Exhibition Sheds New Light on War of 1812

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sheet Music of “Star Spangled Banner,” Letters, Maps from Great Lakes War Front to be Showcased Starting January 5

The War of 1812 produced the “Star Spangled Banner,” a war hero in Andrew Jackson, and a bloody campaign to fight the impressment of American sailors into the British Navy. These are common classroom lessons, but the Newberry’s latest Spotlight exhibition, “Border Troubles in the War of 1812,” explores the less commonly known aspects of the war.

The Great Lakes region, as far west as Prairie du Chien and north into Canada, was a major theater of battle and political intrigue. American settlers in what was then known as the “West” (now parts of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin) were threatened by what they believed were British-American Indian alliances along the frontier; they were vocal proponents of the war, including the opportunity to invade Canada.

“The Newberry archives are especially well suited to refocusing our attention to relatively little-explored elements of the War of 1812,” says David Spadafora, President of the Newberry. “Even so, our scope is broad, and the exhibition will revolve around a number of historically important themes.”

Capturing aspects of the violent nature and shifting fortunes of war within the Great Lakes region, the exhibition features a letter from an embarrassed American soldier about a Kentucky militia’s flight from American Indian and British fighters, as well as a survey of Illinois used to distribute land to war veterans as reward for service (and so dispossessing many American Indians in the region). The show also offers examples of the ways in which Americans interpreted and remembered the war; a New York newspaper, a geography textbook, novels, and a national history each provide different angles of view on the conflict. Particularly representative of the didactic nature of much nineteenth-century historiography is a textbook published in 1817, which announces itself as An Impartial and Correct History of the War between the United States of America and Great Britain.

“Border Troubles in the War of 1812” will be open from Thursday, January 5, through Tuesday, March 27, in the Hermon Dunlap Smith Gallery of the Newberry. The gallery is open Monday, Friday, and Saturday from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 8:15 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Serving the public since 1887, the Newberry is a world-renowned independent research library that is home to collections spanning six centuries. The collections feature items such as illuminated medieval manuscripts, rare early maps, rich genealogical resources, and the personal papers of Midwest authors. Free and open to the public, the Newberry offers exhibitions based on its collections; theatrical performances; lectures and discussions with today’s leading humanists; seminars and workshops; and teacher programs. Visit us in person at 60 W. Walton St., Chicago, or at www.newberry.org.