The Pleasure of Discovery and Proximity to History

Apr 27, 2015

“I do not believe you could drive with a club any of my children away from Sagamore Hill this summer,” Theodore Roosevelt wrote to his friend, Patty Selmes, in the summer of 1902.

Last week I completed research at the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson. The collection is poignant because of the close personal friendship TR had with Patty Selmes, John Greenway, and Robert Ferguson. This level of caring didn’t extend just from TR. It was shared by Kermit, Archie, Alice, Ted, Ethel, Quentin, and Edith Roosevelt. Here are some of the items in this collection:

  • Handwritten letters from Kermit Roosevelt to Isabella Greenway and Robert Ferguson.
  • Patty Selmes writing to a close friend about how TR intends to give Ted one trip to the ranch if possible.
  • Gutzon Borglum writing to Isabella Greenway about the creation of Mount Rushmore.
  • Correspondence between Ted and John Greenway that starts with a discussion of Ted’s pet mice and progresses through the years to a discussion of the U.S. Navy.
  • Letters showing the lifelong connections among Rough Riders and how they shaped national politics in the early 1900s.

For me, this research trip was very personal. As a native Tucsonan and University of Arizona graduate, I used to walk past the statue of John Greenway in front of the Arizona Historical Society, not realizing who he was and what he had accomplished. I’m grateful that my professional responsibilities have given me occasion to see him with new eyes.

On this research visit, I was also reminded of the tactile connection to history experienced when I touch someone’s writing from long ago. I got to see a Spanish American War diary that still had the pencil attached and the playing cards tucked in the back of the small leather notebook. Anyone who has done research in archives knows the pleasure of discovery and proximity to history. At the AZ History Convention, I also talked to other researchers about why they prefer seeing physical items over digital ones. As digital library coordinator, I can’t replicate the pleasure of discovering that diary in the digital world. However, we can make sure that material is widely available and preserved.

So far, I’ve spent about eight months tracking down TR items. My time in Tucson reminded me how much TR valued the relationships in his life, an example we should all follow.

Posted by Pamela Pierce on Apr 27, 2015 in Current Events  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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