, I guess. I have plenty more to do. Seeing as I was not apologizing for it, I would give it an in-your-face title. So the title is, I, Claudia. So you take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. Will anybody ever publish it? I don’t know. My family can publish it. See, now I’m already apologizing! That’s bad. We just don’t want to apologize for ourselves, because it’s so important to have women’s autobiographies. Those that we have we value so much.  I don’t dare think of another project until I get those done.

RB: I think I have one more substantial book. I’m going to go back to the other side of the equation and do something that’s Mormon, but it’s really American culture. I am calling it Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates. I’m writing about the plates, which at this point are purely imaginary. No one knows where they are. Even the believing Mormons don’t know. They just have to be imagined, yet people go on imagining them, not just Mormons, but critics of Mormonism are always fascinated with the gold Bible and what it means. It has actually become a cultural resource for American artists. You may have heard of the play Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play. It’s based on the Joseph Smith legend. The hero of the story is visited by an angel, like Joseph Smith was, he’s led to plates that are buried under the tiles in his kitchen, he’s given them by the angel and told that he has a message to take to the world. Of course, in Kushner’s case, Prior, the hero who receives the plates and who is disgusted with the universe, gives the plates back and says, “I don’t want anything to do with them.” The plates turn up all over in novels, not by Mormons but by everyone else under the sun. I’m coming to realize that the gold plates, because they’re so concrete and yet have this divine aura and they come in the hands of an angel, are a way of exploring the boundary between the natural and the supernatural, between ordinary life and the mysterious world beyond. So people use them, and use them for their own purposes, but they become useful as a way of approaching divine questions.


Read the complete interview here!

Adopt-a-Book 2015 – New Items Added!

We are in the final days of the online portion of the Adopt-a-Book fundraiser before the night-of event on May 5. To encourage participation in the event, we’ve added a few more items to our online catalog. They highlight some vice up for adoption, as well as items in French, German, and Latin (oh my)!

From Norwich and Durham, Connecticut, these five indictments (see below) feature drinking, cursing, night walking, and playing cards from 1742-1781.ctbluelaws_009

And someone should tell these petty criminals that it is a slippery slope down the road of fighting and night walking which could quickly lead to violence of all sorts. After all, the brother of Samuel Colt (of firearms fame), John Caldwell Colt, was an accountantsehr and author of a popular bookkeeping text—that is, before he became a murderer. Another item up for adoption is the Life & Confessions of John Caldwell Colt, which tells of the gruesome tale of a murder-suicide (with a hatchet and stabbing but not the famed Colt).

Perhaps you’re well-behaved and prefer using several languages instead of several weapons? Also up for adoption is a German-language monthly Der Erz-Druide from Quincy, Illinois. Speaking of (and in?) German, we also have a lithograph by Currier & Ives up for adoption: Beauty of the Rhine – Die Schönheit von dem Rhein is set with a bilingual title, and was likely intended to appeal to German-American customers. Interested in lacritiquesomething else bilingual? We also have La Critique published in the Port of Spain, Trinidad; it is printed in English and French. If Latin is your game (ludicrum?) we also have a broadside up for adoption that lists the twenty-four 1799 graduates of Rhode Island College, later Brown University.

Show us your interest in America’s deep, colorful, and polyglot past! Come over to the Adopt-a-Book catalog and check out these items and more. Also, entrance to the night-of event is free if you pre-adopt from the catalog!

Behind the Red Tape at AAS

Although we’re not often thought of as a legal repository, we do have a few famous firsts to claim in the realm of legal research.  In our manuscript collection lives the notebook of Thomas Lechford, 1638-1641, the first lawyer in Boston.  AAS was also the first government documents repository.  In 1814, in an effort to make the Society a “respectable…national institution”, Isaiah Thomas urged all members of the Society to petition the federal government to “send the laws of the national government to be deposited and preserved in our library.”  AAS thus became the first repository library for government documents in the United States, aside from the Library of Congress.  Although we do not receive nearly as large a percentage today  as we did in the 19th century, our collection of government documents still grows with select items each year.

DanaBut one of our most interesting legal documents resides in our manuscripts collection, in the form of the papers of Richard Henry Dana, Jr.  Dana was a lawyer by profession, but spent time at sea, and incorporated his experiences into his work as a lawyer, frequently representing seamen, and even publishing the book The Seaman’s Friend, a manual of general and legal advice for sailors, in addition to his more famous Two Years before the Mast.  (For more about Dana, check out this blog post about his time at sea.) Dana argued notable cases, including defending several men accused of helping rescue a runaway slave in 1851, and also, unfortunately unsuccessfully, arguing for the release of Anthony Burns, another runaway slave, in 1854.  (Dana’s file on the Burns case did not come to AAS with his other legal papers.) The AAS collection includes files from more than six hundred of his cases over the course of almost 35 years.  Included are Dana’s notes, statements of witnesses, depositions, summonses, and correspondence related to each case.  But what are most eye-catching about Dana’s collection of legal material are his piles of blue paper, tied together at the edges with red tape.  That’s right – a metaphor come to life!

RedTape_0002As with many metaphors in the English language, the origin of the term “red tape” is obscure, and has multiple eras claiming its origin.  Whether the term originated in the 16th-century Vatican, the Spanish Empire, or with Charles Dickens, we are all familiar with the phrase, and know that red tape refers to the bureaucratic hindrances that prevent action or decision making.  In more recent history, American Civil War veterans’ records are known to have been bound in red tape, and here in our own collections, Richard Henry Dana bound his own legal material in red tape.

While we always strive to find material and promote our collections for their context and research value, once in a while our collections find a way to make their intrinsic value known.

English Ceramics, American Scenes, French Name?

Platter depicting the "Landing of Gen. Lafayette At Castle Garden New York, 16th August 1824."

Platter depicting the “Landing of Gen. Lafayette At Castle Garden New York, 16th August 1824.”

In his 1913 “Report of the Librarian” published in the AAS Proceedings,  Clarence Brigham concludes with an account of “one of the most valuable gifts ever received by the Society.”  It was a collection of some 300 pieces of Staffordshire with American scenes. “It is particularly appropriate,” noted Brigham, “that the Society, which already possesses such a fine collection of American prints and engravings, should now acquire the remarkable series of early views preserved in old Staffordshire ware. Some of the century-old pictures of American cities are known only through the medium of this blue ware and hence are eagerly sought by collectors.”

A copy of the letter recording the Council resolution to accept the gift, addressed to Mrs. Emma Deforest Morse.

A copy of the letter recording the Council resolution to accept the gift, addressed to Mrs. Emma Deforest Morse.

Brigham was right about the significance of the collection. He even goes on to quote Alexander M. Hudnut from an article in American Homes and Gardens (1907) that states that the donor, Mrs. Emma DeF. Morse of Worcester, MA, gathered “the finest collection of dark blue Staffordshire in America.”  What Brigham didn’t get right, however, was Morse’s name. In this formal record of the Morse’s donation he lists her name as “Mrs. Emma DeForest Morse.” Similarly, the copy of the letter in the AAS archives sent to Mrs. Morse the day after the Annual Meeting by Recording Secretary Charles L. Nichols is addressed to Mrs. Emma DeForest Morse. The collection, which is still on view for visitors to the Society (per Mrs. Morse’s wish in her deed of gift), has been known as the Emma DeForest Morse Collections ever since. Until now.

The Morse Collection on display in the Council Room at AAS.

The Morse Collection on display in the Council Room at AAS.

A recent short-term visual culture fellow at AAS, Anne Anderson, studied Morse’s life as part of her larger project on chinamania in Britain and America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Morse, like other collectors, was caught up in the desire to collect and display old blue Staffordshire. According to Waldo Lincoln’s Report to the AAS Council in 1913 Mrs. Morse found the preservation of the collection in her home to be “too much of a burden” and in spite of the offers of eager buyers, decided to donate the collection to the American Antiquarian Society to keep the collection intact and for public display. What Anderson discovered in her attempt to recover Morse’s biography and to place her within the context of collecting circles in America was that Morse was born Emma DeFrance Bancroft, making her real name Emma DeFrance Morse upon her marriage to Edwin Morse in 1868. Anderson believes Emma’s middle name may have been given in honor of her father’s first name, France, listed on the registration of Emma’s birth on December 33, 1846.

The Deed of Gift with her signature showing her middle name as "DeF."

The Deed of Gift with her signature showing her middle name as “DeF.”

It seems that Morse may have used the shortened version of her name “Emma DeF. Morse” as matter of course, thus contributing to the confusion. It is, in fact, the way she signed the Deed of Gift to turn the Staffordshire collection over to the Society in January of 1913. Clarence Brigham signed the same document, but somehow between that transaction and the report filed by Brigham in October, the DeF. became DeForest. At this point we do not know why the name was presumed to be DeForest.  Indeed, in documents from 1913 to present day both “DeF. Morse” and “DeForest Morse” are used interchangeably, but never DeFrance. Perhaps Emma didn’t like the name DeFrance as a collector of Americana? The Society will make note of the name Emma DeFrance Morse for the historical record but perhaps in deference to how Morse signed her own name we should use Emma DeF. Morse—or simply Emma Morse.

Left: Dam and waterworks in Philadelphia; Right: City Hotel, New York

Left: Dam and waterworks in Philadelphia; Right: City Hotel, New York

The Bluecoats: Patriots Past and Present

Patriots’ Day offers us a chance to reflect on heroism, on sacrifices large and small, those historic and contemporary, and those made by Revolutionary soldiers and those by star football players. I am of course thinking of our own New England Patriots. One of their former stars showed kindness and concern for me in a time of great need last year, and I want to take a moment to tell you about how I plan to “pay it forward” here at AAS.

As bad as it looks, we were luckily fine.

As bad as it looks, we were luckily fine.

On a lovely spring afternoon last May, I found myself in Providence, Rhode Island. One of AAS’s brilliant scholars had just given a talk at Brown University. The event had been a success, and the speaker and I were merrily making our way along 95 en route to a dinner party in Central Falls to celebrate. As we turned off the highway, a car, going about 90mph, hit us from behind. I will spare the details, except to say that ultimately, we were fine—after the car spun around a few times, the driver fled from the scene, and we coped with our shock —we really were fine.

I can only imagine how the accident must have looked to those driving by. A few good Samaritans stopped to see if we were alright, and a few even tried to track down the driver who had fled the scene. In addition to some lovely women who hugged me and told me that everything was okay, There was a hulking figure who also offered us reassurances. He brought me a bottle of water, and when the ambulance arrived and these good people started to disperse, he placed a large jacket around my shaking shoulders. I looked up at him and thanked him, but told him that surely, I could not take his coat. He responded with a sideways smile, “That’s alright, honey. I’ve got plenty more where that came from.”

I thanked him again, and he was on his way. Before I even had a chance to look at the jacket, the lady next to me said, “You know who that is right?” I looked at her in my befuddled state, and she responded, “That’s Joe Andruzzi!  You know, THE PATRIOT!” I looked down and realized that I was covered in an oversized team warm-up jacket.

Patriots_0002 (2)

The jacket Joe Andruzzi gave me on the scene, which is now being raffled off!

Though far too big for me to wear, this jacket has been a constant reminder of a random act of kindness bestowed on me by a complete stranger. A week or so after the incident, I wrote a letter and made a modest donation to the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, recounting the story and thanking Andruzzi profusely for his generosity and benevolence that afternoon. I am now ready to pass this jacket—and all the heroism is symbolizes—on, and I can’t think of any better way to do so than at our Adopt-a-Book silent auction.

On May 5, 2015, AAS will be holding its 8th Annual Adopt-a-Book evening in Antiquarian Hall in Worcester.  At this popular event we invite our guests to come see some recent acquisitions, help us with our fundraising efforts by “adopting” a book, print, newspaper or manuscript, chat with curators and AAS members, and hear about current research activities going on at the library.  For the past several years the Society has also held a raffle and a silent auction during the Adopt-a-Book evening to help raise funds for library acquisitions of historic material. The raffle has included modern books and AAS swag (tote bags, holiday cards, baseball caps).  The silent auction has featured framed reproductions based on our print and map collections and the retired reading room chairs from ca. 1912.  And this year, we are happy to offer Joe Andruzzi’s Patriots jacket at the silent auction. Please come and bid on it: make this Patriot’s jacket become part of another great patriot cause: preserving the nation’s history.

Congressman and Librarians Pay Visit to AAS for National Library Week

The group visits the conservation lab on their tour of AAS.

The group visits the conservation lab on their tour of AAS.

Although many think of public libraries when they hear National Library Week, we couldn’t resist celebrating our special collections library as well! Through social media we’ve made sure there have been plenty of pictures of old books and #shelfies, as usual, and our annual Adopt-a-Book event, which raises money for acquisitions, also launched this week. But our real celebrations took place last week, when Congressman Jim McGovern and a group of local public school librarians from Leicester, Bartlett, and Grafton came for a visit to the Society.

Viewing materials in the Council Room.

Viewing materials in the Council Room.

While here, the congressman and librarians took a tour of the library led by President Ellen Dunlap and then explored some of our treasures in the Council Room. These items included Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, an issue of the Cherokee Phoenix, the diary of Caroline Barrett White describing the Anthony Burns fugitive slave case in Boston in 1854, and a series of letters written between Charles Slack, Frederick Douglass, and Henry David Thoreau about a speaking engagement. These are all items that we use in our workshops with K-12 teachers and we discussed the ways that we use these materials to teach critical thinking skills and enhance the educational experiences of teachers and their students.  Afterwards, we held a great discussion about the importance of libraries, both public and private, and ways that AAS could possibly partner with the school librarians.

“The American Antiquarian Society is a national treasure located right in our backyard. l am so happy that [the librarians] could join me today to celebrate National Library Week and to learn more about the educational materials AAS uses to educate K-12 groups when they come through the library, or use the materials online,” said U.S. Rep. McGovern.

We at AAS, always looking for new ways to connect with the community, were happy to host this tour and hope that we will see all of them back soon!

L to R: Marie Lamoureux, AAS Collections Manager; James David Moran, AAS Director of Outreach; U.S. Representative Jim McGovern; Ellen S. Dunlap, AAS President; Carrie Grimshaw, Leicester High School; Stephanie Sanborn, Bartlett Jr/Sr High School; Patricia Keller, Grafton High School; Kayla Hopper, AAS Outreach Coordinator

L to R: Marie Lamoureux, AAS Collections Manager; James David Moran, AAS Director of Outreach; U.S. Representative Jim McGovern; Ellen S. Dunlap, AAS President; Carrie Grimshaw, Leicester High School; Stephanie Sanborn, Bartlett Jr/Sr High School; Patricia Keller, Grafton High School; Kayla Hopper, AAS Outreach Coordinator

Now launched: Adopt-a-Book 2015!

This year the American Antiquarian Society will be holding its 8th annual Adopt-a-Book event on Tuesday, May 5, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.  This fundraising event supports the library’s continued acquisitions of historic material and has been very successful in the past, with over $100,000 raised to date. The funds help curators buy more books, pamphlets, prints, newspapers, and manuscripts.  On May 5, guests will have the opportunity to view all kinds of material recently acquired by AAS, including a poultry advice book, a poster for a dog show and a newspaper published in Nome, Alaska.  You can adopt in your name or in memory/in honor of a special person (or both, with multiple adoptions!). The event has become so popular with our members, fellows, local supporters, and staff, that many previous participants have already been asking the curators in advance for hints about the type of material that will be made available for adoption this year!  Everyone has been waiting for the catalog.

And here it is! Today, we launch the 2015 Adopt-a-Book event with the online catalog, which will remain active through May (or until everything is adopted).  Participants who wish to pre-adopt can do so now, direct from the digital catalog (and as an added incentive, entrance to the May 5 event is FREE if you pre-adopt from the online catalog, otherwise $10).  So click on over and have a look at the 120 objects the curators have selected for the online portion of this event.  Don’t worry if it seems like everything is getting snapped up quickly – we are always gratified by the enthusiasm our supporters show.  And, the curators have already selected additional, exclusive, material that will only be up for adoption in person at the event on May 5.

To further tempt you, here are selections in the online catalog from each of the five curatorial departments:

Ocean RoversThe Ocean Rovers. Munro’s Ten Cent Novels, No. 12. New York: George Munro & Co., 1864. 
Adopt me for $50

Dime Novels were cheap thrills (costing, you guessed it, 10 cents!). Formulaic adventure stories issued in numbered series, they enjoyed an enormous readership from the last third of the 19th century into the early 20th century. These lurid pot-boilers reveled in all forms of criminality and outlaw behavior. They were often set in Western locales populated with outlaws and bandits; or on the sea with brigands, buccaneers and privateers; or on city streets teaming with scenes of seduction, criminal intent, and sometime even detective or police work.

Up StreamRichard Andre, Up Stream: A Journey from the Present to the Past. New York: Scribner & Welford, ca. 1877.
Adopt me for $100

This fantastical picture book was both penned and illustrated by Englishman William Roger Snow (1834-1907), who used the pseudonym “Richard Andre.” The poem is about two boys who pause from their boating adventure to dream about the past. The lively pictures match the poetry to note the first steamed potato, the triumphant ride of Joan of Arc, the winsome Helen of Troy, and even the curly tusked mastodons!


drinking buddiesThree Men Drinking Beer, ca. 1875.
Adopt me for $75

Photographs of people eating and drinking in the nineteenth century are uncommon. This tintype shows three gents in suit coats seated around a small table in a photographer’s studio drinking beer out of glass mugs. One man’s hat is on the floor and the central figure is smoking.


Souvenir herbariumSouvenir Herbarium of Melinda E. Field, 1849-1855. 
Adopt me for $200

Kept by Melinda E. Field from 1849-1855, this souvenir herbarium contains specimens from Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. The album contains 12 botanicals, mostly leaves, sewn neatly into the pages and labeled with the locations and dates they were found. A few loose specimens are found in other pages, having never been stitched down. The album features “Holly from Laurel Hill, Cemetery, Philadelphia,” leaves “From the Charter Oak, Hartford, Conn,” and “From a willow tree planted by myself at Fieldsborough.”

The Pioneer or CA Monthly MagPioneer: or California Monthly Magazine (San Francisco, California) Oct. 1854.
Adopt me for $75

The Pioneer was the first purely literary magazine of California. It began January 1854 by Ferdinand C. Ewer who modeled the magazine on the New York literary periodicals, The Knickerbocker. It lasted about two years.



We are grateful to American Printing for their generous donation of the costs of printing our invitations for this event.

“A week unparalleled in the annals of this war”: Joy and Sorrow in April 1865

Surrender of Lee_Curr-Ives

“Surrender of Genl. Lee, at Appomattox C.H. Va. April 9th 1865″ by Currier and Ives, 1865.

“Hurrah! Hurrah! ‘Sound the loud Timbrel o’er Egypt’s dark sea’ – Early this morning our ears were greeted with the sound of bells ringing a joyous peal – & a paper sent home by Frank announced the glad tidings that Gen. Lee had surrendered with his whole Army to Gen. Grant!” Only a day after the historic gentlemen’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, the news had reached Boston and, according to Caroline Barrett White, an upper-middle-class woman from Brookline, the “city has been given up to rejoicings all day & this evening there was to have been a great illumination—with music fireworks & such other demonstrations as are usual in a time like this.”

Like so many that day, White was eager to express her joy at the end of the most devastating war to take place on American soil. She had taken an active interest in the antislavery movement since the mid-1850s and kept a careful record of war news, government policy decisions, and her patriotic activities during the course of the conflict. (The latter consisted of everything from sewing shirts and socks for the soldiers to purchasing “some patriotic streamers” and “making some decorations of the national colors” to hang in her house.)

After four long years of worry and heartache, it’s no surprise that her victorious entry on April 10 reads as an incoherent jumble of emotions, ranging from utter joy that the war is over to a religious vindication of the evils of slavery to disappointment that she’s unable to join in the celebrations taking place just a few miles away in Boston. This last emotional swing is indicative of a motif that crops up throughout her war year entries: despite effusions of patriotic fervor and restlessness, this private woman remained mostly just that – private.

We don't know which newspaper Frank sent to Caroline, but this April 10 issue of the Boston Herald is one possibility.

We don’t know which newspaper Frank sent to Caroline, but this April 10 issue of the Boston Herald is one possibility.

Restrained by the expectations of the day—and her own belief in the correctness of those expectations (she was anti-women’s suffrage in later years)—it was in the privacy of her own home, and more specifically her diary, that she allowed herself the full expression of her political self. It is through a newspaper sent home by her husband, Frank, who is probably in the city amongst the revelry, that she learns of Appomattox. And while she allows herself a brief moment of frustration at the hindrances of her sex, she quickly rallies to focus on the monumental accomplishment of the day:

The booming of cannon & the pealing of bells, the blazing of fire works at this moment, announce that rain is no conqueror of enthusiasm – I wish I could be near to join in the general jubilation – it is stupid enough to be sitting alone in a quiet room – where only the faint echoes of a city’s burst of joy reach me – Ah!  Well!  I can be grateful to the Lord who has made bare His Arm to save this people.

Ultimately, it is the restoration of the Union and the demolition of slavery that excites White the most. Her “children will have an inheritance greatly to be desired,” for they will now “Let our starry banner wave – from sea to sea and no slave shall look upon its glorious folds – no chains shall clank beneath it – but every where, & to all people, of every color, shall it be the loved emblem of liberty.”

"Funeral car, used at the obsequies of President Lincoln, in Philadelphia, April 22d, 1865" by Jacob Haehnlen Philadelphia, 1865.

“Funeral car, used at the obsequies of President Lincoln, in Philadelphia, April 22d, 1865″ by Jacob Haehnlen, Philadelphia, 1865.

Perhaps one of the most poignant aspects of reading White’s diary in retrospect, however, is the knowledge that her unbridled elation and hope for the future is to be taken away so quickly. With the “thrilling intelligence of the Fall of Petersburg and Richmond” arriving just a week earlier, the news of Lee’s surrender “crowns a week unparalleled in the annals of this war – & I doubt if a parallel could be found in all history.” Little did she know that these unparalleled events were not yet over, and when the next one came it was a devastating blow. “The darkest day I ever remember – This morning the sun rose upon a nation jubilant with victory – but it sets upon one plunged in deepest sorrow,” she wrote just five days later, on April 15. One can hardly blame her for finding the “rapidity with which events crowd upon one another…perfectly bewildering.”

Her entry detailing Lincoln’s death is interesting not just for what it says—much of it recounts the confusion of information about the condition of Secretary of State Seward and his sons, who were also attacked—but also for its physical characteristics. It spans three pages, in stark contrast to her normal entry length of about a fifth of a page, and the entire entry is outlined in a dark, bold pen line, a traditional sign of mourning. The length, emotion, and mourning border she gives to Lincoln’s assassination entry is unique in her diary, even deaths of close family and friends not receiving the same attention. Her grief and anguish is genuine, and there is nothing left for her to do but ask God, whom she had so recently thanked for guiding the country through the abolition of slavery, “When will our cup of punishments be drunk to the dregs?  Merciful Father, help us.”

White's April 15, 1865, entry detailing news of Lincoln's assassination.

White’s April 15, 1865, entry detailing news of Lincoln’s assassination.

So just as Caroline White rejoiced in her Brookline home 150 years ago on another rainy April 10, ignorant of what history had in store for the weary country next, let us also take a moment to remember and reflect.

A full transcription of the entries is available here.

The Acquisitions Table: The Old Violin

The Old Violin. Chromolithographic proof. Covington, Kentucky: Donaldson Art Sign Co., 1887.

513124_0001The Society has been working to build the portion of the print collection which focuses on the dissemination of fine art in the United States, adding engravings and lithographs after famous or popular American paintings. The prints were then sold to the emerging middle class from 1840 to 1890, spreading images across the country. This beautiful chromolithograph was published in Kentucky in 1887 after a trompe l’oeil painting by William Hartnett. According to the National Gallery of Art, which owns the original painting, “The public was fascinated by The Old Violin…People would reach out to touch the violin or try to grasp the envelope to determine if the objects were real or painted. Thanks to a widely distributed chromolithograph, The Old Violin would become an icon of American art.” This copy is actually a proof printing of the chromolithograph, and is unusual in that it has not been trimmed to the margin and retains the series of color bars that guided the printer. The acquisition therefore addresses both our interest in the dissemination of fine art and the Society’s focus on the history of printing processes in America.

Meet AAS Fellow Cole Jones

cole.jones@gmail.comTrenton Cole Jones received his PhD in History from Johns Hopkins University in 2014 and is presently a Hench Post-Dissertation Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society. Cole was just awarded an NEH fellowship at the New York Historical Society for next year and has also been hired as an assistant professor of early American history at Purdue University. While on fellowship at AAS, Cole is revising his dissertation, “‘Deprived of Their Liberty': Enemy Prisoners and the Culture of War in Revolutionary America.” He recently sat down with Past is Present to discuss his project and the challenges of revising a dissertation.

Past is Present: Will you describe your current project for us?

Trenton Cole Jones: Certainly. My book project, which is a revised version of my doctoral dissertation, is entitled Captives of Liberty: Prisoners of War and the Radicalization of the American Revolution. This project investigates how Revolutionary Americans treated their captured enemies. I originally came to this project in 2008 when the treatment, or mistreatment, of prisoners captured during the “War on Terror” was a hot button issue politically. At the time, politicians and pundits delighted in contrasting the treatment of enemy captives under the Bush administration with what they claimed was the humanitarian way of war practiced by our founding fathers during the War for Independence. Prominent historians followed this trend by emphasizing the flagrant prisoner abuses committed by the British armed forces, while largely neglecting the practices of the Revolutionaries. But as I dug deeper into the question, a much more complicated picture emerged. I uncovered a process of radicalization that transformed the conduct of the war and imperiled prisoners on both sides. My project analyzes this process by examining prisoner treatment over the course of the conflict within the context of the contemporary European culture of war. I conclude that the American Revolution was far more violent than scholars have appreciated, and that the experience of the war and its violence played a significant role in the social and political transformations of the Revolutionary era. In short, by examining how the American treatment of enemy prisoners changed over the course of the period, my book positions the war at the forefront of our narratives about the American Revolution.


Past is Present: Which historians have inspired you?

Cole: That is a very difficult question because my intellectual debts are so many. Any young scholar of the American Revolution stands on the shoulders of giants: Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood, Gary Nash, Alfred Young, and John Shy to name but a few who have profoundly influenced my thinking. So I will answer the question another way, by pointing to two historians who have most influenced the way I write history. I first encountered Edmund Morgan’s 1975 American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia as an undergraduate. This book, more than any other, inspired me to take up the study of early America. His magisterial narrative recreates the evolving world of colonial Virginia with evocative detail and elegant simplicity. But it is the powerful argument skillfully embedded within his narrative that continues to inspire me, even as more recent works have nuanced and revised his central thesis. Morgan’s ability to seamlessly blend argument and analysis into a compelling, fast-paced, and approachable narrative is a model I strive to emulate, however inadequately.

The other historian is a scholar of Old Regime and Revolutionary France. David Bell’s work on the culture of war in Europe during the age of revolutions, The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It, is an example of the historian’s craft at its finest. Timely, provocative, deeply-researched, and beautifully constructed, The First Total War inspired me to investigate the complex interplay of wartime ideas and actions in my own period of study. While scholars may quibble with its ambitious title, none can deny that Bell has given us the best explanation for how one of the bloodiest wars in human history arose out of the Enlightenment’s quest for peace in perpetuity. Perhaps I am a little biased; David was one of graduate school mentors. Nonetheless, both Bell and Morgan have given me models for the type of historian I aspire to be. While historiographic intervention and rigorous analysis will always be the foundation of professional history writing, our books would be dull stuff indeed if they did not come wrapped in a good story.


Past is Present: What does the fellowship mean to you?

Cole: I consider myself extremely fortunate to hold the Hench Post-Dissertation Fellowship here at the AAS. This fellowship has allowed me to concentrate full-time on my research, writing, and career development. As I revise my dissertation, I have found the AAS’s resources to be immensely helpful. Whenever I need to check a citation or locate the latest monograph in the field, the AAS invariably has a copy in its collections. But my time has not all been spent writing and revising. I have also combed through numerous manuscript collections, making several important finds. I discovered that during the Revolution, Worcester was used as a depot for confining suspected New York loyalists. With a British army ensconced in New York City and another army marching south from Canada in 1777, New York authorities chose to send their suspected loyalists to Worcester for safe-keeping. The New Yorkers promised to reimburse Worcester’s Committee of Safety for the prisoners’ expenses, but years later the debt had still not been settled. Documents like these shed light on just how disorganized and decentralized prisoner administration was during the conflict, as well as driving home the fact that the War for Independence was also a civil war.


Past is Present: What would be your ideal find here at AAS?

Cole: As for my ideal find, I still dream of coming across a detailed roster of prisoners held in one of the main American prison camps, such as the Rutland camp located near Worcester. It would make my life much easier if I had good information on the identities of the prisoners held in these camps and some information about the length of their captivity and their rates of mortality and morbidity. The Revolutionaries were pretty bad at keeping these types of records, and I have only found a few isolated rosters for prisons in Pennsylvania. I have had to rely on British records to fill in the blanks. These documents, however, are somewhat unreliable as the administrators who compiled the lists were operating from second-hand information. Thus they might suggest a soldier was in American custody when he had in fact deserted or died. Nonetheless, these records do give us some idea of the total number of prisoners taken by the Americans during the eight-year war: over sixteen thousand men.

Although the research opportunities were what originally attracted me to this fellowship, I have found the intellectual community here at the AAS to be the most fulfilling and stimulating part of my fellowship so far. The library’s staff is deeply invested in the scholarly study of early America and all have been unflaggingly helpful and encouraging. The plethora of historians, literary scholars, artists and art historians, and poets and playwrights who have come through the fellowship program since I arrived have all contributed significantly to my thinking about my research project and early America in general. The formal fellows’ seminar has been immensely productive, but I have found some of the most invigorating discussions have occurred while making dinner or sipping coffee in the morning. It has been a privilege and a delight to get to know so many scholars with such diverse interests.

As a junior scholar, I have found the most rewarding aspect of the fellowship to be the mentorship provided by the senior scholars in residence: Steven Bullock, Richard and Claudia Bushman, Sean Moore, Melanie Kiechle, and Carl Keyes. Steve Bullock in particular has really taken me under his wing and has provided me countless hours of guidance, encouragement, and critique. Few postdoctoral fellowships can boast this type of personalized mentorship. I am extremely grateful for the collaboration and camaraderie of my fellow fellows at the AAS.

Read the whole interview here!