After “Happiness”

16 Sep

Is it a comma or a period? This was the central question on June 23, when historians, archivists, and history enthusiasts gathered at the National Archives for “Punctuating Happiness,” a 16-scholar symposium on one of the most iconic documents in US history—the Declaration of Independence—and its renowned phrase: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It may seem that whether the punctuation mark following the last word is a period or a comma is but a small point of uncertainty, but in fact it has inspired further inquiry into the circulation of the text in print culture, the work’s interpretation from the time of its composition to today, and the document’s gradual deterioration, to name a few. The gathering’s takeaway, however, was that the Declaration is not merely one text with one meaning, but many texts supporting a multitude of interpretations.

For Stephanie Kingsley’s full report on the NARA symposium at the American Historical Association site, see here: After “Happiness”

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