The Division of Libraries of New York University in partnership with the New-York Historical Society has received a National Leadership Grant of $199,499 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to create a digital resource, “Witness to the Early American Experience,” for the study of the American Revolution and the Early Republic.

The centerpiece of the project will be the Richard Maass Collection of NYU’s Fales Collection, which consists of over 300 autograph letters, documents, broadsides, and newspapers that chronicle the early history of New York from its colonization by the Dutch in the seventeenth century through the tumultuous years of the Revolutionary War. Great figures of the American Revolution are well represented in the Collection, including autograph letters by George Washington, one of which outlines his plans for the battle of New York City; John Jay; the Marquis de Lafayette; Benedict Arnold; Samuel Adams; John Hancock; and Charles Lee. There are also such significant items as a land treaty from 1680 for the first purchase of Connecticut land from the Indians; information on what the Revolutionary Army ate and drank in the form of receipts for supplies; and a letter by John Quincy Adams from 1839 articulating his position on the freedom of the slaves (he was against it).

The chronological scope of the Maass Collection ranges from 1645 to the mid-nineteenth century with the bulk of the materials from the 1760s through the 1780s. According to Michael Stoller, director of Collections and Research Services at the NYU Libraries, the Collection’s strong geographical focus on New York City and Westchester County, combined with the great variety of documents, gives it extraordinary depth.

Complimenting the Maass Collection, the New-York Historical Society will contribute its William Alexander Papers, a rich collection of letters and military reports relating to the American defense of New York and campaigns following the fall of the city to the British. The Historical Society will also contribute its 262 Erskine/DeWitt military survey maps, drawn by Washington’s cartographers, Robert Erskine and Simeon DeWitt. Finally, to compliment the broadsides and newspapers in the Maass Collection, the Project will draw upon the Historical Society’s collection of Revolutionary War broadsides.

The resulting digital collection will provide a coherent and detailed picture of the Revolutionary War in its most significant theater of battle. It will do so within a prototype digital environment employing the Metadata Encoding and Transmission Scheme (METS) to ensure maximum interoperability with related digital library sites at other institutions.

NYU Libraries will work with NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education and the Education Department of the Historical Society to evaluate use of these digital resources in the development and implementation of a multimedia-based American History curriculum at the secondary level, employing online historical documents.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is an independent federal agency that fosters leadership and innovation. It supports museums, libraries and archives, and encourages partnerships to expand the educational benefit of these institutions.

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