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The Gertrude Polk Brown Lecture Series – The Zealot and the Emancipator

Monday, December 14, 6:00 p.m. – REGISTER HERE

John Brown was a charismatic and deeply religious man who heard the God of the Old Testament speaking to him, telling him to destroy slavery by any means. When Congress opened Kansas territory to slavery in 1854, Brown raised a band of followers to wage war. His men tore pro-slavery settlers from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords. Three years later, Brown and his men assaulted the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, hoping to arm slaves with weapons for a race war that would cleanse the nation of slavery.

Brown’s violence pointed ambitious Illinois lawyer and former officeholder Abraham Lincoln toward a different solution to slavery: politics. Lincoln spoke cautiously and dreamed big, plotting his path back to Washington and perhaps to the White House. Yet his caution could not protect him from the vortex of violence Brown had set in motion. After Brown’s arrest, his righteous dignity on the way to the gallows led many in the North to see him as a martyr to liberty. Southerners responded with anger and horror to a terrorist being made into a saint. Lincoln shrewdly threaded the needle between the opposing voices of the fractured nation and won election as president. But the time for moderation had passed, and Lincoln’s fervent belief that democracy could resolve its moral crises peacefully faced its ultimate test.

The Zealot and the Emancipator is acclaimed historian H. W. Brands’s thrilling and page-turning account of how two American giants shaped the war for freedom.

H. W. BRANDS holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin. A New York Times bestselling author, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography forThe First American and Traitor to His Class. 

Archives Month, Part One: What is an Archivist?

The concept of American Archives month began in 2006, sponsored by the Society of American Archivists – since then, archivists around the country have used the month of October to reach out to their communities and constituents to describe the value of archives and archivists. Today’s post will feature thoughts on the value of archivists; check back later in October for another Archives Month post on the value of archives.

“You’re a what?” This is the typical response I receive when I tell someone that I am an archivist. There was a time in my life when I cheated and replied, “librarian” to the standard: “And-what-do-you-do?” In reality, I am not a librarian, I don’t have a librarian’s skill set, and while many of the functions of our jobs are similar, we do not perform the same job.  Answering “librarian” just felt so much easier, as most people already have some sort of preconceived notion as to what a librarian does. (Caveat: I’m not saying they have the correct notion, librarians!) “Archivist,” on the other hand, is mysterious and perplexing to many. My cousins caught my grandmother telling her hairdresser that I was an archaeologist. (Her defense: “Well, it sounded more interesting.” Thanks, Grandma.) But Grandma’s confusion highlights a good point for me– I need to be able to describe my work to a variety of people, and I need to be more proactive about explaining what it is that I do.  In one of my first classes in grad school, the professor suggested that we think about how we would answer the “career” question to someone sitting next to us on an airplane – someone we did not know anything about, and who did not want a two-hour lecture. You, my audience, are that airplane seat compatriot today.

Processing at the Filson circa 1933

I am an archivist. You are familiar with librarians’ work?  Providing access to books, audio-visual recordings, journals, and other information through in person assistance, online library catalogs, recommended reading lists, etc.? My work entails similar functions, but I usually do not work with items that have duplicates readily available.  I work with mostly one-of-a-kind items – correspondence, photographs, diaries, contracts, voice recordings, digital files – records capturing personal, community, and organizational history. I work to provide access to yesterday’s world for today, and to capture today’s world for tomorrow. I write descriptions of this material so that it can be discovered. Through descriptions, as well as phone calls, emails, and in-person discussions, I provide connections between users and primary source material. I select documents to preserve for the future; I determine whose papers to collect, and what portion of the tidal wave of records created daily is worth preserving for the future. I provide accountability – I document functions, activities, and decision-making to ensure transparency and answerability. I embrace the importance of diversity, and seek to document the broadest range of human experience possible within my institution’s mission. I believe that I have a responsibility to society, and while I serve the needs of my institution, I also keep in mind that the archival record I am preserving is part of the history of our entire society. I believe that I provide an essential service to the public good, and I am proud of my profession.

Happy Archives Month!

Venue Rental

Spaces Available for Rent Beginning 2022

The Filson Historical Society is a unique venue that blends the historic with the modern and provides a stunning background for any event. Several areas of the campus are available to be rented for dinners, retreats, meetings, receptions, parties, or weddings. The venues have access to 74 free parking spaces and wifi, as well as small catering areas. All of the Filson’s facilities have accessible parking.

View a virtual tour of our spaces!

Visit the Filson

1310 S. 3rd St., Louisville, KY 40208
(502) 635-5083

The Filson is temporarily closed to the public to protect our staff, volunteers, and patrons during the coronavirus pandemic. All events are currently being held virtually; to register for our live virtual events, please visit our Events Page; for information on recorded lectures and other activities, please visit us online at Bringing History Home.

We continue to provide remote research services; please email gro.l1618530091aciro1618530091tsihn1618530091oslif1618530091@hcra1618530091eser1618530091.


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