Library Blog

How Do We Learn About History?

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

This post is by Sharon Simpson and Tienya Smith.

In May, during a tour of the our A Belief in Books exhibition with curator Sharon Simpson and historian Zara Anishanslin, we engaged a docent and inquired about their guided tours of the exhibition. The docent shared an intriguing reflection: her colleague often begins the tour by revealing that they had not learned about slavery in New York during their own grade-school years. This reflection sparked a lively conversation.

As we continued the tour, we all acknowledged a common experience: our education had primarily focused on southern slavery. The exhibition, however, opened our eyes to a different reality—the prevalence of slavery in 18th-century New York City. It was a circumstance that left us contemplating the lives of those who lived in the city during that time. Sharon concluded this portion of the tour by sharing that one in five people in the city was an enslaved person. A visitor expressed that they were grateful to the Library for exploring the complicated history of its founding and its connection with the transatlantic slave trade.

The tour of the exhibition starts on the first floor of the Library where historical maps on view date back to the early Republic. It continues up the main staircase to the Peluso Family Exhibition Gallery on the second floor before continuing further up the staircase to extend the themes of the exhibition in historical images, maps, photographs, and a facsimile of the Library charter.

Four display cases in the main exhibition area highlight books from our earliest collections. Identified from information recorded in the Library's earliest minute book, they cover the years 1754-1772. Rotated three times over the course of the year, the volumes and facsimiles featured here illustrate the Library’s involvement in the pre-Revolutionary War transatlantic book trade. The titles and subjects represent the latest in Enlightenment thinking and were considered essential reading for forward-thinking gentlemen motivated to build their idea of a “model society.”

Would you be interested in a personalized tour for your organization? Our dedicated staff is eager to create an experience that cater to your organization’s specific needs and curiosities. Whether you are a historical society, a literary club, or an academic institution, we have something extraordinary to offer.

To schedule a tour for your organization, simply reach out to Tienya Smith at We will work closely with you to design a visit that aligns with your interests and goals, ensuring that your time at the Library is both educational and memorable.

A Belief in Books is open to the public in the Peluso Family Exhibition Gallery through the end of 2024.

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