What Was Lawrenceville Life During the Antebellum Period? Heely Scholars Investigate.

Rishi Bagaria ‘19
Earlier this summer, the 2018-19 Heely Scholars spent two weeks on campus researching the Antebellum period (generally considered to be the period before the American Civil War and after the War of 1812), and what was happening at Lawrenceville during the time.
Under the guidance of Heely Scholar Director/History Master Anne Louise Smit and the Bunn Library’s archivists, rising Fifth Formers Rishi Bagaria, Benjamin Fiske, Shaezmina Khan, Hunter Korn, Hunter Mellon, Emilia Onuonga, Kevin Xiao, and Stephanie Yoon utilized the School’s Stephan Archives to investigate Lawrenceville during the Antebellum period with a special emphasis on the reform movements of the time.
During the first week of the program, the Scholars focused on learning about the Antebellum Period from a global perspective and practiced their archival research skills on documents outside the School’s archives. Scholars read sections from “Democracy in America” by Alexis de Tocqueville, a book that offers the French diplomat’s socio-political observations of the United States during the Antebellum period. Using de Tocqueville as a resource, the Scholars examined and discussed the factors that shaped American democracy during this time.
Scholars next delved into the Stephan Archives to investigate Lawrenceville during the Antebellum period. Samuel M. Hamill was Lawrenceville’s Head Master during the majority of the Antebellum period, so the Scholars focused on the Hamill Family Papers Collection. The Hamill collection includes a wide range of personal correspondence, business files, newspaper clippings, obituaries, biographical information, and School records from Hamill’s days as Head Master.
The primary documents in the Stephens Archives provided the Heely Scholars with keen insights into Lawrenceville’s administration and student’s perception of the period’s reform movements. Certain documents shed light on the student’s involvement with the temperance movement whereas other documents provided direct evidence of Hamill’s opinion on the Second Great Awakening and the religious revivals happening across the country.
After spending time combing through the archive’s documents and opening themselves up to a multitude of voices without narrowing their exploration down to specific topic, each Scholar then focused his/her search and selected one document that revealed a historical understanding of Lawrenceville. Each Scholar produced a Document-Based Question (DBQ) focused on that document. The DBQ included an historical question and background information about the topic. Each DBQ had a set of roughly one dozen primary sources drawn from the Stephan Archives and additional online archives. These DBQs will be available for use in Lawrenceville U.S. history classes.
In addition to on-campus research, the Scholars visited the Trent House, the oldest house in Trenton, N.J. (and home of many prominent New Jerseyans), to better understand the community surrounding Lawrenceville during the Antebellum period.
During fall term, the Scholars will continue to work with Smit in her Advanced Research Seminar. In the class, each Scholar will engage in a lengthy research process culminating in a thesis paper, building on his/her DBQ topic, and collaborating on group research projects. Later in the year, the Scholars will create a project to showcase their research to the School community.
For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of Public Relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.

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