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Lot #359
Alan Shepard

“GEOGRAPHY SUCH AS NEVER SEEN BEFORE”: Decades before his historic space flight, schoolboy ALAN SHEPARD outlines the history of the Middle Ages

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“GEOGRAPHY SUCH AS NEVER SEEN BEFORE”: Decades before his historic space flight, schoolboy ALAN SHEPARD outlines the history of the Middle Ages

Original handwritten school assignment, an extended essay/report titled “The Middle Ages,” comprising approximately 32 handwritten pages in ink on 18 sheets of ruled 8 x 10.5 looseleaf, four hand-drawn and annotated maps, a timeline, and a cover page signed “Alan Shepard” and bearing the humorous addition “Publishers: Shepard and Shepard Co., East Derry, N.H,” all stapled into booklet form, no date [early 1930s]. Shepard grew up in the small town of East Derry, New Hampshire, and attended the one-room schoolhouse there. The precocious youngster completed six grades in five years before attending high school at Pinkerton Academy in adjacent Derry. Shepard graduated from the Academy in 1940 and proceeded directly to the U.S. Naval Academy and to service in the Second World War. After the war, Shepard continued his education and training at the Navy Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland, the Naval War College, and thence to his history-making career at NASA. Shepard’s report (for which he received a B+) evidently dates from his mid-elementary years in East Derry. Though his evidently rapid scholastic progress makes a precise date difficult, the penmanship and the quality of the writing suggest, perhaps, the work of a fourth or fifth grader, placing the item in the period from approximately 1932 to 1934. Shepard begins with a bibliography and goes on to answer specific questions about the cultural, social, and political history of the medieval period. His maps include depictions of various conquests, ethnic and political divisions, voyages of discovery—perhaps especially significant, given his later vocation—and the locations of principal centers. Some of the young Alan’s observations on religious history are particularly interesting in light of current geopolitics [his spellings and capitalization retained]: “When islam was started by Mohammed it spread fairly rapidly. Mohammed started to conquer the world with his religion. He went down into Palestine and farther south…. He went on through Egypt and Northern Africa. Then he went across the straits of Gibraltar into Spain. The European tribes, which had been fighting among themselves imediately stopped fighting and turned all their attention to the Mohammeds. When the Mohammeds were driven out the tribes decided to form countries….” On Christianity, he writes: “One of the good points of Christianity was that it expressed a certain kind of brotherhood to each other and to other people not in their religion…. The Christians would always try to encourage personal morality wherever they could…. When Constantine legalized Christianity he really gave them power. He gave them power to prosecute the people who wouldn’t join the church….” His comments on “increased geographical knowledge” again prefigure certain aspects of his adult career: “The compass and astrolabe were used one to tell direction and the other was used to tell altitude. These instruments lessened the danger of going out on the ocean because one was fairly able to get back to the same place one started from…. When the people went on the crusades they saw much of geography such as never seen before….” Accompanied by a letter of provenance from the daughter of the original owner, who was in the employ of the Shepard family for more than 35 years. A few creases and light handling wear, otherwise fine condition. R&R COA.

Auction Info

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  • Dates: #332 - Ended April 16, 2008