Reflections from Guest Curator Patrick Waters

During my week as a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project, I learned quite a bit about what it was like to live in revolutionary America. What I found most interesting about the advertisements were the subtle things that people were inferring through them. For example, there were many printers that took out advertisements in search of used linen cloth. To most it would just look like a potential buyer who is searching for linen, but the underlying message is much deeper. These people are searching for cloth so that they can make their own paper and resist Parliament’s taxes by hindering the British economy through boycotts. This was part of the larger idea of how print culture allowed colonists to quickly disseminate propaganda and news throughout the colonies.

While reading through dozens of advertisements in search of ones to write about, I found it interesting how the wealthy people lived in colonial and revolutionary America. There were so many advertisements that were aimed at selling high-end products that most people would be unable to afford. What I learned was that the wealthy people of 1769 were not much different than the wealthy today. They could not spend their money on lavish vacations and foreign cars; however, they bought certain items that were designed specifically to flaunt their wealth to their neighbors and guests, such as silver kitchenware, furniture, and even fruit. I found the fruit to be the most interesting way to show off how much money they had because I never thought of how difficult it would be to get fresh produce from a farm to a new destination hundreds of miles away.

While I enjoyed working on the Adverts 250 Project, it certainly came with its difficulties that I had not anticipated. The first issue that I came across was the difference in the English language today and the English language 250 years ago. I simply did not think of the fact that our language was not the same and that I would have to look up certain words for clarification or have to look at strange grammar. It was strange to me the way that they capitalized certain letters or even entire words, which would be considered improper grammar today. The biggest issue that I had to overcome was that their letter “s” looks much more like our letter “f.” This was extremely confusing at first but I eventually stopped noticing it and just read the words as they were supposed to be.

What I really enjoyed about this project was that I felt like a real historian. I have only taken a few history classes as an undergrad but I have never felt like a historian quite as much as when I was at the American Antiquarian Society searching through primary sources. I felt like I was truly unearthing something new while I was sitting in their reading room and searching their digital archive for copies of newspapers. Sitting alongside other historians while searching through primary sources was certainly my favorite part of this project.

Leave a Reply