Be happy if you went and ordered up those high-definition channels off your cable system after wondering if you’d really care to see The History Channel in hi-def. While I personally think that channel is well worth watching often even in standard definition–I hope a lot of people watch it either way once the network gets their hands on items in the Library of Congress. In a recent deal, the Library teamed up with The History Channel to provide an opportunity to show, up close and personal, historical items crucial to understanding, profoundly, America’s history. Based on what some of these items are, we could be looking at vital clues to understanding important historical figures (and events) a little better…with an even better chance for The History Channel to truly live up to their name rather than relying on specials about the history of snack foods.
This deal is supposed to extend beyond The History Channel–what with that network and their off-branch networks getting a chance to create specials around the goldmine of artifacts available at the Library of Congress and not seen often by the public. And if you can visit the Library of Congress on your own in D.C. in April of this year, they’ll be putting on an interactive exhibit called “The Library of Congress Experience” where many of the items the History Channel will be examining are available to look at live.
But the History Channel will likely provide those who can’t get to D.C. a chance to see American history in a perspective this country needs to get a sense of inspiration back and a better understanding of people and events that get more watered down in myth each decade.
With about 138 million items up for examination in the Library–it just makes you wonder which ones The History Channel will take on. Based on the most common items displayed at the exhibit, it’s already plenty to give a well-rounded and fresh perspective on how this country was formed. They have a lot of items that most Americans probably didn’t even think existed any longer let alone be preserved in perfect condition.
From the first American map to Abraham Lincoln’s personal pocket items the night he was shot…
Some of the earliest maps of the world created are the best tools in studying history. They obviously show us how people viewed the world around us before populations expanded–and these maps can be amazingly accurate or startlingly wrong. The very first map made to show the words “America” was the famous map created by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in the early 1500’s. Usually called the Universalis Cosmographia, it was one of the maps of the era that got it mostly right, including the very new North American continent that we hardly had begun to explore.
This map is seldom seen, and could be likely The History Channel will be doing something on it considering it’s one of the Library of Congress’s most prized possessions since purchasing it from a private owner in 2001 for a whopping ten million dollars. What we’ll discover on it, though, is that Waldseemüller listed America in South America instead of North America. This was because South America was named after Amerigo Vespucci who had traveled to the continent not long before.
What’ll be truly eye-opening is that the cartographers working for Waldseemüller understood the basic shape of North America before anybody knew it would be the true New World.
One of the other prized Library of Congress items is the original draft of the U.S. Constitution with pen markings by George Washington. As you might guess, Washington kept this copy within his own private collection up to his death and may be one of if not the most extraordinary document in American history. The History Channel will hopefully delve into this and provide people a chance to see the changes Washington made to the first draft text of the Constitution. Washington’s changes and annotations, when studied carefully, would get us right inside his mind and see what he had in mind in carefully crafting the law of the land he helped found.
If you’ve ever read Washington’s farewell address after his second term as President, you’d know just how important he thought the Constitution was–despite realizing it wasn’t perfect from his own pen. But seeing the Constitution being edited in his own hand would help put more of a human spin on America’s early documents when it seems some people consider them almost incapable of having someone taking one and marking on it like editing an assignment for a law class.
The Gutenberg Bible is, of course, one of the publishing wonders of the world. Seeing an actual copy of only 48 known to still exist (with only one in the Library of Congress) is actually quite rare–and seeing a new special on it for The History Channel would be outstanding. We need a reminder of how much work went into printing the original copies that started how books were printed and proliferated to readers. The patience and persistence of printing the first copies will boggle people’s minds when they get reminded it took more than a year to get them ready. The craftsmen hired to create them also did a lot of work by hand, which was something proliferators of books were used to anyway.
If done right, a History Channel special on this will remind the world of the commitment behind getting Christian thought out to the masses through a careful craftsman eye. The fact that every word in each still had to be illuminated by hand (plus painting headings all in red) tells us that there was more care in creating a work of art in a different era and not using printing as an assembly-line process as it’s done today.
Another possible subject for History Channel is the items inside Abraham Lincoln’s pockets the night he was shot and killed at Ford’s Theatre in 1865. These items haven’t been discussed nearly enough and can get us inside the mind of Lincoln that night rather than looking at him so distantly sitting in that balcony. Along with his glasses, lens polisher, a pocket knife, a handkerchief and a watch fob, Lincoln also had his leather wallet with him containing a $5 confederate note in it along with some newspaper clippings. Nobody’s ever been able to confirm why he had a confederate note in his wallet that night while out watching a play.
One theory has him keeping it there as a symbolic gesture to represent the official ending of the Civil War just three days earlier. Some think he wanted to keep the confederate note as a reminder of the war that not only aged him but changed America forever.
The sad irony here is, of course, that Lincoln obviously had no premonition of his own death that night, which is a little different from some great leaders who dreamt they were going to die. This was proof he obviously intended to live for a long time to come and would keep a memento of this profound American war that he helped shape and end.
This is just a sampling of the incredible Library of Congress items that will keep The History Channel production teams busy for likely decades. And the whole trick here is to get people who badly need an education in the realities and intricacies of American history to watch these specials. Any intellectually curious person wouldn’t miss TV specials that compelling that not only gives us a chance to see artifacts hidden away for decades, but provides a true soul to the formation of America.
Be thankful that at least a high-definition History Channel exists to provide true substance within a digital TV world of usually empty entertainment…