Skip to main content

Why Documents Matter

Yesterday, James G. Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, visited Saint David's to meet with our sixth graders and their parents to discuss the value of primary source documents.  Professor Basker explained that when people closely examine original documents, they become historians themselves rather than merely passive recipients of information. During the session the professor elicited observations and inferences from the boys as they closely studied reproductions of several documents in the Gilder Lehrman Collection including, a Boston Massacre print by Paul Revere, a version of the Declaration of Independence believed to be the sole survivor of a Charleston, South Carolina printing, a letter from George Washington in which he expresses his misgivings about slavery, and a letter by abolitionist Frederick Douglass to his former owners in which he forgivingly declares, "I love you but hate slavery."

In one activity, boys compared the Preamble in an early (confidential) draft of the U.S. Constitution with that of the final version, in which "We the People of the States of New Hampshire …" became "We the People of the United States …" Prof. Basker noted how that difference indicates the powerful change in thinking among our founding fathers in the few short weeks of the convention in the summer of 1776 : "They stopped thinking of themselves as separate, but instead as members of one country." Only close scrutiny of original source documents can teach you this.

Prof. Basker and the HM with Tad and Nicholas
Basker also touched on the value of preserving the personal documents of ordinary people, such as letters from soldiers during the Civil War, for the insights they offer into peoples' thoughts and emotional states at a particular time.  The boys examined several examples with the professor.

This year our sixth graders are studying American history in a course that underscores the value of documentary evidence in its original context. Through our new partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute, the boys will have access to their unique archive of primary source documents—more than 60,000 now housed at the New-York Historical Society—and they will critically analyze and interpret them to explore what it means to live in a democracy. In an era of digital communications, in which insights into the process of thinking can be difficult to discern, access to this extensive collection will reveal the important information that can be gleaned only from examining documents in their original forms.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History was founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, businessmen and philanthropists, whose love of history led them to compile the largest private collection of historical manuscripts. The purpose of the Institute is educational: "to promote the study and love of American history" by making their rare collection available to educators and students through various media.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

An Evening With Lidia Bastianich

On Tuesday evening, Lidia Bastianich, award-winning chef, restaurateur, television host and author, visited Saint David's to speak to the Saint David's Alumni Parent community and current Eighth Grade.



Interviewed by Alumni Parent Dr. Joseph Haddad for our Alumni Parent Council Lecture, Lidia recounted her youth in Istria when the once Italian peninsula shifted to communist reign after World War II, her two years spent as a refugee in Trieste, and her experiences after her family immigrated to America when she was eleven years old.


The boys were fascinated with her discussion about her family's escape from Istria and her life as a refugee and immigrant. She expressed her everlasting gratitude to the people who provided assistance to her family in Trieste and when they first arrived in New York. "I can't talk enough about the goodness of the people who helped us," she said. "I am where I am because of them."

As a highly successful person with…

Navy SEAL Bill Berrien '82 Gives Chapel on Service to Saint David's Boys

Former Navy SEAL and Saint David's Alumnus Bill Berrien '82 fascinated all during his Chapel Talk Tuesday morning to our seventh and eighth graders.

A SEAL for nine years, Bill was a member of two platoons in South America as well as part of a Joint Special Operations unit. He shared his SEAL Trident with the boys, talked about the intensity of training, and noted he remains close to many with whom he served.


Connecting his service to the values that Saint David's espouses, he encouraged the boys to always be students--curious throughout their lives, to find the best in everyone, appreciate setbacks, and to learn from failures. In the video above, he addresses the first.

He closed by planting these "seeds" for our boys to consider: that life is a journey to be embraced broadly with openness to a variety of opportunities; being a service leader is of utmost importance; the unknown should be embraced; and, finally, that the boys be their own best friend, compassi…

Saint David's Father and Son Dinner Featuring Mark Whitaker

Our annual Seventh Grade father and son dinner provides the opportunity for seventh graders and their fathers to share an evening exploring what it means to be a good man, the relationship between parent and son, and other mission-related themes.

The speaker at this year's event was author, journalist and media executive Mark Whitaker, who spoke about his memoir My Long Trip Home, in which he delves into the story of his family, in particular, his father. The son of a bi-racial couple who wed in 1956 (a time when interracial marriages were still illegal in some states), Mark spent many years estranged from his father, a brilliant African Studies scholar who struggled throughout his life with alcoholism.


Later, they would reconcile, but it was only after his father had passed away that Mark realized he wanted to write a book about this man who had had a groundbreaking career despite all his problems, and try to understand him better. Ultimately, the process deepened Mark'…