Newberry Initiative Will Examine the Age of Revolutions in the Americas

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and in collaboration with partner organizations, the Newberry will host a series of interactive programs for the public beginning in the spring of 2021.

Colonists topple a statue of King George III in New York City

Colonists topple a statue of King George III in New York City soon after the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The scene was reimagined in 1778 by German engraver Franz Xaver Habermann.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the Newberry and its project partners a $150,000 grant to support a series of nine public programs exploring the connections between the American Revolution and struggles for independence in Latin America.

The program series, ¡Vivan las Revoluciones! Forming More Perfect Unions Across the Americas, will provide opportunities for participants to reflect on the complex shared histories of revolutions in the Americas during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Some of the programs will occur in conjunction with the Newberry’s spring 2021 exhibition, ¡Viva la Libertad!: The Age of Revolutions in Latin America.

“The histories of the Latin American and Caribbean revolutions and independence struggles of the early nineteenth century are unknown to many Americans,” said Karen Christianson, Director of Public Engagement at the Newberry. “At the same time, people from former Spanish, Portuguese, and French colonies in the Americas rarely see themselves reflected in stories about the American Revolution and its impact. Our hope is that these programs will promote conversation and improve understanding of the intertwined nature of political struggle in our hemisphere during this period.”

The series—beginning in the spring of 2021—will feature an array of community-based programs, including scholarly symposia, exhibition gallery tours, an interactive exploration of the practice of toasting revolutions, a writing workshop where youth will compose their own declarations of independence, and a bike tour of Chicago public art inspired by independence struggles in Latin America. Each program will integrate humanities resources and participatory formats to encourage personal reflection and foster public conversation.

The grant supporting the program series was one of three recently awarded to the Newberry by the NEH. The library also received grants supporting an exhibition scheduled for 2022 that will explore how mapping and travel have shaped American identity and a four-week institute for university faculty focused on early modern cartography.

Like other recent initiatives, ¡Vivan las Revoluciones! will rely on collaborative partnerships between the Newberry and other local institutions, including the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s Chicago campus, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and Illinois Humanities.

The Newberry is a fitting organization to host the program series. In addition to housing one of the world’s major collections on American Indians and Indigenous Studies, the library is home to a globally significant collection of books, manuscripts, maps, and artwork on the colonial history of the Americas, as well as renowned collections on the Enlightenment in Europe and the French Revolution.

“The story of the founding of the United States can’t be understood without also exploring the history of European colonialism in the Americas more broadly,” said Will Hansen, the Newberry’s Director of Reader Services and Curator of Americana. “In reality, the American Revolution was just one of many struggles for independence from European empires. This project will allow us to shed new light on the connections between these struggles while also promoting engagement among people in Chicago and beyond with the complex history of the Age of Revolution.”