Manuscripts Bring History to Life

Historians involved in research on a unique subject, historical period or particular historical figure rely heavily on original manuscripts for their information. What better way is there to penetrate into the underlying causes, small events, and other factors that could have influenced the unfolding history, or which describe the people and events in a direct and accessible manner?

Anyone interested in American history, especially if he is focused on learning more about Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, or the Civil War Period, would do well to visit the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. In this ever-expanding collection a person would never tire of the discoveries made there.

One recently added item in the Shapel Manuscript Foundation collection is a letter in Abraham Lincoln’s own hand, which, in a straightforward and almost mundane way, testifies to the strength of Lincoln’s character and the degree of his honesty. The letter, penned and sent by President Lincoln to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, and dated April 5, 1861, corrects the mistake which the treasury had made that resulted in Lincoln receiving four days of pay on  days in which he did not actually work.

Another delightful treasure in the collection of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation is Lincoln’s second photo taken during the time when he first began to grow his beard. It is the first photo of then president–elect Lincoln with a full beard, and was taken on January 13, 1861 in Springfield, Illinois. The photo is signed by Lincoln with the date, January 26, 1861, the date on which it was given as a gift to Lincoln’s dear friend, the sculptor Thomas D. Jones.

Other manuscript collections abound. As one more example, if you wanted to learn something, or even a lot, about the growth of Jazz in Chicago, all you would need to do is turn to the Chicago Jazz Archive. This repository for manuscripts relating to the birth and early growth of Chicago Jazz began  in 1976, is housed in the Library of the University of Chicago, and has expanded to include recordings, publications, photos, posters, articles, ticket stubs and many other relevant materials which bring the world of early Jazz to life.

Anyone with a penchant for history, whether it is of the more traditional kind, or the more original, can easily turn to such valuable collections like the Shapell Manuscript Foundation or the Chicago Jazz Archive, and experience the past coming  alive.



James Fishman has been involved in the world of online magazines for more than 15 years. He helped launch Sunstone Online and continues to improve the magazine as site editor and administrator. His writing focuses primarily business and technology. To be in touch with James, feel free to contact him at james[at]

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