As part of his thesis research, History Master’s student, Taylor Greene, needed to better understand the political landscape of New York prior to the American Revolution so he traveled to The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. where he could access the papers of the American Patriot Tench Tilghman and Mohawk Molly Brant while trying not to get lost.
My journey began with a five-hour flight delay. Apparently, the aircraft had a crucial component that needed to be replaced. I learned that replacing a plane is faster than replacing a part, and the airline had us loaded in a new aircraft towards Washington DC. The best part about that part of the trip was that many passengers refused to wait and opted to fly a different day, so I had rows of seats to myself. I arrived at my hotel a little after midnight and collapsed on the bed.
The metro system proved a slight challenge as the city was performing work on the station closest to me, and I didn’t quite understand ‘single tracking’. A few stops later, I realized I was going the wrong way! Correcting my mistake, I jumped on the correct metro and eventually reached the stop near the Library of Congress. I had already pre-registered so getting a reading card wasn’t difficult. My luck continued to improve when I reached the Manuscript Reading Room. After checking in, the friendly staff wheeled out my needed collection to my workstation.
I was shocked and humbled that the staff allowed me to handle such fragile manuscripts. The author in one set of manuscripts wrote a series of letters to a Mr. Tench Tilghman, an American Patriot during the American Revolutionary War, on a variety of subjects. The Library of Congress had many of Mr. Tilghman’s responses as well. In fact, the Manuscript Division had several other collections to aid in my thesis research. I spent each day carefully handling and photographing the records. I found some interesting notes on the backs, corners, and folded pieces of the letters. Other times, I made crossed out sections legible. Dr. Megan Cherry, my advisor, wisely encouraged me to not get distracted, photograph everything, and bring extra batteries. As usual, I underestimated her guidance. The beautiful penmanship of the letters drew my interest where I wanted to enjoy the sight, smell, and feel of the documents while examining them. I recognized my time at the archives was precious and remembered Dr. Cherry’s advice as I depleted even my extra batteries. Despite my uncanny ability to get lost, I found batteries and made my way back. Working from opening until closing most days, I successfully photographed every letter, note, and manuscript in my needed collections.
I took time during meals to investigate other aspects of the library. One day, I decided to investigate the Main Reading Room where my grandfather went to do genealogical research. I found the experience of speaking with the librarians and walking the hallways quite enriching. When the Library of Congress closed at night, I had the opportunity to walk around our nation’s capital and observe other magnificent governmental buildings and monuments. My thesis partly investigates the political scene leading up unto the eve of the American Revolution and I couldn’t help but appreciate how much had changed.
Despite my beginning poor luck, my trip to Washington DC proved to be a richly rewarding experience. North Carolina State University’s History Department adeptly guided me towards contemporary discussions related to my studies. Through those discussions (and the Department’s willingness to sponsor graduate travel), I acquired the knowledge needed to help continue my research and gain a greater appreciation for our country’s complicated history. Also, I now know how to navigate DC metros, so there’s that too.