Friday, June 24, 2011

Report 1: Greetings from the Archival Ambassadors!

We are now wrapping up our first week working with the Lloyd W. Smith collection to put together a Traveling Archives unit box for high school students as well as a plan for when our students come to join us later on in the program. It has been a very successful week, full of brainstorming, planning, and researching the collection using microfilm and other sources. Together, we were able to come up with an overall theme for our project, focusing on the everyday lives of people (soldiers at rest, women, children, slaves, Indians, etc.) during wars and the behind-the-scenes workings of the military when both at war and peace. We’re interested in not only covering the Revolutionary War era, which is fitting given our location at Morristown, but also other wars overtime and various locations in order to provide a full understanding of colonial life in general.

So far, each of us has been focusing on various subsections of our overall theme in order to gather all the manuscripts and other documents in the collection that we can include in both the unit box and our time with the students. We have all been able to find a variety of interesting things that may end up being useful.

Andrea has been focusing on looking for manuscripts written by soldiers pertaining to any aspect of the workings of war (not including the battles themselves), as well as any letters or memoirs that can shed light on the lives of everyday people during the colonial period. She has also been looking into anything that may illustrate relations with Indians or the role religion played in the colonial period. Through looking through rolls of microfilm, Andrea has been able to find a couple of particularly useful documents, including a return of provisions and stores received for the use of General John Sullivan (who was stationed in Staten Island in 1777). This document is particularly important in understanding the types of goods soldiers would have needed during the war and how much they would have cost.

Peter has been focusing this week on the economic impact of the American Revolution. Because the military had very little money, they needed to borrow from local businesses and farms constantly, and luckily many of those transactions have been documented. Money for guns, powder, clothing, and food were all copiously transcribed by the Continentals, and much can be ascertained from their records. Peter found a very interesting set of transactions by a leading general in Quebec who wrote his accounts in both English and French. His ledger has been interesting not only because of the amount of materials he purchased, but also because we are able to compare his use of two languages side by side.

Elizabeth has been looking for maps and references to transportation. She has also been brainstorming ideas of activities for possible lesson plans to use with the students attending the program, as well as in the Traveling Archives Box. One neat document that Elizabeth has found is a map of Louisiana in French.

Lacey is focusing on various aspects of home life, including the experiences of women, children, indentured servants, and slaves. Since these groups tend to leave little in the way written documents, spaces themselves, such as the Ford Mansion, serve as excellent sources of information for clues as to the experiences of the eighteenth century home. Additionally, objects located in the gallery at the Washington Headquarters Museum, including dishes, clothing, and toys, provide insight into their owners' lives. Lacey has also had some success locating written documents about these subjects, some written by them and some only written about them. Types of sources she has found, and continues to search for, include family papers, personal letters, calling cards, deeds, and wills. A particularly meaningful source she found was the manumission documents of a slave owned by a woman. This document combines the experiences of both a person of color and a property-owning woman, two voices that are rarely heard in the written historical record.

Lauren is working on finding documents that contain poetry and other literary works. Some soldiers wrote beautiful moving letters. One letter that is particularly fascinating was one that was written by an ex-soldier to his friend that he met in prison. They were both captured by the British in the war. He finally recounted how he came to be captured and questioned by the British and escaped by digging a hole out of his cell. His story was moving and shows that there is always more to war than the battles. Also, Lauren is working on finding documents written by well-known people and finding another side of them that is rarely seen in public.

During the week the students are here, we will implement these documents and our process in explaining the role of a historian to them, so they can understand the process of formulating a broad topic based on their interests and then research it, shaping the topic to make it more refined and tight. Once they find good sources, they will learn how to analyze them to really understand the document and what it can tell us. Finally, after they have learned to analyze the documents they will be able to interpret them and learn how their interpretation of a document shapes how people perceive it. By the students putting together an exhibit of the documents and presenting their interpretations of them, they will be able to teach people who do not know about the documents. They will also learn about how sites and physical objects can also be interpreted and what the role of Morristown and other Historical National Parks is.

Meet the interns HERE.

This post written by the 2011 Archival Ambassadors Team.

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