Friday, May 21, 2010

Knee Deep In The Dead

I spent all night at the library looking through source documents from the 1840's researching the life of Josiah Willard Gibbs Sr. tonight. It was for a paper I have to write about the movie Amistad and its portrayal of the real event. Josiah Willard Gibbs was a professor of Linguistics at Yale in the 1830's and 40's and he was the missing link in the story of the Amistad Slave Revolt of 1839. Professor Gibbs was the American who figured out how to communicate with the Africans and found 2 interpreters that spoke their language. My paper is going to explore this man's contribution to the Amistad story. Without him, the Slaves would not have been able to communicate with their attorneys and probably would have never gotten a fair trial.

Every history of the Amistad case claims that communication was the central theme. That what made the case so important was that the slaves were allowed to testify as to their horrific experience as Slaves for the first time. So Gibbs is the key to the whole story. Because without him, the slaves would have been unable to tell their story. However Gibbs' part in the tale has never been fully told. I think I have found a topic I can write about which hopefully I will be able to publish on if I do a good enough job. (We'll see how the paper turns out) But that is all besides the point.

I'm writing this post because I feel weird (but good) after spending all night in a library reading obscure documents about people long dead. I feel inspired, my love of history and research has fully awoken tonight. I love doing this sort of thing. Tonight I realized that while I am reading about these people, who most people today know nothing about, I feel a sense of connection to them and also I get inspired by them. Who is to say that something we write or do in our lives won't be dug up and exposed by some eager student in the future. The things we do in our lives, while seemingly unimportant to us and unnoticed by the rest of our modern world could survive us in some form and have an effect on someone in the future. The stories we write but never publish could easily survive us and end up in some "dusty" database in the future just waiting for someone to discover and assign significance.

Tonight I read everything from newspaper clippings to diaries, plays and operas (some never produced), poems and song lyrics. All in search of clues into the part Josiah Willard Gibbs played in the Amistad story. The search was not easy, and I have followed many dead end leads. But in following those leads I have learned about so many other lives and events in our history (so that no lead was truly a "waste of time".) Tonight was a wonderful experience which has renewed my commitment to seeking out this History major, but also made me realize that any one of us could be contributing to the tapestry of some future story. (Note: Josiah Willard Gibbs Sr. is the father of the famous physicist J. Willard Gibbs and it is probably him that you'll find by doing a Google search and not his father.)

Originally posted on April 20, 2005 on Myspace.

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