Accessing the Collections of the American Antiquarian Society

Accessing the Collections of the American Antiquarian Society


[Narration] The Society sets
a high priority on access, on making certain that every
item, no matter how arcane, is available for research. [William Fowler] One of the
most remarkable things I believe about the American
Antiquarian Society, and this may sound rather
technical and picky, it is their cataloguing. They have an exquisite
catalogue here through which you can
find so many, many things. They know what they have and
they are ready to share it. [Jill Lepore] It’s a very
scholarly staff in many ways. People really do
know the materials, not just as custodians
of the vault, but as promoters of knowledge. [Ilyon Woo] You have this
objects in front of you and you are able to touch
them and have access to them. You don’t have to have all
the gloves on all the times that they are required
elsewhere. There is a tactile experience
to the research and an intimacy with the objects that I
haven’t found anywhere else. I knew that I wanted to tell
a story about Eunice Chapman, a young 19th century mother
whose husband stole her children into a Shaker community, and it’s about her
fight to get them back. It’s hard to imagine what
life was like for her, and that’s what I was
really going after. Somebody on the A.A.S
staff suggested that I look at the Albany Register, which
is basically a city directory. And I saw Eunice Chapman,
teacher and her address. I looked through to see
who was living next to her. A grocer, other widows, she
was living by the water, she was living in a poor area. I could see her, I could
see something about the way in which she lived, and the way
she lived out her days in a way that I haven’t seen before. [Allison Stagg] They provide
this very welcoming environment here at AAS, where any
scholar can come in, look at these caricatures, these
incredibly rare, rare prints. So not only are they preserving
and keeping the story alive, our story, the history
of early America, but they are making it available
and accessible to so many. [Narration] Part of the
availability is based on the Society’s large and growing collection
of online resources. Finding aids and catalogs
are available to anyone with an internet connection. [William Reese] The digitizing
of books, which is something of A.A.S has been the forefront
of, is a tremendous way to spread knowledge and
give people access to it. A.A.S has done probably
more in this particular area of knowledge to digitize and
disseminate texts than anybody. [William Fowler] Look
at their website, a remarkable achievement. Of course the heart of the
website, as it should be, is the catalogue and
access to the collections, but see so much else there. [Narration] And the Society’s
website also presents materials through a series of
online exhibitions, with subjects ranging from food
production in North America to a history of social dance.

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