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History Students Transcribe Colonial Ledger

The Blanchard Ledger
The Blanchard Ledger

Reading a history book is exciting. It’s filled with interesting facts and dramatic stories, if you’re lucky there are even pictures. But to touch a piece of history, to smell its age, to have it there in the room with you, well, that’s electric and ultimately a real education.

Primary source material gets the heart of any good historian pumping. Which is why whenever there is a chance for Keene State history majors to use those original sources the faculty grabs it.

In one such recent instance history majors Kyle Larrabee, Alanna Griffin-Bales, Laura Ruttle, Kevin McNair, and Michelle Davy worked together to transcribe an 18th century surveyor ledger that tells the story of how Southwestern New Hampshire was settled.

So impressive were their efforts, they were featured in The Keene Sentinel and the NH Union Leader. The project was an attempt to give students real, hands on experience decoding and deciphering original source materials.

"It gives them experience that they can take to any job market," Margaret Orelup, chairman of the Keene State College History Department told the Union Leader in April 2013. "Primary sources are where you can really learn to work through a question, look at different kinds of evidence and form your own interpretation."

The ledger itself, known as the Blanchard ledger, gave students insight into the families who first settled the area, many of whom have surnames that still populate the local phone directories.

"I saw a lot of names I recognized," said Kevin McNair.

But, getting to the point of reading those names was often a daunting task when it came to reading the handwriting of the 18th century surveyor and deciphering his abbreviations, short hand and creative spelling, said Griffin-Bales.

In addition to land holdings and home sizes, the ledger also provided insight to the border dispute between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Orelup told the Union Leader.

The document itself is extremely fragile, but through the help of a Moose Plate Grant, the binding is being restored so that the public may come and take a look at it with supervision. The students also had a chance, as part of the project, to digitize the ledger for viewing online.

For further reading, see KSC students ‘touch’ the mapping of New Hampshire.

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Anne Freisinger Cucchi
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Keene, New Hampshire 03435