Thursday, December 1, 2016

Holly Walk Returns to Morristown!

Saturday, December 3 & Sunday, December 4
11:00 am to 4:00 pm

A long-standing and beloved tradition in Morris County is the historic house tour known as "Holly Walk".  With one admission ticket visitors can tour five local sites which will be decorated for the holidays.  

New this year, the event has been expanded from one to two days, and will be held Saturday and Sunday, December 3 and 4 from 11 am to 4 pm.

Participating sites for Holly Walk include: 

Acorn Hall, the Ford Mansion,
Macculloch Hall, the Schuyler-Hamilton House and the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms.  

Each location has been planned special Holly Walk programming just for this weekend. Additionally, their gift shops will be stocked with unique items for holiday shoppers.  

Advanced sale tickets cost $30 and are available at and at the Morris County Tourism Bureau office, 6 Court Street, Morristown, until Friday, December 2nd.  During the weekend of the event the ticket price will rise to $35. Children 12 and under are free.

For more information, please visit the Morris County Tourism Bureau website.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

An Artist Among Us

When you ask Ranger Kevin Hanley to build you a teaching tool, he fact, he creates a work of art.

As part of our Primary Source Seminar programming, we often explain antiquated concepts of paper making and printing processes that can be difficult to conceptualize without the help of visual aids. We enlisted the services of Mr. Hanley, an expert in miniature model building, to help us create a 1:10 scale model of a Gutenberg printing press. We had hoped for something basic to demonstrate the general setup and components, but Kevin, being the master craftsman he is, created an intricate model that features even the miniature type, ink balls, footstep, printed text, and stacks of pressed pages! The craftsmanship and attention to detail are truly impressive.

                        Thank you, Kevin! 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Cursive Learning Curve & Future Historians' Dilemma

Booker T. Washington manuscript, LWS Collection.
I taught high school for a couple of years before going into museum work and the number one apprehension my students had about the SAT; the one sentence academic oath that they are required to complete in cursive before commencing the exam! The curse of CURSIVE!

If English Secretary hand eventually fell out of use, it might not come as such a surprise that as the need for technology literacy increases, the instructional time for manual practices like cursive may decrease.  In my own experience working with teachers, I have been informed it’s not only on the decline, in some schools cursive is no longer part of the curriculum.

After recovering from my instinctual cringe, I took some time to ponder my own cursive journey and the implications for such a bold change. Was I shocked simply because I was witnessing a break with tradition? 

I asked myself...

When was the last time I was instructed in/evaluated on my script?  Third grade

How accurate/precise was my cursive? Not very (I kind of just connect regular letters, and heck if I have ever properly written an upper case Q.)

Does my version of cursive speed up my handwriting or note taking ability? Maybe?

Does it seem to help me remember my notes?  Handwriting certainly seems to be connected to my own cognition, but I can’t verify cursive does anything. I usually take notes in a mix of cursive, print, and graphic organizers.

Does my knowledge of cursive letter forms help me decipher others’ handwriting? Yes, but each hand takes time to get used to. As handwriting degrades, script can sometime increase that challenge.

I wasn’t very reassured by my own checkered use of cursive, so I decided to think more about the bigger picture implications for a curriculum that doesn’t include it. 

What are cognitive scientists and learning theorists saying about cursive?

As it turns out, not very much. It seems the emphasis on cursive in a “post-quill-age” is steeped more in folklore and tradition than any hard scientific fact. According to Philip Ball’s recent article “Cursive Handwriting and Other Education Myths,” the case for cursive over manuscript (or non joined letters) is waning and is probably why educators are seeing it missing from the Common Core Standards, among other things.The New York Times education debate has featured a lot in support of handwriting, but not cursive. And Chronicle of Higher Education has delved into this matter on more than one occasion, most recently bidding it adieu.  
So while no conclusive evidence points to cursive being imperative to our cognitive function, save for situational learning applications (as in the case of dyslexia reading strategies)...

What does cutting cursive mean for us? 

Archival Ambassadors alum
Two things:

1. An unprecedented disconnect/communication gap between young people and their living ancestors; a sudden drop in a writing convention that makes it difficult or impossible for young people to read materials created by their (often still living) relatives.

2. A learning curve for students of history and the need for universities and museums to provide paleography training in modern cursive.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Preservation 101: How Light and Humidity Impact Paper

We have been spending a lot of time on this Queen Elizabeth I document, and I bet you are wondering....if this manuscript is such a big deal, why is it squirreled away in some archival basement?

                                Excellent question!

The short answer...

This particular document is delicate and has some significant conservation needs. It is sensitive to light and handling (it did just celebrate its 440th birthday after all).

The longer answer

While this manuscript may be susceptible to exposure, we regularly utilize authentic collection items in our teaching and museum programs; Primary Source Seminar, Archival Ambassadors, Teacher Ranger Teacher, and our internship program to name several. And when we aren’t working with the “real deal,” we are bringing folks close to that experience through our digital and hands-on exhibits.


Decoding Shakespeare's Monarch quill and manuscript station, 
at Washington's Headquarters unit.

But while we’re on the topic of conservation needs, let’s take a look at what is going on with our 1576 Elizabeth I.

They say hindsight is 20/20 and that seems to be exceptionally true in the field of preservation. As new advances in preservation science come about, collections managers work hard to care for our most valuable historical treasures. We often shudder at the interventions earlier generations of historians made, prior to our contemporary understanding of the properties the of paper, ink, and adhesive acidity; the dangers of permanent stabilizing or alteration measures; and the inherent value of historical context and provenance.

Today we are going to explore how light and humidity impact paper, while also examining the particular preservation concerns of this 1576 manuscript.

A collections manager’s number one enemy: the environment !

We work hard to keep artifacts stable by minimizing the risks incurred from exposure to ultraviolet light and fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. Read more about our field standards here.

When paper artifacts are exposed to spikes and dips in temperature and humidity over time, they are susceptible to warping, tearing, brittleness, creping, foxing, or mold blooms. Inks may flake, transfer, or erode paper. And certain dank climates provide the optimal environment for pests, like silverfish and boreing insects like moths and beetles (colloquially known as bookworms).


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Understanding Regnal Years

"1576. the Eightenth yeer of our Raigne" 

The designation of a regnal year is a way to count the years of a monarch's reign. The first regnal year began on the day of the monarch's accession to the throne, the day on which they were formally crowned. For example, Queen Elizabeth I was crowned on November 17, 1558. Her first regnal year spanned the dates November 17, 1558 - November 16, 1559. Her second regnal year began on November 17, 1559.

We might wonder why it might be important to associate a date with the regnal year of a monarch.  Sometimes when transcribing older documents, we might have to borrow Sherlock Holmes' deerstalker hat, and become a manuscript detective, following the clues in the document. Often, documents sustain damage over time, and the date may be blurred or truncated. We could even possibly find a document with no date, and only a reference to the year in the reign of the monarch in which the document was written.

There was a convention used in documents that designated the regnal year of the monarch as a form of dating the documents. Very often, both an actual date and a regnal year were used. For example, Queen Elizabeth I (who ruled from 1558 - 1603) might have written a document dated "December 1, 1568, in the eleventh year of our reign". However, a document might only have the regnal year, and no date, e.g., "in the eleventh year of our reign".  Consulting a regnal year chart could narrow down the possible date of the document in question.

An interesting example of a monarch's regnal year designation being out of sync with his actual years of reign is the example of King Charles II. King Charles I, father of Charles II, was executed on January 30, 1649. The monarchy was overthrown, and a Council of State was established in February, 1649. After Charles was defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, he left England and went to the Continent. When he came back to England, he was proclaimed king on May 5, 1660, and came to London on May 29, 1660.  Instead of declaring that date as the start of his first regnal year, he dated the beginning of his first regnal year to January 30, 1649, the date of the execution of his father, King Charles I. He always considered his reign to have begun then, even though he did not take the throne until May, 1660, in his 12th regnal year. For example, if you see a document signed by King Charles II on May 1, 1663, it will say "in the 15th year of our reign".

A Handbook of Dates, regnal year chart

A regnal year chart is an invaluable tool in any document detective's toolkit. It can allow the transcriber to place the creation of the document within a more narrow timeframe, allowing historians to better interpret the piece within the framework of known historical events.

A Handbook of Dates, regnal year chart
Morristown National Historical Park has in its collection a document signed by Queen Elizabeth I in June of 1576. The document concerns the importation of gold bullion into England. Although the document doesn't appear to be written by Queen Elizabeth I, it was signed by her. Court scribes usually wrote the body of official documents. The document ends with "in this the eightenth yeer of our Raign", which would date her first regnal year to the year 1558. After the death of her sister, Queen Mary (often referred to as "Bloody Mary"), Elizabeth ascended the throne on November 17, 1558.

Guide to Regnal Years

Jones, Michael. A Handbook of Dates: For Students of British History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2004 reprint.


  • Preservation 101: How Light and Humidity Impact Paper
  • The Cursive Learning Curve & Future Historians' Dilemma

This blog post by Morristown NHP volunteer researcher and transcriptionist, Cynthia N. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Quills, Paper, and Ink

We have spent some time decoding and transcribing English Secretary hand and today we are going to take a closer look at the materials used to create those letter forms.

Enter the quill, ink, and laid paper.

In 1576, scribes were utilizing writing tools made from the flight feathers of birds like geese and swans. The hollow barrels of these natural pens were the perfect vessels for delivering ink to paper.

Alphabet sampler, English Secretary hand/ image Sarah Minegar.

Donald Jackson diagram, via RBS course

If you have ever watched a period film, you have probably seen an inaccurate portrayal of a quill, boasting an enormous plume. In reality, a quill wouldn't be so usable with all of its barbs intact; especially those adorned with downy lower barbs which would surely impact writing ability. 

Instead, a scribe would strip the barbs and cut the shaft to a reasonable length (more like a modern day pen). Next, he would prepare the utensil for use as a writing device. 

Gerrit Dou, Scholar Sharpening a Quill, ca. 1630–35, oil on panel, 
25 x 20.5 cm, oval, signed, center right, under quill, “GD” (GD in ligature). 
The Leiden Collection, New York, GD-104/ image


If one had to be patient in making their writing tools, one also had to be patient in preparing their inks. The most commonly used ink from the middle ages to the nineteenth century was iron gall ink, a combination of oak galls, iron sulfate, and gum arabic

Iron gall ink is rather acidic and often compromises the paper it touches. Etching or transference often occurs in areas where this ink was applied heavily to paper. Check out the ink recipe below.

Commonplace book, Late 17th Century, Osborn b115 (59r-58v)
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library/ 

To read more about inks and the ink making process:



Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Art of Transcription: A Practical Guide

Let's play a game of truth or folly...


You schedule a research appointment at your local library. When you arrive, you are handed a large packet of information about your topic, transcriptions of every manuscript you wish to research, and a full description of the potential resources you may want to study.



The Hollywood research stylings of shows like Who Do You Think You Are? and History Detectives may have introduced the world to the archivist and the special collections repository, but they also speed up and enhance the research process to a misleading degree. As an archivist, I can tell you with certainty that historical manuscripts do not often arrive with background information and they are definitely not transcribed. In fact, often the first mystery a researcher encounters is simply a question of content (i.e. what does the document say?)

Do not fret, you are equipped with paleography decoding skills! Now let’s take a closer look at the transcription process. 

The goal of transcription is to accurately represent the text of a manuscript so it may be studied or quoted in scholarly research. In the research context, the most commonly utilized transcription type is semi-diplomatic transcription—this is just a fancy way of saying the representation of the text will be accurate, honoring the original spelling, punctuation (including insertions and strike throughs), and line spacing without modernizing the language or manuscript format. Because most contemporary transcriptions are accompanied by a digital image of the artifact itself, a diplomatic transcription, complete with detailed manual renderings such as blots, false starts, and letter size (i.e. a full artistic depiction) is typically unnecessary. A semi-diplomatic transcription provides a fluent and clean rendering of a manuscript’s text, and is ideally accompanied by a facsimile or reference image of the same artifact.

So where to begin?

1. utilizing a photocopy of the manuscript , number each line


2. prep your notepaper or word processing document with the same number of lines as your manuscript

Keeping your transcription lines aligned with the original manuscript spacing is the key to a successful textual representation of a document. It will also make it easier to transcribe bit by bit without losing your place.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Paleography for Everyone! Cracking the Old Hand Writing Code

Old manuscripts can be mystifying. They are often brittle, nearly impossible to read, and honestly, they sometimes smell funny (yeah!) Occasionally my curator will give me a document so challenging, I feel intimidated even taking a crack at it. It’s not always easy to relate to an artifact centuries old, on a foreign topic, or written in script that hardly passes as legible. I mean, how does one look at this and not feel daunted? ~~~~~~~~~~~>

A few years back, I got some excellent advice from an expert transcriptionist. She told me that deciphering and recording old handwriting is not an exact science and that when doing so you had to give yourself permission to forget what modern letters look like and throw spelling out the window! Now this was a game I could get behind!  

So let’s take a closer look at that 1576 document, signed by Queen Elizabeth I.


First things first, what do you notice?

You’ve located her signature, but you’re asking yourself if this is written in English, right?

It is.

YES, Seriously.

If you thought your grandmother’s handwriting took you for a ride, hang onto your hats. Meet English Secretary hand. Used primarily in the 16th through the 18th centuries by chanceries and scribes, Secretary hand is a specialized form of script distinguished by its masterful loops and flourishes. In a later post, we’ll discuss how form and function converge at the quill’s tip, but today we will focus on identifying several letter forms in the Secretary alphabet. Before you know it, you'll be on your way to becoming a paleographer. 


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Decoding Shakespeare’s Monarch Web Series

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of perhaps the most celebrated English bard, William Shakespeare. In honor of that milestone, the Folger Shakespeare Library is bringing the First Folio to museums, universities, public libraries, and historical societies around the country. One such lucky repository is our academic partner, Drew University. This is a huge honor for the university and a great compliment to the dedication of Drew Library and Archives staff, teaching faculty, and the resident Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

Elizabeth I, 1576, Lloyd W. Smith Archival Collection.
In honor of this celebration, we wanted to tip our hats to our Drew colleagues and share a little known Morristown treasure. While Morristown NHP doesn’t have an original Shakespearean work, we do have a manuscript signed by Shakespeare’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, dated 1576!

During the month of October, we will feature a special online tribute entitled, Decoding Shakespeare’s Monarch This interactive web series will include:

  • Paleography for Everyone! Cracking the Old Hand Writing Code
  • The Art of Transcription: A Practical Guide
  • Quills, Paper, and Ink
  • Understanding Regnal Years
  • Preservation 101: How Light and Humidity Impact Paper
  • The Cursive Learning Curve & Future Historians' Dilemma

& More!

A concurrent temporary exhibit, how to and how ‘naught’ quill station, and interactive pamphlet will also be installed onsite, at our Washington’s Headquarters Unit (info TBA).

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Peter Toth Farewell Recital, Sunday, September 25

Morristown, NJ – Please join Morristown National Historical Park (NHP) at 1 pm on Sunday, September 25th for the final piano recital of the season by acclaimed pianist Peter Toth. The free event will be held in Morristown NHP's Washington’s Headquarters Museum, 30 Washington Place, Morristown, New Jersey.

The recital is part of the continuing celebration of the NPS Centennial. Mr. Toth will play the park’s 1873 Steinway Grandpiano in a program which will feature:

Brahms: Variations on an Original Theme
Bartok: Suite, Op. 14.
Liszt: La lugubre gondola
Liszt: Clothes de Geneve (Bells of Geneva)

Hungarian pianist Peter Toth is one of the most recognized artists of his generation. He has concertized in most countries in Europe, South America, and Asia. His first released CD recording won the Grand Prize of the Hungarian Liszt Society (2006). Mr. Toth is a regular guest artist at various piano festivals and has been member of the American Liszt Society since 2011.

Sunday's recital is the last of the season in a series of six recitals offered by Mr. Toth to celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial. The National Park Service thanks Mr. Toth for the significant contributions of his time and talent.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dr. Jude Pfister Debuts Sixth Book

Charting an American Republic, Dr. Pfister's sixth book, is inspired and informed by the Lloyd W. Smith archival and rare book collection held at the Morristown NHP. The book contains numerous images from the Smith collection, while other images come from several other national parks, and as such is a great compliment to the Centennial of the NPS.

With the American revolutionaries in discord following victory at Yorktown and the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783, the proposed federal Constitution of 1787 faced an uncertain future when it was sent to the states for ratification. Sensing an historic moment, three authors—Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay—circulated 85 essays among their fellow statesmen, arguing for a strong federal union.

Next to the Constitution itself, The Federalist papers are the most referenced statement of the Founding Fathers’ intentions in forming the U.S. government. This book takes a fresh look at the papers in the context of the times in which they were created.

Dr. Pfister pictured here with a first edition of the Federalist Papers,
part of the Lloyd W. Smith Rare Book Collection.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Finding Theodosia Exhibit

Interns Hannah Mosier and Amelia Zurcher spent their summer pouring over the Ford Family Papers. Their research of matriarch Theodosia Ford (1741-1824) revealed the story of a rather influential and confident business woman and community leader.

It was hard to choose which manuscripts to exhibit, but Hannah and Amelia have selected a representative sample of Ms. Ford's life and legacy. Their exhibit, Finding Theodosia, is currently on display at the Washington's Headquarters museum building.

>To read about their summer with Theodosia Ford, check out their other posts HERE and HERE.

To print a copy of the accompanying brochure, click images below.

This exhibit by:

Hannah Mosier, Syracuse University, &
Amelia Zurcher, The College of New Jersey