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Documents That Shaped America Opens at Indiana Historical Society

MAY 31, 2022

Staring at a computer screen or tapping on a Kindle isn’t the same as handling an original document. There’s something visceral about holding a book, about cracking open a first edition printing of “Cat’s Cradle” and thinking, “This book smells like Kennedy is still in office.” Imagine, then, what it’s like to scan a 1350 edition of the Magna Carta. Or to see the fragility of a first edition printing of the U.S. Constitution — one of five known copies — up close. Or to touch a document that’s been referenced for centuries.

If you got goosebumps just thinking about it, then get thee to Documents That Shaped America, the newest exhibit at the Indiana Historical Society (IHS). The exhibit, which opened in mid-May, connects Hoosiers to rare historical documents and features an impressive collection of some of the most important manuscripts in American history. We’re talking a first edition of the Gettysburg Address, an early edition of “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass” (1893), and Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792).

The items in Documents That Shaped America come from The Remnant Trust, an Indiana-based nonprofit that collects early published works about individual liberty and human dignity. The Remnant Trust recently moved their base of operations to Indianapolis and set up an office in the Columbia Club. Their 1,557-item collection will be housed at IHS, though, with some items on permanent display.

“To have amassed a collection like this and bring it here to Indianapolis is just phenomenal,” said IHS president and CEO Jody Blankenship. “You would have to go to cities all over the country and around the world to see these materials.”

Here’s the super fun part. In addition to the exhibit itself, you can also touch — like, with your actual hands — additional items through a supervised experience in either the Rapp Gallery or IHS's William Henry Smith Memorial Library.

Goosebumps, indeed.