“Collect, Preserve, and Communicate”: Jeremy Belknap’s Republic of Letters and the Problems of Early American History Writing

By Yoshinari Yamaguchi.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: December 9, 2016 $US5.00

This article focuses on Jeremy Belknap’s design of an archival network in early national America. When Belknap founded the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1791, its mission was “collecting, preserving, and communicating the Antiquities of America.” The early history of archival institutions showed that paper documents were susceptible to damage and loss at any moment, and saving endangered documents was foremost among other historian’s projects. The whole idea of Belknap’s “Republic of Letters” was not to stash away documents in the vaults, but to publish and share their duplicate copies as widely as possible, and thereby to preserve the documentary contents communally. Once the materials were shared and secured, the next step was to unify them into a narrative whole. With an ever-increasing number of printed copies, the task of historians was to reimagine history over and over. The same goes for today’s hyper-diffusion of digitized information. The benefit of online archive is blessing to modern scholarship to be sure, but its immensity somehow overwhelms individual efforts to manage the data overload. The task is to weave one story after another out of growing gigabytes of documents.

Keywords: Archival Network, Republic of Letters, Documentary History

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2017, pp.17-28. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: December 9, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 557.984KB)).

Dr. Yoshinari Yamaguchi

Associate Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, University of Kochi, Kochi, Japan


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