For those of us who have the privilege and pleasure to work everyday with the remarkable collections of the American Antiquarian Society the past is indeed present. Whether we are selecting new acquisitions, cataloging collections, preparing web exhibits, processing photo requests, conserving materials that have seen better days, planning workshops, editing publications, or assisting researchers in the reading room, we often become immersed in the lives of Americans who lived 150, 250, even 350 years ago. By collecting the books they owned, the newspapers they read, the almanacs they consulted, the letters they exchanged, and the prints they enjoyed, we make it possible for researchers to recreate long-ago happenings, reconstruct conflicts and causes, and reclaim from obscurity individuals whose separate stories can now be woven into the larger narrative of our collective history as a people and a nation.
And while all that sounds lofty and terribly (self-)important, it’s also a lot of fun! Through our Past is Present blog, we hope to share with you some measure of our excitement at acquiring a pamphlet that escaped the collecting grasp of our predecessors, our delight in helping a reader solve a research conundrum, and our amusement with the weirdly wonderful things that turn up in the collections here at AAS on an almost daily basis. Many individuals will be contributing to this blog, but I want here to acknowledge the good work of Diann Benti, Tom Knoles, and Elizabeth Pope in getting it launched and keeping it lively.
I often use the word “generous” is describing the relationships that form among the staff and readers at AAS. It is very common for research discoveries to be shared openly, rather than hoarded in a miserly fashion. Readers regularly help each other and take great interest in each other’s projects, as does the staff. There’s a sense of community here that is highly valued, and through the Past is Present we are pleased to include our blog readers in our community as well. In that way, the past will be our present to you.