Senators look at historic documents
Andrea Rapacz, chief curator of collections for the Connecticut Historical Society, shows a few of the historic documents held by CHS. From left: Sen. Chris Murphy, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and CHS Executive Director and CEO Robert Kret. Credit: Kevin Flood / CTNewsJunkie

The Connecticut Historical Society brought U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy to its museum and library in Hartford on Monday to thank them for securing $1 million in federal funding for digitizing thousands of historic documents, many dating to the Revolutionary War.

The money is part of the $3 million Congress has awarded CHS in the 2023 federal budget as Community Project Funding.

“We care deeply about preserving history in this state,” Murphy said. By digitizing the documents and putting them online, he said, “we’re making sure that people will have access to them wherever they are.”

“We will spread this history much further and much wider,” Murphy added.

Both senators said the funding will help counter one effect of the intense political polarization gripping the country: rampant disinformation about American history.

“Unfortunately, we live in an age when disinformation around our history is common,” Blumenthal said. Preserving original documents and making them more widely available will not only counter that, he said, “but make history come alive for people.”

CHS Executive Director and CEO Robert Kret noted that with the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence coming in 2026, the digitization project will shed more light on “the reasons why our country sought independence.”

The senators were shown an assortment of historic documents held by the Society, which was founded in 1825. One, dated October 29, 1764, is the only known surviving copy of the first issue of the Connecticut Courant, as the Hartford Courant was then known. They also viewed a diary belonging to Nathan Hale, the Connecticut teacher whose spying for the Continental Army led to his hanging by the British. There were also materials belonging to Mardon Walker, who was an 18-year-old Connecticut College sophomore when she decided to join a Civil Rights sit-in at an Atlanta diner in 1964. It resulted in her arrest and jailing, where, as a white woman participating in the sit-in, she was beaten by other white prisoners.

Of the other $2 million in Community Project Funding going to CHS, half will be spent on the Educating for Democracy Project, a multi-organization effort to bolster civics education of K-12 students throughout Connecticut, using primary source material housed in Connecticut’s museums and historic sites. The other organizations participating include the Connecticut Democracy Center, Connecticut Humanities, the Connecticut Office of the Arts, the Mark Twain House and Museum, and the Mystic Seaport Museum.

The remaining $1 million goes to the Community History Project, which seeks to build a collection of artifacts evoking the experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, from the perspectives of all segments of Connecticut’s population. Specifically, the funding will allow the organization to collaborate further with the state’s colleges and universities, providing professional development for postsecondary faculty, and job-skills training through internships for post-secondary students.  The Project is a partnership between CHS and the Connecticut Institutions of Higher Education. 

Blumenthal, Murphy, and museum officials also thanked Congressman John B. Larson, D-1st District, for his work in securing the funding. Larson had been invited to the event but could not attend, they said.