Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Founded in 1994, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit organization supporting the study and love of American history through a wide range of programs and resources for students, teachers, scholars, and history enthusiasts throughout the nation. The Institute creates and works closely with history-focused schools; organizes summer seminars and development programs for teachers; produces print and digital publications and traveling exhibitions; hosts lectures by eminent historians; administers a History Teacher of the Year Award in every state and U.S. territory; and offers national book prizes and fellowships for scholars to work in the Gilder Lehrman Collection as well as other renowned archives.

Internship Spring 2011

Ashley Levine: digitizing the Henry Knox papers, and adjusting/adding subject tags to “Highlights” of their collection (individual documents) to be used for Gilder Lehrman’s education department.

At the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History I worked with the Gilder Lehrman Collection, the branch of the Institute that operates out of the New-York Historical Society. Gilder Lehrman implemented my Henry Knox digitization and search term projects to make their vast manuscript holdings more accessible to broader audiences.

Born in Boston in 1750, Henry Knox was a bookseller, Revolutionary War General, and the United States’ first Secretary of War under president Washington, from 1785-1794.  Knox’s papers encompass the period leading up to the American Revolution, and continue into his tenure as Secretary of War.  The manuscripts cover numerous subjects and include ingoing and outgoing correspondence with individuals such as George Washington, Lafayette, Nathanael Greene, Benjamin Lincoln, Anthony Wayne, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the officers of Rochambeau’s army, Rufus King, Stephen Higgenson, Lucy Knox (his wife) among others. Digitizing Henry Knox’s papers affords scholars, educators, students, and the general public access to highly valuable, intellectually stimulating historical materials. Moreover, getting the Knox manuscripts online allows even the most remote researchers the benefit of viewing first-hand the thoughts, anxieties, critical decision-making, and social perspectives of one of America’s less-studied founders.

One day in March, while I entered search terms in Gilder Lehrman’s PastPerfect database, I came across the catalogue entry, GLC02437.00495, an autographed document in Knox’s hand, dated 25 December 1776, titled “Order of march to Trenton.”  The first words of the catalogue’s descriptive summary read, “Orders for a surprise attack on British forces at Trenton.”  Upon viewing the document’s verso, I examined a hand-drawn map (in pencil) depicting the roads and waterways surrounding Trenton (including a rendering of the Delaware River).

Reading about the Battle of Trenton form a history book, and examining General Knox’s firsthand impressions about launching a surprise attack on Hessian forces, bears no comparison.  The Collection’s primary sources really bring history to life.  It is my hope that my internship duties will assist Gilder Lehrman in making their unparalleled holdings more accessible, so that scholars and the general public can be inspired, saddened, captivated, bored, (whatever) by the real “stuff” of history.


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