At a time when many states dispute whether accurate history should be taught in schools, Connecticut Historical Society is celebrating $1 million in federal funding to digitize its documents dating back to the colonial and Revolutionary War era.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., made the importance of accurate historical records clear in his remarks at the CHS announcement event in Hartford on Monday.
"We live in an age where history denial is all too common. We're seeing it even in officialdom in many states where the teaching of history is denigrated," Blumenthal said.
"We're making a statement here. History is important. Accurate recollection of what actually happened and ideas are critical to the strength of our democracy," he said. "If we don't learn about the mistakes of the past we are bound to repeat them. That's one of the reasons we teach history."
Blumenthal, and his fellow U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, helped promote the request for the funding to the historical society as part of the 2023 congressionally directed spending appropriations.
At the event, Murphy was more low-key in his comments but still pointed to the nation’s widening ideological chasm.
"There’s so many things that divide us today. It’s so easy for our conversation to get so polarized. But there’s so much that binds this nation together. And there’s nothing that binds us together more tightly than the story of our founding," Murphy said.
"Despite all our troubles and tribulations as a nation, those founding ideas, 250 years later, are still at the center of American life," he said.
The digitization project will primarily focus on items from the colonial and Revolutionary era. Among items that will be digitized is one of the few remaining existing copies of the first edition of The Connecticut Courant, from Oct. 29, 1764; a letter from Gen. George Washington to military provisioner Jeremiah Wadsworth of Hartford listing items needed for the Army; and the diary of state hero Nathan Hale, whose last entry was three weeks before he was executed in 1776.
Other items highlighted during the news conference were correspondence pertaining to state heroine Prudence Crandall, to World War II and to the Civil Rights Movement, including items about Mandon Walker, a state resident jailed in Georgia for her Civil Rights activities.
Ilene Frank, deputy executive director at CHS, said
documents describing activities leading up to historical events are just as important as documents about those events themselves.
"Sometimes when we think about history, we talk about the deed when done," Frank said. "Sometimes that moment of change is seen as the historical moment. But that moment took 20 years. … That is so easily lost if you don’t preserve that background information."
CHS has amassed 4 million historical artifacts, including 3 million documents, since it began collecting in 1838.
Rob Kret, executive director and CEO of CHS, said the $1 million digitization project is one of three federal funding set-asides to CHS this year. The other two are $1.4 million for a community history project and $1 million earmarked for a civics program created with other state historical nonprofits such as the Mark Twain House and Mystic Seaport.