Discover the Birth of Independence

Where does our freedom come from? Should it apply to all people? Why was ‘Independence’ a dirty word when it first appeared in the seventeenth century? A new exhibition in the Long Room, coinciding with American Independence Day on 4 July, explores the historical origins of religious ‘Independence’.

The exhibition, curated by Dr Polly Ha in partnership with the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library, explores the historical origins of ‘Independence’, and the particular connections to Puritan ideas. It coincides with Independence Day on 4 July, commemorating the 1776 American Declaration of Independence. Dr Ha writes:

The Royall Oake of Brittayne Shelf mark Fag.P.17.9 no. 2

The Royall Oake of Brittayne
Shelf mark Fag.P.17.9 no. 2

‘Independence was thought to be a product of the mid-1640s during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms – England, Ireland and Scotland. But three volumes of manuscripts uncovered in the Library of Trinity College Dublin, which belonged to the Puritan Walter Travers, Provost of Trinity College Dublin 1594-1598, reveal that he secretly coined the name ‘Independency’ decades before it appeared in public.

The manuscripts and rare books on display shed new light on the intersection between politics and religion, and some of the most dramatic moments in Western history. They change our understanding of the expansion of liberty by revealing new connections to broader movements for political freedom in revolutionary England. They also reveal new links between the development of freedom in Britain and in its American colonies.

Walter Travers, A theological notebook, c 1580 TCD MS 324, f. 4

Walter Travers, A theological notebook, c 1580
TCD MS 324, f. 4

The exhibition will be on display in the Long Room until 31 July; it is accompanied by an online exhibition featuring video and audio commentary. The exhibition forms part of the larger History of Independence Project funded by the Arts Humanities Research Council. Based at the University of East Anglia, the project is working in collaboration with The Jefferson Foundation in addition to partnering with Trinity College Dublin.’

Dr Polly Ha, Director
History of Independence Project
University of East Anglia

Claire Allen
Manuscripts & Archives Research Library