Close Encounters in the Colonies: Treasures from the David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection

October 1, 2021 – January 23, 2022

Close Encounters in the Colonies: Treasures from the David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection traces the origins and development of central themes of American life—colonization, slavery, religion, politics, and natural history—through 16 rare books from the 17th and 18th centuries. The special installation reveals the beginnings of American principles that would inform the nation’s founding documents, like equality, freedom of religion, the separation of church and state, and freedom of the press while also showing how many of those principles were either denied or came at the expense of enslaved and Indigenous peoples.

Among the highlights on display are early botanical drawings and descriptions of the geography, geology, and plant life of North America; an account of the trial of John Peter Zenger, who was arrested for libel in 1734 after printing in a newspaper an essay critical of the colonial governor and was eventually found not guilty, a landmark moment for the freedom of the press in America; and Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, written by the first internationally recognized American poet, Phillis Wheatley, who was enslaved and brought to Massachusetts at the age of seven, and who in her poems addressed the experience of slavery and the colonies’ imperial crisis with Britain. Also on view is the first account of the Pilgrims’ arrival in North America and their early interactions with Indigenous peoples, including a brief account of the event that evolved through the centuries to become known as the “First Thanksgiving.”

Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.



Media sponsor:

Creative: Tronvig Group