The American Antiquarian Society - Orientation Film

Uploaded by AmericanAntiquarian on 13.09.2012

[Scott Casper] A thoughtful nation needs
to understand its past, how people actually lived.
What they knew, what they read, what they thought.
Without a place like the American Antiquarian Society
that's devoted to the collection, the preservation
and the dissemination of exactly that, we would be far poorer.
We would know far less of about our past.
We'd be forced to rely on slogans and generalities,
rather than being able to immerse ourselves
in the stuff of that past.
[Jill Lepore] The American Antiquarian Society specializes
in the history of books and newspapers and magazines,
and ideas and how they swirled about.
The printed page creates culture,
represents culture, preserves culture.
How we communicate with one another
as a people is what the American Antiquarian Society
specializes in.
So for American letters, there really is no better place.
[David McCullough] When I walk
into the reading room I feel I'm at home.
It's a privilege to be there, but it's also a huge pleasure.
And just the way the tables are, and the light.
It's beautifully lit.
And that wonderful feeling of the architecture around you.
It is a national treasure house.
[Narration] For 200 years,
the American Antiquarian Society has collected, preserved
and shared the printed documents of North America,
from the first European settlement
through the end of Reconstruction.
It is both research library and learned society,
dedicated to the study
of pre-twentieth century American history and culture.
[Nathaniel Philbrick] My research ranges
from Colonial history to the Battle Little Big Horn.
There is quite a range of things.
And what has always impressed me with each new book I work
on here at the Antiquarian Society is the range
that is here.
There really isn't a place that has so much in one place
as the American Antiquarian Society.
[Narration] The Society collection lives on 25 miles
of shelves in Antiquarian Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts.
There are more than 4 million items,
including 60,000 imprints created before 1821.
This collection is the largest of its kind,
and features rare treasures: the first bible printed in country,
the only known copy of the first modern novel printed
in North America, and, in fact, the very first book printed
in North America: The Whole Booke of Psalms printed
in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640.
The Society was founded in Worcester in 1812.
[William Reese] This institution was begun
by Isaiah Thomas, an American printer.
He was one of the primary patriot printers.
He came to Worcester during the American Revolution
when his political beliefs caused him to flee Boston.
When he founded the American Antiquarian Society his goal was
to preserve the printed heritage of the American colonies
that had become the United States.
He knew what the printed word could do.
He understood that words were what had built America
as much as anything.
[Narration] Isaiah Thomas built a personal library
of 7,000 books, and collected hundreds of newspapers,
pamphlets, broadsides.
These formed the basis of the Society's collection,
which for 200 years has continued to grow.
[William Reese] The Antiquarian Society had a whole series
of collectors.
A wonderful example is man named Waldo Lincoln.
He was always thinking about what he could acquire for AAS,
no matter where he went.
He used to go to the Caribbean on vacation, in the period
around the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
Instead of going around as a tourist he would get off every
island and see what he could find.
He whole runs of newspaper back to A.A.S. It's that kind
of continuous collecting that slowly build up the layers
of material that make up the Antiquarian Society collection.
[Narration] As each item is acquired, it is catalogued
on a robust computerized system accessible
through the Society's website.
Digital copies of many holdings give scholars
around the world access to texts and images in the collection.
Nothing is discarded - even when a digital copy exists.
The originals are repaired as needed in the conservation lab
and preserved on site in Worcester.
[William Fowler] The society has a passion for gathering
and when I say gathering,
not only materials but people as well .
[Narration] This gathering takes place in many settings.
There are public exhibitions and events, special programs
for elementary and high school teachers.
There are ongoing scholarly programs, and fellowships
that support the work
of academic researchers, artists and writers.
[William Fowler] We come as a community
with a mutual interest.
No matter where we are coming from, they have a capacity here
to support us in the work that we do.
[Honorée Jeffers] I came to the American Antiquarian Society
to do research on Phillis Wheatley,
who's the first African American to publish a book.
Even though I read all of Phyllis Wheatley's poems online,
it's still not the same
as touching the actual first edition book
and its still not the same as seeing a copy
of poem written in her own writing.
[David McCullough] History is human.
History is about people.
And it's through objects, written documents,
scraps and treasured volumes of the past
that you can often connect most directly to the human side
of those characters who once were just as real as we are.
[Honorée Jeffers] This is her book.
And this is what happened the first time I touched it.
I got very emotional just thinking about her.
She's so dignified, and lady-like and neat.
People thought that people
of African descent couldn't be this,
and there she is proving everybody wrong.
[David McCullough] I think one of the lessons of history is
that very little of consequence is ever accomplished alone.
The experience of working at the Society reinforces
that feeling for me every time.
All these good people helping me to see the importance
of treasures in their collection.
They can also give you insights
that you might never ever had on your own.
[Ilyon Woo] They don't just give you answers,
they ask you questions and those questions themselves can take
you in so many new unexpected ways.
[Scott Casper] The American Antiquarian Society is much
than just a bunch of books
with scholars here coming and looking at them.
It's really a window for all Americans into America's past.
It is a treasure trove of Americana.
[Narration] The society holds
about 1500 historical manuscript collections,
along with 6000 prints and early photographs.
There are 70,000 pieces of sheet music.
There are train schedules and valentines, prayer books
and advertisements, portraits and caricatures,
postcards and playing cards.
[Jill Lepore] One of my favorite objects in all
of American history is this board game.
It's called "The Checkered Game of Life."
It was invented by Milton Bradley in 1860.
It reveals to you a whole different world of how people
in the 19th century thought about the course of life.
Where we begin, where we end, what our journey is all about.
You can read in this simple object, that story.
[David McCullough] Who would who would we be without our story?
The pull of history is the enjoyment of those stories.
Why would we want to limit our experience on earth
to the little bit of biological time that we're allotted,
but we can have the whole reach
of the human experience through history?
[Honorée Jeffers] You need to have the place
that does not allow us to have amnesia
about what this country is.
The good the bad and everything in between.
The narrative can change.
Each generation someone thinks well this is what is important,
or this is what is important.
But the documents don't change, and we need to be able
to have these materials so that we can come
and we can see what the country was.
[William Reese] An object can sit for 200 hundred years
and nobody can know why it's needed.
No scholar can put it in context, until that moment
when that piece of paper tells a story, provides a connection.
You never know when some scholar is going to need
that single connective piece, that's going
to make the whole story fall into place.
That's why places like this exist, and that why places
like this are precious.