The JCB Spotlights the Declaration of Independence

Dr. Sneff delivers remarks about the JCB’s broadside and other copies of the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence is one of the world's most important articulations of the basis for democratic government, and yet we know less about it than we should. Especially as we head toward 2026 and the 250th anniversary of the independence of the United States, we'll be paying close attention to how important it is that the histories foundational to our own experiences of government and civic culture be fully explored and shared.

Dr. Emily Sneff is now one of the leading experts on the text and material of the Declaration of Independence. A lot of media, for example, covered her co-discovery with Danielle Allen of Harvard University and the Declaration Resources project of a rare (only the second) parchment copy. On September 22 Emily defended her doctoral dissertation from William & Mary, "When the Declaration of Independence was News," which follows the news of independence and the text as it traveled across the country and around the world in 1776. The defense was held at the John Carter Brown Library because its Director, Karin Wulf, had the pleasure of directing her dissertation. Dr. Sneff generously agreed to follow up her defense with an event for a small audience to hear from her about the Declaration of Independence -- and in particular the JCB's copies.

The JCB is fortunate to hold (and its teams were far thinking in acquiring) multiple broadside and other copies of the Declaration of Independence. Dr. Sneff discussed the context in which they were produced in 1776, what happened when they went out into the world that summer, and why they are among the very few copies remaining. She also talked about how they arrived in our collections and shared some insights into the people who originally produced and purchased them, including a Newport-based printer and a soldier who was stationed in Boston at the time.

The entire team at the JCB would like to congratulate Dr. Sneff on her successful defense and thank her for sharing her knowledge with our community. We also wish to acknowledge the support of Roger Shaw Williams, Head of Libraries Conservation, for preparing the JCB materials for today’s presentation.