USA archives visit

by | Sep 19, 2023 | Uncategorised | 0 comments

In March 2023, Leah Astbury, Holly Fletcher and Lucy Elliott travelled to the USA for the project. While there they visited a range of archives and museums, hunting down materials relating to sleep. They also attended two major conferences, The Renaissance Society of America 2023 conference held in Puerto Rico, and the American Society for Environmental History held in Boston, where they presented work from the project on a panel entitled ‘Sleep, Environmental Knowledge, and Healthcare Practices in Early Modern Britain’.  Here the team look back on the trip and share their personal highlights from the nearly month long visit. 

Holly Fletcher shares: 

“While in the US I visited archives, museums and archaeological collections in Williamsburg, Jamestown, Boston and Salem. I looked at a wide range of source material including manuscript sources such as ship logbooks and medical day books, as well as personal letters, inventories and journals. The highlight for me though was being able to see and handle numerous material objects relating to sleep in early America. In Jamestown, for example, Lucy and I viewed a piece of matting made by indigenous people in Virginia around 1610 which was constructed from marsh reeds and sewn together with hickory bark fibres. Such mats were part of indigenous sleeping arrangements and thus indicate how local plant knowledge contributed towards practices of healthy sleep within indigenous communities. Moreover, at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem I saw one of the earliest extant bed rugs in the US, created in 1722. Bed rugs were heavy, decorative bed coverings popular in New England which were homemade using wool shorn from local sheep and would have helped to keep sleepers warm during the cold, east-coast winters. It was fantastic to view material objects like these which contributed to an environmentally informed culture of sleep care in early America.”

Attributed to Mary Avery, Bed Rug, 1722, wool, 98 x 88 in. Gift of Elizabeth B. Sawyer, in memory of Benjamin Spofford Barnes of Boxford, grandfather of the donor, 1956, 129061. Courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Kathy Tarantola. 

Lucy Elliott says: 

“During March of this year, I had a brilliant trip to the USA that was highly informative for my PhD research. Not only did I get the chance to present my work alongside the team at two conferences (RSA in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and ASEH in Boston), but I also visited a number of archives, archaeological sites, and libraries in search of sleep-related materials in Virginia and Maryland. The highlight of the trip was definitely getting to explore the cultural heritage site of Historic Jamestowne and speak with the collections team there – there were so many amazing artifacts, many of them bed-related. Objects in the collections such as this candleholder were useful for considering how the people living in Jamestowne may have used lighting as a tool at bedtime and beyond.” 

Earthenware candle holder, early 17th century, Surrey Hampshire Border Ware, found at the site of the Blacksmith shop/bakery at Jamestown, 07363-JR. Courtesy of Jamestown Rediscovery (Preservation Virginia). Photo by Lucy Elliot.

and finally Leah Astbury had this to say about her time away: 

“After our panel on sleep and the environment at the Renaissance Society of America conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I travelled to Philadelphia to visit the American Philosophical Society, the Historical Society of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, where I was mainly looking at diaries and family correspondence from early settlers to Pennsylvania. I also took day trips to Haverford for the Haverford College Quaker Collections, Wilmington, Delaware for the Hagley Museum and Library and Chester for the Delaware County Historical Society. Here I was looking at more agriculturally-focused material such as almanacs kept by farmers that contain rich details about work schedules and the impact of seasons on sleeping patterns. After our panel at the American Environmental History Conference in Boston, I travelled to Worcester, Massachusetts and spent four days at the American Antiquarian Society. The highlight of my trip was finding a journal written by Ashely Bowen, a mid-eighteenth century seaman and shiprigger from Marblehead, Massachusetts and his evocative drawing and description of his dream at the American Antiquarian Society. I ended my trip by presenting a paper on agricultural work practices, sleep and farmyard animals at the NYC History of Science Work in Progress Group held at New York University, Gallatin.” 

A drawing by Ashely Bowen, a mid-18th century seaman and shiprigger from Marblehead, Massachusetts of a dream he describes. Courtesy of American Antiquarian Society. Photo by Leah Astbury.

Since the team returned they have been busy working through their notes and photos from the trip, transcribing the many documents they photographed, and working on developing the papers they presented in the US further. 

Featured image: reconstructed frame of the “barracks”, a mud-and-stud cottage at Historic Jamestowne. Courtesy of Jamestown Rediscovery (Preservation Virginia). Photo by Lucy Elliot.