Transatlantic Ties: An Introduction

By Jo McConville, Heritage Project Manager: Transatlantic Ties

Followers of this blog and WSRO news will almost certainly be familiar with the story of the Sussex Declaration (if not, click this link to see our previous blog posts on this great record), the rare contemporary copy of the American Declaration of Independence housed at the Record Office which propelled us into the media spotlight after Harvard academics Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff of the Declaration Resources Project realised its significance. You can read more about the Declaration Resources Project on their website here.

Add Mss 8981 – Manuscript copy, on parchment, of the Declaration in Congress of the thirteen United States of America, 4 July 1776

Subsequently in April 2019, WSRO had the immense privilege of receiving a $100,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in New York for a new projectannounced by the County Council as the Transatlantic Ties Project– which would not only build on discoveries about the Declaration but also shed light on the shared history of Sussex and the USA as (perhaps unexpectedly) revealed through numerous other records in WSRO’s holdings. The project’s ambitious aims will include the creation of an ‘American Collection’ of digital material consisting of WSRO records, copies of the Sussex Weekly Advertiser from 1775-1784 covering the Revolutionary War period (provided by West Sussex County Council’s Library Service) and a number of remarkable objects on loan from the Royal Sussex Regimental Museum Collection. These will be housed on a new Transatlantic Ties website with specialist learning resources developed by educational consultants. There will also be an outreach programme encompassing an exhibition, talk and rounding off with an international symposium in the summer of 2021. Collaborating with us will be contacts at the Universities of Sussex and Chichester and the Royal Sussex Regiment (RSR) Association and Royal Sussex Regiment Museum Trust.  

Add Mss 30058 – Card advertising the Fall River Line between New York and Boston from a volume including pamphlets on emigration to North America (1816-1960)

It’s exciting stuff and I was delighted to be appointed to work on the project in September 2019. This will be project number three for me here at WSRO where I’ve been lucky enough to work as Project Archivist on both the Queen Victoria Hospital and the Vawdrey Archive Projects funded by Wellcome Trust – two very diverse and memorable experiences.  Transatlantic Ties promises to be something different again; a new departure both for WSRO and for me. Whilst I’ll be in charge of the day to day management of the project, I certainly won’t be going solo– WSRO staff are a talented bunch with a wide range of skills and expertise which are going to be essential to make this a success!

PM 389 – Sketch of the recent discoveries on the Northern Coast of America, 1840

These early months of the project have started quietly with behind the scenes planning and preparation to lay the foundations for all we want to achieve over the next 18 months or so. There’s been admin aplenty but I’m also enjoyably immersed in the task of researching WSRO’s collections and getting to know the material which will come to comprise our ‘American Collection’. I haven’t been starting from scratch of course. A number of documents had been identified in advance of our project bid through searches of our Calm catalogue by our Collections Manager Jenny Mason, and I’ve also been indebted to former WSRO Education Officer Kim Leslie’s 1976 book Roots of America which highlights a surprising range of records in WSRO’s holdings relating to American history. Part of my work has been in looking in more depth at these documents and exploring the context around them, but I’m also continuing to conduct further searches of our catalogues using a range of different terms and as I refresh my knowledge of the history it opens up new possibilities for how to discover those hidden gems! We may not uncover the next Sussex Declaration but as I’m finding out, WSRO has a few more stories to tell about Sussex and the USA and how that much touted ‘special relationship’ has played out over the years.

This will be the first in an ongoing series of blog posts on the Transatlantic Ties project so I’ll be back soon with more news!

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