Friday, May 29, 2015

Punctuating Happiness

[From the National Archives's press release.]

The National Archives, in partnership with the Institute for Advanced Study, will host a free conference on the Declaration of Independence titled “Punctuating Happiness,” from 9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on June 23, 2015, in the William G. McGowan Theater of the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC. The conference will be streamed live on the National Archives YouTube channel....

Inspired by the work of Danielle Allen, UPS Foundation Professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study and author of Our Declaration (Liveright 2014) and research paper “Punctuating Happiness,” the conference will explore the National Archives’ work in preserving the original Declaration of Independence, the diversity of the document’s textual tradition, how this diversity affects historical research, and how it is taught in schools.

Speakers will include National Archives Executive for Research Services Bill Mayer and National Archives Director of Conservation Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler; historians David Armitage, Holly Brewer, Woody Holton, Eric Slauter, and Richard Wendorf; the editor of the The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, James McClure; and Seth Kaller, a collector and broker of rare documents who has documented that the 1823 Stone Engraving is not the exact replica of the parchment that it is commonly thought to be.

Ms. Allen’s research raises questions about the transcription of the Declaration taken from the 1823 Stone engraving. Specifically, that the Stone engraving uses a period after “pursuit of happiness,” whereas the 1776 manuscripts by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Secretary for the Continental Congress Charles Thomson use semicolons or commas. She argues that the question of whether a period belongs there affects whether we read a sentence with three self-evident truths, or with five. And it affects whether we take the self-evident truths to concern primarily individual rights or rather to concern the positive value of government as a tool for securing individual rights.