(image/Library of Congress)
I have been trying this weekend to make some headway on a project that hopefully will come to fruition sometime this summer. Though there is still much to do, the writing is coming along. My goal is to finish the draft before Memorial Day. We’ll see if that comes to pass. One of the figures in the project is John Jay, who died on May 17, 1829. Jay was a governor, acting Secretary of State, and Supreme Court Chief Justice among other things. His grandson is a figure in Incorporating New York, my as-yet unpublished manuscript about Civil War Era New York City. It is often lost on us how little time passed between the Revolutionary and Civil War generations. I had hope to visit the Jay Heritage Center in Rye this summer but that is looking less likely given the current pandemic situation. This coming September there is a conference related to Jay at Columbia University to commemorate the completion of the seven-volume Jay Papers project. Hopefully that will still come to pass, if only in an online virtual context.
I read with great interest this morning James G. Basker’s remembrance of investor and philanthropist Richard Gilder, who died on May 12 at the age of 87. Those with an interest in the study of the past might know that Mr. Gilder was one half of the partnership that founded The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The work they and their teams have done over these past several decades has been crucial to the dissemination and understanding of American history. One of their wisest moves has always been to focus on primary sources. Their emphasis has always been to let the people of the past speak to us in their own words via their speeches, letters, public broadsides, and recordings. At the institution where I myself work, we have applied for and won grants provided by the Gilder Lehrman Institute which have allowed us to discuss America and its role in the world and share it with the public. The ultimate investment is in people and knowledge.
Important though all that work was–and continues to be–Gilder accomplished more than that. He was instrumental to the renovation of Central Park in the hard years of the 1970s, and the revival of the New-York Historical Society among many other things. Getting older provides perspective. I have been a New Yorker long enough now to have lived through several eras and seen certain things change and change again, from the height of irrational exuberance to our current fraught moment. Has it been more than a decade and a half the Hamilton exhibit came to the Upper West Side? That was years before the Broadway play. The N-YHS slavery and Lincoln exhibits followed soon thereafter. I remember taking my late father-in-law to see the latter well over a decade ago. He and my father are now gone but they live on in the lessons I learned from both of them, combined with the places we visited and things we saw along the way.
I hope everyone is having a relaxing Mather’s Day Sunday. Alas there is not much recourse but to shelter in place but the true spirit of the holiday is to honor or remember those who do or did so much for us, usually with such little notice or credit. If we have to do that while sheltering in place, it is all well and good. Yesterday I resumed a project that had hit a bit of a wall for a week or so. Every day out of the saddle makes it that much tougher to pick up again. It is just that easy to not do it. I wrote 400 words yesterday and am going for 450 today. It is amazing how if you sit down a write a few lines the process takes over. I have a friend to whom I text at the end of the day with my progress on these things. Yesterday he reminded me of Eleanor Roosevelt’s mantra that the way to begin is to begin.
Said friend lives in the Carolina area and yesterday sent me the images your see here from King’s Mountain. He has been visiting a great deal this spring and has told me that, like Green-Wood Cemetery here in Brooklyn, visitation is way up during the pandemic. That said, there is still enough space to maintain social distancing. One of our goals it take a week-long or so road trip to hit some of the Revolutionary and Civil War sites in Georgia and the Carolinas, which I have never seen. It seems that especially with the War of Independence the southern theater is often overlooked and misunderstood.
Happy Mother’s Day, all.
(image/Library of Congress)
I spent a good portion of the evening working reference on my library’s online reference service, answering questions not just from our own students but from those around the world within the consortium to which we belong. I rarely break through the fourth wall but almost always play it completely straight, unless something humorous happens or there is some other reason to break character so to speak. You always know where the person is because they log on from their institution’s website. Today around 5:00 pm I clicked on a query from a school in London. Often the patrons on the other end do not realize they are getting the 24/7 reference service and figure, if they think about it at all, that they have gotten someone from their home site. This happened with the patron from London because they apologized for bothering me on a bank holiday. I broke through the wall immediately and told them that not only were they not bothering me but that it was not even a bank holiday here in Brooklyn, New York. I had understood immediately that their bank holiday remark was in reference to today being V-E Day.
Usually when I field questions from across the pond–and there are always a fair number of them–I like to think they’re sitting in a pub having a pint while doing their schoolwork. It was 5:00 pm here, and so would have been after at least 10:00 London time. Yes, it was a Friday but I doubt given the upside-down nature of our current moment that they were pub crawling, and no I did not ask. While looking into their reference need the two of us had a fair back-and-forth on the V-E Day commemoration, which despite being the 75th such occasion was rather subdued given the pandemic. They patron mentioned a few virtual events being held online for social distancing purposes. There were few, if any, in-person events.
This patron was one of three people (the others not being from virtual reference but people emailing and texting) who mentioned today’s Victory in Europe anniversary. It has been cold and rainy all day here in the Big Apple; anniversaries such as this are not really there for celebration but reflection, and the weather has suited the occasion. Given everything going on in our world today this year’s V-E Day has been that much more poignant. No one knows the future–just ask anyone who remains today who was there in the spring of 1945–but it seems that seventy-five years after the surrender of Germany the world is entering a new era.
(image/Truman Library Institute)