By Anna Cook
For the past six weeks, one of the digital microfilm readers in our library has been occupied by a researcher working his way through the microfilm edition of the Adams Family Papers. He is painstakingly transcribing passages from the handwritten correspondence of John Quincy Adams (JQA) in preparation for an intellectual biography of the man who witnessed two generations worth of political events play out on a world stage.
As the @JQAdams_MHS Twitter project highlights, John Quincy Adams was an obsessive chronicler of events in his own life and the global political networks in which he moved. Our dedicated researcher has set out to document JQA’s life as an observer of the world. De-centering the biographical subject, he hopes to write an outward-looking biography, “the autobiography [JQA] never had time to write” because he was so busy keeping diaries, writing letters, and otherwise documenting the events and interactions he took part in.
When asked for some of his initial observations, our dedicated researcher points to JQA’s antislavery agitation, which made him an outlier in his generation of Americans. The biographer suggests, echoing JQA’s own penchant for Biblical metaphors, that John Quincy Adams was a “John the Baptist,” helping prepare the way for the abolition of slavery decades after his death in 1848.
We wish our researcher the best of luck with his work and look forward to the biographical study to come.