History Made Here—A Look at Original Historical Documents From the Historical Society's Vast Archives

July 01, 2005
August 14, 2005

History Made Here, a rotating six-week, thematic exhibition highlighting treasured historical documents from the archives of the library at the New-York Historical Society is on display July 1, 2005–August 14, 2005. The exhibition highlights the extraordinary collections of the New-York Historical Society's library through a rotating series of small and special exhibitions. Each week three new documents will be on display, accompanied by audio commentary from historians. The documents are grouped thematically, as follows:

  • The New World (July 1, 2005–July 10, 2005), featuring the only extant manuscript copy of John Winthrop's A Modell of Christian Charity Written on Boarde ye Arrabella on ye Attlantic Ocean (1630)
  • Native American Dictionaries (July 12, 2005July 17, 2005), with a bible translated into the language of the Massachusetts Indians by John Eliot in 1685
  • The Constitution (July 19, 2005July 24, 2005), including Rufus King's notes of the closed proceedings of the Constitutional Convention (1787)
  • The Great Wide Open (July 26, 2005July 31, 2005), including Napoleon's wine-stained authorization for the sale of Louisiana (1803)
  • Newspaper Firsts (August 2, 2005August 7, 2005), with Freedom's Journal, the first American newspaper published by African Americans (18271829)
  • Boom & Bust: The 1920s (August 9, 2005August 14, 2005), spotlighting the closing ticker tape from October 29, 1929

Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, asked the library staff to come up with a list of Historical Society documents that they most treasure. "I thought it would be a wonderful challenge for all of us, considering the number of documents in our collection, and would lead to some interesting-and intellectually stimulating-discussions among staff. I also felt confident that visitors would share our excitement about the treasures we selected."

The Historical Society library collections contain over 20,000 linear feet of archival materials, including diaries, letters and record books; 15,000 maps and atlases; 10,000 different American newspaper titles, including one of the world's largest collections of pre-1820 newspapers; 20,000 broadsides; 15,000 pieces of sheet music; 10,000 dining menus; 175,000 prints; 500,000 prints and negatives and dozens of architectural collections.

Just what makes an historical document a treasure? Documents are considered treasures for a combination of reasons, including age, uniqueness or rarity, historical significance and specific insight or point-of view. Manuscripts are, by nature, unique because they are handwritten documents. Historical "firsts" are also considered treasures. For example, Freedom's Journal, the first newspaper published by African-Americans 18271829, or the map Carte de L'Amerique, which shows the extent of cartographical knowledge about America in 1640.

The exhibition debuts with treasured documents from The New World and will display Captain John Smith's account of the Jamestown colony, the first permanent English settlement in America. Also on display is the only existing manuscript copy of John Winthrop's A Modell of Christian Charity Written on Boarde ye Arrabella on ye Attlantic Ocean (1630), a written sermon by Winthrop and believed to have been delivered on board the Arabella. Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sailed from England in 1630, along with 700 other English Puritans. In this written sermon, Winthrop says that America will be "as a City Upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us," a phrase which stands out and recurs in American history. The sermon is believed to have been delivered on the Arabella itself, during the trip. This document is highly valued because of its age, its rarity, it's historical significance and its unique, personal vision of the New World. The third document on display is a map (1640) by Petrus Bertius, mapmaker for King Louis XIII of France, which shows existing cartographical knowledge about America.

Week two, Native American Dictionaries, includes a 17th century bible translated into in the language of the Massachusetts Indians by John Eliot in 1685, which will give the viewer a sense of the dynamic between the Colonists and the Native American population.

Documents on display for The Constitution exhibit include: "In Relation to Foreign Nations," a draft of the 64th essay from John Jay's "The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution," (1787), which is one of only two surviving manuscripts of the Federalist papers; Rufus King's notes on the closed proceedings of the Constitutional Convention (1787); and the McKesson Papers, John McKesson's original minutes of the debates in the Convention of the State of New York on the adoption of the Federal Constitution, June 19July 3, 1788.

Visitors can celebrate the bicentennial of Lewis & Clark's expedition of the West during the fourth week of the exhibition, The Great Wide Open, featuring a copy of History of the Expedition... to the Pacific Ocean. Philadelphia, 1814. 2 Vols., with rarely seen intact maps of the journey.

Week five celebrates Newspaper Firsts with the copies of New York Gazette, the first newspaper published in New York State; Freedom's Journal, the first African-American newspaper published in New York City; and The Revolution, published by leading figures in the fight for women's rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. The exhibition concludes with Boom & Bust: the 1920s, bringing us to the 20th century with a collection of speakeasy membership cards; price lists from "bootleg" liquor dealers in New York City during the Prohibition Era and the closing ticker tape on that climactic day of crash.

Creative: Tronvig Group