Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Why You Should Do an Internship at a Historical Museum

You just might find a document that saves the museum.

This is indeed what happened to Emilie Gruchow, who interned at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Manhattan during the summer of 2013.  

Rebecca Rego Barry tells her story at Smithsonian.com:

Emilie Gruchow, then an archives intern at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, had recently begun working in the historic house’s third-floor attic. When she recalled the day, she was clear that there wasn’t any air-conditioning up there, and the room temperature was averaging about 95 degrees. Her project was to re-catalog the 17th- and 18th-century manuscripts stored in the flat file cabinets. She knew that many of them were historically noteworthy and many required immediate preservation treatment (archival storage in a hot, humid attic is definitely not recommended).
One folder contained the accounts of Nicholas Roche, an 18th-century doctor who treated slaves in New York and New Jersey. It was fascinating material, and she remembered, “I was reading these papers (admittedly straying from my work a little), which were interleaved with fragments of another document. When I was done reading through the Roche papers, I returned to the fragments. They were not in order, so I started reading fragments one by one until I got to the fourth or fifth leaf, which had the opening passage on one side.”
That line, from an urgent plea sent to the people of Great Britain by the Second Continental Congress one year before American independence was declared, was now in front of her in manuscript form.
What Gruchow had found misfiled among the doctor’s papers was a draft of a document entitled “The Twelve United Colonies, by their Delegates in Congress, to the Inhabitants of Great Britain.”
It was an appeal not to King George, but to the British people, for reconciliation, and a last-ditch effort to avoid war by touting “the glorious achievements of our common ancestors.” The Second Continental Congress had approved the strident text on July 8, 1775, a few weeks after the Battle of Bunker Hill, and commissioned a printing in broadsheet form to circulate (of which several copies exist in institutional collections.) It didn’t do much good; by then George III had already decreed that the colonies were in rebellion. For historians, however, the “olive branch” reveals the strong, conflicted feelings of the colonists in the spring and summer of 1775. In draft form, showing numerous edits and strikethroughs, that concept is amplified. As the auction catalogue states, “…This document is an important missing piece from the culminating moments in which colonists began to think of themselves not as British subjects but as American citizens.”
Until Gruchow’s discovery, no manuscript was known to exist and even its authorship was undetermined. The Continental Congress had originally appointed delegates Robert R. Livingston, Richard Henry Lee, and Edmund Pendleton to the task, but the printed version was unsigned. According to scholars, it’s evident from this recent discovery that Livingston was the primary author (the manuscript is in his hand, with notes and edits by Lee). Livingston, incidentally, was one of the five men assigned one year later to write the Declaration of Independence, along with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Roger Sherman.
Before even these details were fleshed out, Gruchow brought the document, given the moniker “the Livingston manuscript,” to the attention of the museum’s curator, Jasmine Helm, and its director, Carol S. Ward. The paper looked right to them—it was handmade from fiber pulp—and they called upon experts for second opinions and handwriting analysis. It was concluded that this was indeed a genuine, significant, Revolutionary-era manuscript. As such, they knew it was extremely valuable.
Read the rest here.  The document eventually sold at auction for nearly $1 million and secured a long-term future for the museum.
HT: Michael Hattem on FB