Posted by: history591seventeen | June 11, 2008

American Philosophical Society/Atwater Kent Museum

Today we got the opportunity to view some rare documents.  We got to see two of Lewis and Clark’s journals; the Society actually holds 18-19 of their journals.  I can hardly wait the show students those pictures!  In the case above these journals was another document that had four of the first presidents’ signature on it.  However, I am unclear as to what the document was.  I know our guide said something about it being like an advertisement. 


Then he showed us a few letters: from Thomas Paine to George Washington; William Franklin to his son, William Franklin Jr.; and George Washington to Richard Henry Lee.  There are some interesting points that I can use to teach my students from these letters. 


You can hear the author’s “voice” in each one.  They are all written for different purposes.  In the Thomas Paine letter it is obvious that he is angry with George Washington for not coming to his aide.  In the William Franklin letter you can feel a friendly tone, father to son.  The handwriting can also be noted.  I know it is George Washington’s letter by his hand writing; I don’t have to see his signature, just like I know it’s so and so’s paper (who never puts his name on his/her paper) because of the handwriting. 


Another document that would serve as a great teaching tool would be Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence that the Society has on display.  Many students dislike going through the writing process, where they must reverse their work.  By using this draft, students can clearly see that even Thomas Jefferson revised his work!  Additionally, it is notable that word choice would be the trait (six-trait writing) that is being used.


We also went to the Atwater Kent Museum and my favorite piece there would be the painting of John Brown.  Our guide said she thought he looked so intense.  I thought he looked pretty normal compared to some of his other portraits I’ve seen.  Using different painting of the same person with students would be a great way to show the students that the portrait is someone interpretation of the subject, and then discussing what the students felt the author was trying to convey to his audience could finish off this activity.  As you can see I came away with many ideas today. 



  1. I can’t remember what is was either, Dana, but they were pledging money for something and it showed the amount that they pledeged next to their name. I think that Washington was the highest contributor at $100.


    Thanks Dave, I remember that now.

  2. There’s a good section on portraits of John Brown inside James Loewen’s _Lies My Teacher Told Me_.

    Thanks for the information, Jonathan.

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