A celebratory end to the Transatlantic Ties project!

After almost three years, our Transatlantic Ties project came to a joyful conclusion on Saturday 11th June with a symposium at the University of Chichester. With all the challenges of the last few years, we were delighted to be able to hold the event as originally intended, and the appearance of our often elusive British sunshine was a promising start to a day of celebration and learning.

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

As the document which kickstarted the whole project, the Sussex Declaration of course loomed large. The event opened with a virtual message from Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and Principal Investigator of the Declaration Resources Project (harvard.edu) whose research was the first to shed light on the true significance of the document in 2017.

County Archivist Wendy Walker took the audience on a ‘journey’ back to Chichester in 1956, telling the story of how Leslie Holden, an employee of what was then the firm Rapers solicitors, deposited the parchment at West Sussex Record Office alongside a number of other documents likely associated with the Dukes of Richmond. Project Archivist Jo McConville then gave a rundown of some personal highlights and findings during her work on the Transatlantic Ties project.

Emily Sneff

Events took a truly transatlantic turn with our keynote speaker, Emily Sneff, who came to join us all the way from Williamsburg, Virginia, where she has been working towards her PhD at the College of William and Mary.

As Research Manager of the Declaration Resources Project, Emily worked alongside Danielle Allen and shared her personal experience of the extraordinary discoveries around the Sussex Declaration and her research visits to the UK to view the document for the first time at West Sussex Record Office.

Emily also shared fascinating insights into her own current PhD research, looking at early editions of the Declaration of Independence and how the document was disseminated throughout the colonies and across the Atlantic to Europe. Emily also discussed the way that the Declaration and its contents was received in Britain and its representation – and often misrepresentation – in the press.

Emily Sneff speaking on the history of the Sussex Declaration

Next up was Anthony Howe, (Emeritus Professor of Modern History at the University of East Anglia), who gave the audience an illuminating look at the ‘Transatlantic Ties’ of Sussex’s very own Richard Cobden, the politician and peace campaigner from Dunford House near Midhurst. Cobden started as a huge admirer of many aspects of American society and political systems and became known throughout his career as a committed ‘Friend of America’. 

Professor Howe discussed Cobden’s trips to the United States, his investment in the Illinois Central Railroad and his many notable American correspondents, through whom he often sought to exercise diplomacy and ease tensions in Anglo-American relations (particularly during the Civil War). Cobden’s commitment to the principles of free trade and work with the Peace Society made him something of a celebrity in the US and he was even entertained at the White House (by President James Buchanan) during his visit to the country in 1859.

Professor Anthony Howe
Paul Evans and Andrew Lloyd from AMOT

After enjoying lunch in Cloisters Chamber and some sunshine on the lovely University lawns, the afternoon panel began with an informative and very entertaining presentation from Andrew Lloyd and Paul Evans of the Army Museums Ogilby Trust (AMOT). Founded in 1954, the Trust works to preserve, promote and support the Regimental Heritage of the British Army. Andrew and Paul discussed their work with the US Army Heritage Center and the Pentagon on marking the anniversary of the War of Independence anniversary and access to the British voices of the revolution through archives. We were also treated to a virtual tour of the The Ogilby Muster, an online digital platform providing access to archives from the First World War held in Regimental museums across the UK.

Refreshments in the Cloisters

Fiona Price, Professor of English Literature and a member of the Transatlantic Ties project board explored transatlantic connections from a literary angle with ‘Stories of the Special Relationship: Constituting the Nation in public and private narratives of Britain and the U.S.’ Professor Price referenced literature and original archival documents from West Sussex Record Office in a thought-provoking examination of changing attitudes to the relationship between Britain and the United States.

Professor Fiona Price
Francis Spufford

Continuing on a literary theme, the day ended on a high note with Francis Spufford, author and professor of Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, who regaled the audience with a lively reading from his 2016 novel Golden Hill, set in 18th century Manhattan. Professor Spufford talked about the background and inspiration for his novel and the huge contrast between New York in 1746, with a population perhaps only a tenth that of London, and the vast metropolis of today.

Our huge thanks to all of our speakers for making this such a memorable day, and to the University of Chichester for hosting the event.

Our Transatlantic Ties exhibition is on display at the Record Office until 25th July and will then be touring libraries around West Sussex.

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