We Hold These Truths to Be User-Accessible and in Hypertext

Publication: The New York Times

Author: Edward Rothstein


04/12/2008 - “When in the course of human events,” the well-known text begins, “it becomes necessary for a people to advance from that subordination in which they have hitherto remained ...” Wait a minute. That’s not quite right. And Thomas Jefferson must have known it too, which is why brackets surround the unfamiliar words. Two lines are drawn through them and, above, with a firm hand, are written the corrections: “it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another ...”

Corrections were also made in the next paragraph: “We hold these truths,” it begins, “to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent.” Again, wrong. Men are not really created independent: they are born in a state of complete dependence. Condense and clarify: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”

And the world begins to change.

I doubt that I would have felt these transformations with the same force had I just tried to read the faded ink on Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, protected behind glass at the Library of Congress. Nor, for that matter, would I have been able to sense the Constitution’s evolution simply by gazing at George Washington’s annotated copy or the other documents in the new exhibition “Creating the United States.” Something else was involved.

That innovation may also be important because the library is rethinking its approach to exhibitions and objects. This includes the opening on Saturday of new shows like “Creating the United States” and a beautiful reconstruction of Jefferson’s library, which once contained 6,487 books and became the foundation for the Library of Congress’s collection in 1815. But the library’s ambitions are far greater.

Read the complete article We Hold These Truths to Be User-Accessible and in Hypertext on the New York Times' Web site.

Read the related press release 'Library Of Congress Experience' Debuts April 12; Exhibits, Interactives Put Exciting World Of Knowledge At Fingertips.

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