Witness to America's Past: Two Hundred Years of Collecting by the Massachusetts Historical Societyby The Massachusetts Historical Society

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  • Society for Historians of the Early American Republic

    Witness to America's Past: Two Hundred Years of Collecting by the Massachusetts HistoricalSociety by The Massachusetts Historical SocietyReview by: Robert I. GolerJournal of the Early Republic, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 99-101Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press on behalf of the Society for Historians of the EarlyAmerican RepublicStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3123982 .Accessed: 15/06/2014 12:08

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  • those who demanded a new private autonomy of self apart from republican homogeneity (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

    Ziff is most convincing in his appraisal of Franklin, suggesting that Franklin understood "the inseparability of the individual and society" and "the dependence of private character upon public perception" (84) more thoroughly than did Adams, Jefferson, and Rush. Each of the latter recognized that "immanence was replaced by representation as the folklore or republicanism" (114) but strove nevertheless to preserve historically their private sense of self. At the same time, Ziff acknowledges his post-modernist obligations to the margin through the discussion of such diverse subjects as Susana Rowson and the representation of women, and the dilemma of lost immanence and distorted representation for non-literary American Indian cultures.

    Readers will be better served if they know some of the elements (and shortcomings) of post-modern critical theory, although Ziff

    generally takes care not to browbeat the reader with theoretical discourse. Some will find his argument too remote from contextual

    "reality." He is also subject to criticism for being too selective and

    self-justifying in the texts chosen, and too casual about the

    chronological sequence of the texts he discusses. But his vignettes are

    brilliantly written, and any student of the early republic will acquire a new perspective on the literature of this era from the work as a whole. The "vitality" of this book, which "finds in a group of literary works that have fallen into relative neglect" (xii), provides more than

    enough reason alone to recommend this book.

    University of Lethbridge James Tagg

    Witness to America's Past: Two Hundred Years of Collecting by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Compiled by the staff of the Massachusetts Historical Society. (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1991. Pp. 207. Illustrations. Paper, $25.00.)

    Since its inception in 1791, the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) has been a premier repository for national history. To mark the society's bicentennial, an exhibition of 161 items was mounted at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; these items form the core of this catalog. Each item is illustrated (eleven in color), and each illustration is accompanied by an annotated description prepared by a team of

    those who demanded a new private autonomy of self apart from republican homogeneity (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

    Ziff is most convincing in his appraisal of Franklin, suggesting that Franklin understood "the inseparability of the individual and society" and "the dependence of private character upon public perception" (84) more thoroughly than did Adams, Jefferson, and Rush. Each of the latter recognized that "immanence was replaced by representation as the folklore or republicanism" (114) but strove nevertheless to preserve historically their private sense of self. At the same time, Ziff acknowledges his post-modernist obligations to the margin through the discussion of such diverse subjects as Susana Rowson and the representation of women, and the dilemma of lost immanence and distorted representation for non-literary American Indian cultures.

    Readers will be better served if they know some of the elements (and shortcomings) of post-modern critical theory, although Ziff

    generally takes care not to browbeat the reader with theoretical discourse. Some will find his argument too remote from contextual

    "reality." He is also subject to criticism for being too selective and

    self-justifying in the texts chosen, and too casual about the

    chronological sequence of the texts he discusses. But his vignettes are

    brilliantly written, and any student of the early republic will acquire a new perspective on the literature of this era from the work as a whole. The "vitality" of this book, which "finds in a group of literary works that have fallen into relative neglect" (xii), provides more than

    enough reason alone to recommend this book.

    University of Lethbridge James Tagg

    Witness to America's Past: Two Hundred Years of Collecting by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Compiled by the staff of the Massachusetts Historical Society. (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1991. Pp. 207. Illustrations. Paper, $25.00.)

    Since its inception in 1791, the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) has been a premier repository for national history. To mark the society's bicentennial, an exhibition of 161 items was mounted at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; these items form the core of this catalog. Each item is illustrated (eleven in color), and each illustration is accompanied by an annotated description prepared by a team of

    BOOK REVIEWS BOOK REVIEWS 99 99

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  • JOURNAL OF THE EARLY REPUBLIC

    MHS staff members. The entries are well-written, encompassing relevant information about the object, its acquisition, and, in some cases, the general collection that it represents at MHS.

    The society's archival holdings hardly need an introduction. Selections from its most renowned holdings include Abigail Smith Adams's "Remember the Ladies" letter of March 31, 1776 to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson's manuscript of the Declaration of

    Independence, Samuel Sewell's account of the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 from his remarkable "Diary," and representative manuscripts of Boston historians William Hickling Prescott and Francis Parkman. An important group of material relating to African

    Americans-including Phyllis Wheatly's poems (1773), a John Quincy Adams letter of 1841 denouncing slavery, and photographs and manuscript letters of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment- conclude the catalog and document a too-little-known aspect of MHS holdings. One wonders, however, why these were not woven into the general chronology of the catalog.

    Although less widely known today, the society maintained a "cabinet of curiosities" in conjunction with its archival collecting and has preserved a diverse and important collection of artifacts. Among these are noteworthy paintings, prints, drawings, numismatics, and furniture. Military accouterments such as Colonel William Prescott's sword from the Battle of Breed's Hill, George Washington's epaulets, and John Paul Jones's pocket pistol recall the vivid importance that the Revolution held for its participants and for our own modern views of national origins.

    The rich resources set forth in this exhibition catalog attest to the

    dynamic vision of the society's founders and the painstaking stewardship of its librarians. Two editorial decisions, however, limit the catalog's value as a reference tool. The first is the lack of a formal structure to the organization of the entries. Though roughly chronological in order, the volume would have benefitted from

    general categories corresponding to the historical periods represented by the objects, or by chronological divisions reflecting the collecting patterns of the society. The second point is the index that gives only biographical entries; given the national and historical significance of the objects selected for the exhibition, a more comprehensive index would have facilitated easier reference use.

    Two brief essays introduce the catalog and deserve mention. Louis L. Tucker, director of the society, traces the origins and leadership of the MHS. His characterizations of the library underscore the importance of individuals in framing the character of

    100

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  • an institution. Regrettably, his narrative stops in 1976, for its would have been interesting to have learned of the society's major activities and acquisitions in the past fifteen years as well as its outlook for the next century of collecting. The second essay, by Thomas N. Brown, is a wonderful precis of the role of history in the early republic. This skillfully crafted text points to the moral qualities sought by historians in the often haphazard or conflicting events of their times, ordering raw material in a form that "placed man at the center of the historical drama" (13). Brown's historiographic focus closely parallels the patriotism that motivated the society's founders and one wishes that he had brought his argument to bear on the specific collections represented in the body of this volume.

    Chicago Historical Society Robert I. Goler

    The American Flag, 1777-1924: Cultural Shifts from Creation to Codification. By Scot M. Guenter. (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990. Pp. 254. Illustrations. $34.50.)

    In this work Scot Guenter presents "an historical overview of cultural shifts in the presentation, reproduction, and use of the flag of the United States in art, music, legend, custom, and ritual, from the time of its creation to the codification of flag etiquette, paying careful attention to the contributions of individuals and groups" (21-22). To prepare for this task, he wrote his master's thesis at the University of Maryland on the "Sanctification of a Banner: Children's Periodicals and the Rise of the Cult of the American Flag." Building on this foundation, he went on to complete a doctoral dissertation in American Studies that resulted in the book now under review. This work brings together a wide range of published materials, many of which are not familiar to most historians, on the flag, symbols, patriotism, and related topics. For those who may wish to explore such themes, this book and its bibliography may serve as a convenient point of departure. Since more than half of this study is devoted to period from the Civil War to 1924, it may have less appeal to readers of this journal than other studies of American culture.

    Guenter's case would have been greatly strengthened if he had taken a fresh look at the sources, explored additional lines of inquiry, and been alert to evidence that might suggest other interpretations. Historians of the early American republic may be surprised to find no mention of such appeals to patriotic feelings and symbols as were

    an institution. Regrettably, his narrative stops in 1976, for its would have been interesting to have learned of the society's major activities and acquisitions in the past fifteen years as well as its outlook for the next century of collecting. The second essay, by Thomas N. Brown, is a wonderful precis of the role of history in the early republic. This skillfully crafted text points to the moral qualities sought by historians in the often haphazard or conflicting events of their times, ordering raw material in a form that "placed man at the center of the historical drama" (13). Brown's historiographic focus closely parallels the patriotism that motivated the society's founders and one wishes that he had brought his argument to bear on the specific collections represented in the body of this volume.

    Chicago Historical Society Robert I. Goler

    The American Flag, 1777-1924: Cultural Shifts from Creation to Codification. By Scot M. Guenter. (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990. Pp. 254. Illustrations. $34.50.)

    In this work Scot Guenter presents "an historical overview of cultural shifts in the presentation, reproduction, and use of the flag of the United States in art, music, legend, custom, and ritual, from the time of its creation to the codification of flag etiquette, paying careful attention to the contributions of individuals and groups" (21-22). To prepare for this task, he wrote his master's thesis at the University of Maryland on the "Sanctification of a Banner: Children's Periodicals and the Rise of the Cult of the American Flag." Building on this foundation, he went on to complete a doctoral dissertation in American Studies that resulted in the book now under review. This work brings together a wide range of published materials, many of which are not familiar to most historians, on the flag, symbols, patriotism, and related topics. For those who may wish to explore such themes, this book and its bibliography may serve as a convenient point of departure. Since more than half of this study is devoted to period from the Civil War to 1924, it may have less appeal to readers of this journal than other studies of American culture.

    Guenter's case would have been greatly strengthened if he had taken a fresh look at the sources, explored additional lines of inquiry, and been alert to evidence that might suggest other interpretations. Historians of the early American republic may be surprised to find no mention of such appeals to patriotic feelings and symbols as were

    BOOK REVIEWS BOOK REVIEWS 101 101

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    Article Contentsp. 99p. 100p. 101

    Issue Table of ContentsJournal of the Early Republic, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 1-158Front Matter [pp. 10 - 142]Marcus Cunliffe, 1922-1990. Marcus Cunliffe Remembered [pp. 1 - 9]The Republican Vision of Mary Palmer Tyler [pp. 11 - 35]"The Irony of Liberty: Origins of the Domestic Slave Trade" [pp. 37 - 62]Hearing the Antislavery Rank-and-File: The Wesleyan Methodist Schism of 1843 [pp. 63 - 84]The Editor's Page [pp. 85 - 90]Exhibit Reviewuntitled [pp. 91 - 94]

    Book Reviewsuntitled [pp. 95 - 96]untitled [pp. 96 - 98]untitled [pp. 98 - 99]untitled [pp. 99 - 101]untitled [pp. 101 - 102]untitled [pp. 102 - 104]untitled [pp. 105 - 106]untitled [pp. 106 - 108]untitled [pp. 108 - 110]untitled [pp. 111 - 112]untitled [pp. 112 - 113]untitled [pp. 113 - 115]untitled [pp. 115 - 116]untitled [pp. 116 - 118]untitled [pp. 118 - 119]untitled [pp. 119 - 120]untitled [pp. 120 - 122]untitled [pp. 122 - 123]untitled [pp. 123 - 124]untitled [pp. 125 - 126]untitled [pp. 126 - 128]untitled [pp. 128 - 129]untitled [pp. 129 - 131]untitled [pp. 131 - 133]untitled [pp. 133 - 134]untitled [pp. 134 - 136]untitled [pp. 136 - 137]untitled [pp. 137 - 138]untitled [pp. 138 - 140]untitled [pp. 140 - 141]

    Publication Notices [pp. 143 - 150]Recent Articles [pp. 151 - 158]Back Matter

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