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Enlighten Me: The John Dickinson Writings Project

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Delaware Public Media
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Two weeks ago, we visited the John Dickinson Plantation near Dover to tell you about an African burial ground found there and how it fits into the legacy of this Founding Father.

But it’s not the only ongoing effort to better understand Dickinson and paint a more complete picture of his life.

In this week’s Enlighten Me, we sit down with the e John Dickinson Writings Project director Jane Calvert to talk about the project and what can be learned from it.

Delaware Public Media's Tom Byrne interviews The John Dickinson Writings Project's director Jane Calvert.
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Rebecca Baer
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Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media's Tom Byrne discusses the John Dickinson Writings Project with project director Jane Calvert

Delaware’s John Dickinson does not get the same recognition as other founding fathers, but a University of Kentucky researcher and her team are working to change that, and plan to bring the effort to the First State.

This fall, the John Dickinson Writings Project received a federal grant to establish a presence at the University of Delaware.

The project launched in 2010, seeking to pull together the writings and correspondence of the “Penman of the Revolution.”

It will include Dickinson's most important writings of the late-colonial and Founding
period - a 55 year window from 1753 to 1808 - along with what the project calls "a robust selection of correspondence."

Dickinson Quebec Letter
Dickinson Writings Project
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A draft of "Letter to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec," written by Dickinson on behalf of Congress to persuade French Canadians to join in the fight against British oppression.

The project’s director and chief editor Jane Calvert says the writings illustrate Dickinson’s duty to inflexible virtue.

"If he believed something was right, he stuck to it," said Calvert. "And he was basically willing to destroy his own popularity for the cause of what he believed was true and right.  He put everything on the line for that and his patriotism was entirely selfless." 

That duty to virtue led Dickinson to refuse to sign the Declaration of Independence.

He also took some other stances that were deemed “unpopular” at the time, but have since become commonplace in our society.

John Dickinson Writings Project director Jane Calvert explains how she started the project

The Dickinson Writings Project expects to publish a total of six volumes. The first two were published in 2020 and 2021, and work is now underway on volume three.

They are being published by the University of Delaware Press and University of Virginia Press.

The project also expects to produce a college-level course reader and make a digital version available online.

The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the State of Delaware, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and private donors.

John Dickinson Writings Project director Jane Calvert on funding support and working with the Univ. of Delaware

More information about the project is available at its website.

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