Our visit to the New York Historical Society
“Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere” exhibit
Growing up in the US, it never crossed my mind that there could be multiple (and often opposing) perspectives in history – facts are facts, right? But, once I started working with archival documents in the British Online Archives, I needed to re-evaluate my understanding of American history. The foundational stories of our country are reminiscent of Greco-Roman mythologies, with gods battling it out between good and evil. Our first president has been painted as a larger-than-life figure, gifted with a heart of gold, keen intellect, and military prowess. To the rest of the world, this is just a good story.
Thanks to the internet, the world is getting smaller every day. Therefore, it is most important that we teach US history and incorporate multiple points-of-view. We must make our students aware that there are always two (or more!) sides to a story.
With the holiday celebrations coming to an end, our family took a trip to the New York Historical Society (NYHS) to catch the Paul Revere exhibit before it closes on January 12th. The NYHS strove to tell an alternative story of Paul Revere beyond his iconic midnight ride in the Revolutionary war. According to the exhibit, Revere was more active than previously believed in motivating the American people to join the war efforts. As an engraver, he was instrumental in the distribution of propaganda material. As a member of the Sons of Liberty, “he became an intelligence agent…always gathering information on the activities of the British and their supporters.”
Walking through the exhibit, we remained cognizant of our understanding of the American Revolutionary War and how it differentiates from those educated in the United Kingdom. In the British Online Archives “Pamphlets for the Years, 1769-1770,” there is a pamphlet called, “A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance in Boston.” The author calls into account the Sons of Liberty – these “disgustful” persons – setting the stage for the British reader, that the morality of the Americans are, “…not of best fortunes and most respectable characters.” We learn from reading this primary source that the British paint a picture of the American Sons of Liberty as a vile, “unlawful” group, unwilling to play by the rules – a tactic not unlike that of a defense lawyer debasing the prosecutor’s witness from the start. Quite a different story from what American students are taught!
Our stroll through the Paul Revere exhibit was a lovely change of pace from the usual New York minute. A perfect reminder in a world of mass media that there are always more than one side to every story… that the US is not the center of the universe … and that we should always return to the primary source.