JUNTO: Can you describe the range and scope of the Society’s pre-1865 collections, and how researchers can access materials?
COOPER: The Delaware Historical Society has rich pre-1865 collections. Special strengths are the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Delaware founding fathers, early businesses, and early organizations. The Society’s collections are cataloged in Ask Caesar. Researchers are welcome to visit the library on Monday, 1pm-9pm, Tuesday, 9am-1pm, Thursday, 9am-1pm, Friday 9am-5pm, and the third Saturday of the month, 10am-4pm. A good deal of basic Delaware information and bibliography is available in the Delaware Online section here.
JUNTO: For those preparing to teach the first half of an American history survey class this fall, can you share a few “Delaware stories” to weave into lecture? Any special collections items and letters, or favorite “puzzles” related to early America that you’d like to highlight here?
COOPER: Some important early Delaware stories: New Sweden—Delaware was the home of Sweden’s only colony in what became the United States. Also, 17th-century changes of control/ownership of Delaware mirrored Continental rivalries. There’s Caesar Rodney’s ride to cast the vote that put Delaware on the side of independence in 1776; and the role that Delaware and Delawareans played in the development of African American-churches and denominations in the U.S. Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and Samuel Cornish all came from Delaware. Peter Spencer founded the first independent black denomination in the U.S., the African Union Church, in Wilmington in 1813.
JUNTO: Any fall events that you’d like to preview?
COOPER: On September 27th, the Delaware Historical Society will open an exciting new exhibition, “Forging Faith, Building Freedom: African American Faith Experiences in Delaware, 1800-1980.” This exhibition tells the story of Delaware’s black church founders, Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, Samuel Cornish, and Peter Spencer; the story of Peter Spencer’s African Union Methodist denomination and the August Quarterly; notable black preachers in Delaware; congregational life in black churches; and how the black church has interacted with the world. Materials in the exhibition come from a variety of Delaware churches, individuals, other institutions, and Historical Society collections to tell a rich story. The exhibition will be on display until summer 2014. An online version of the exhibition will be available later in the fall.
JUNTO: Finally, can you talk about the experience of participating in National History Day?
COOPER: The Delaware Historical Society sponsors National History Day in Delaware, part of the National History Day program. Students in grades 6-12 do research in primary and secondary sources to create exhibits, papers, performances, or web sites on topics that fit in with the annual theme. The students bring their projects to the state contest in April, where they are judged by teams of judges. The best projects are truly amazing, and the students learn valuable research and analytical skills that will help them no matter what they do in life. It’s a major project to put on. Many people volunteer as judges, and everyone has a very rewarding day. The winning projects go on to the national competition at the University of Maryland in June.