This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

Please join us on Wednesday, 2 September at 12 noon in the Dowse Library for a brown-bag lunch with short-term research fellow Matthew Hale, assistant professor of history at Goucher College. Hale will speak on “The French Revolution and American National Identity.”

MHS Remembers Senator Kennedy

By Jeremy Dibbell

The Society joins the world in mourning the loss of Senator Ted Kennedy, an MHS Fellow since 1968 and a close friend to the organization and our mission. Read more here.

Meet & Greet: Adams Papers

By Jeremy Dibbell

Last but certainly not least in our survey of MHS departments is the Adams Papers editorial staff, the diligent group responsible for overseeing the publication of the papers of several generations of members of the Adams family. The project, begun in 1954, has produced some 42 volumes to date (published by Harvard University Press), with many more scheduled (the cutoff date for the project is 1889, with the death of Abigail Brooks Adams). The editors do not edit the words written by the Adams family members; “rather, they continue the search for Adams documents, select the material to be included in the edition, provide a faithful transcription of the manuscripts, and supply annotation.”

As their website notes, “The Adams Papers was funded originally by Time-Life Inc. and the Ford Foundation. At present funding is provided primarily by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities, with additional funding from the Lyn and Norman Lear Fund, the Packard Humanities Institute, and private donors. Over the years, these supporters have included The J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and The Charles E. Culpeper Foundation through the Founding Fathers Papers, Inc.”

The MHS’ collection of Adams Family papers forms the core of the publication project, but more than 27,000 documents held by other institutions or individuals have also been gathered for inclusion in the published editions.

Portions of the Adams Family papers are now available digitally through the MHS website; see the Guide to Adams Resources for more information.

The Adamses are ever-present here at MHS, and the work done by the supremely able staff of the Adams Papers editorial team is vital in allowing us to answer questions and provide information and context about the lives and works of the family members. We couldn’t do it without them!

Adams Papers staff members include: Editor in Chief C. James Taylor; Senior Editor Gregg Lint; Editor Margaret Hogan; LCA Diary Series Editor Judith Graham; Associate Editors Robert Karachuk and Hobson Woodward; Assistant Editors Mary Claffey, Beth Luey, Sara Martin, and Sara Sikes; Transcribers James Connolly and Amanda Matthews. Full contact information is available here.

JQA’s Shipboard Reading List: August Edition

By Jeremy Dibbell

Many of those following John Quincy Adams on Twitter have asked for additional information about his extensive shipboard reading, so without further ado, here is the first in a series of posts which will track, and (where possible) link to digital copies of the books Adams reads during his journey, so that if the urge strikes you to follow along, you may do so. I cannot vouch for the external links (they all are working as of the time I am writing); if one’s not working, feel free to let me know ( and I’ll do my best to find an alternate.

Like all of us, JQA was very careful about the books he chose to take with him on his journey – of course a two-month sea voyage and then a long period away from home meant that he had to be even more choosy about what books travelled with him. Early in the voyage he reflects on this: in his long diary entry for 7 August (just two days after setting sail), JQA writes: “The afternoon I pass’d in reading Chantreau’s Travels in Russia – I find that after all the pains I had taken to have l’Evesque’s history of Russia [Pierre Charles Levesque, Histoire de Russia (Hambourg: 1800)] with me, it has been packed up, if at all, in one of the boxes which I cannot open on the passage. Before I sailed I felt uncertain what kind of books I should most incline to – I now find that it is those relating to Russia, and I have nothing but Chantreau.”

Nothing but Chantreau specifically relating to Russia perhaps, but JQA’s shelves were by no means bare. As those reading his daily short entries on Twitter have noticed, he notes his reading almost every day; and in his longer entries he often offers further comments and thoughts about the selections he’s studied that day. Beyond the readings listed here, JQA noted in an entry following 31 August in his long diary that he “read ten or fifteen chapters in the bible” each morning.

This post will include those readings for August, and I’ll create a new post for September’s reading list.

8/6/1809: Massillon’s Carême Sermons 2 & 3. Jean-Baptiste Massillon, Sermons de M. Massillon, évêque de Clermont … a carême. Also published in English: an 1807-1808 edition, Sermons for every Sunday and festival of the year, chiefly taken from the sermons of M. de Massillon, Bishop of Clermont (London: Keating, Brown & Keating) has been digitized by Google Books: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3.

8/7/1809: Chantreau’s travels. Pierre Nicolas Chantreau, Philosophical, political and literary travels in Russia, during the years 1788 and 1789. (Perth: Printed by R. Morison, Junior, for R. Morison and Son, Booksellers, Perth; and Vernor and Hood, Birchin-Lane, London, 1794). A scanned copy of this title is available via the Internet Archive: Volume 1, Volume 2. As mentioned above, JQA wished he had packed more books pertaining to Russia so that he could access them during the voyage.

8/8/1809: Langhorne’s Life of Plutarch, and began with Theseus. Plutarch’s Lives, translated from the original Greek: with notes critical and historical and a new life of Plutarch. In six volumes … by John and William Langhorne. An 1804 edition (Worcester: Isaiah Thomas, Jun.) is available via the Internet Archive: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6. You can also just read the life of Plutarch, or the biography of Theseus. In his long diary entry, JQA adds “In the evening a little of Chantreau.”

8/10/1809: Plutarch’s life of Romulus. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Romulus. In his long diary entry, JQA provides a bit more: “I read some chapters in the Bible, Plutarch’s life of Romulus, and some of Mrs. Grant’s letters from the Mountains (Scotch Mountains).”

8/11/1809: Mrs Grant’s Letters. Anne McVicar Grant, Letters from the mountains: being the real correspondence of a lady, between the years 1773 and 1807. An 1809 edition (Boston: printed by Greenough and Stebbins) is available via the Internet Archive: Volume 1, Volume 2. In his long diary entry, JQA writes “I employed much of [the day] in reading Mrs. Grant’s letters, which I find more interesting than Plutarch. I return to them of choice, but Plutarch is a task, and a heavy one. I never could read him through. I find it especially hard to read him after a sleepless night; after two harder still.”

8/12/1809: Lives of Lycurgus and of Numa. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Lycurgus and Numa. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he also read Plutarch’s comparison of Lycurgus and Numa (scanned copy), and says further “But with a cabin about 20 feet square, between seven persons and a child, which is the eating room, and bed chamber of all the company, I find the power of self-abstraction, fails.”

8/13/1809: Two Sermons of Massillon; and made minutes from Plutarch. See entries for 8/6 and 8/8. In his long diary entry (manuscript image, partial transcription) JQA offers his thoughts on the Massillon sermon, those treating the forgiveness of injuries and preaching.

8/14/1809: Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus. See entry for 8/12. In his long diary entry (manuscript image, partial transcription), JQA makes reference to additional readings: “I made minutes of the two sermons of Massillon, which I read yesterday; and on Plutarch’s life of Lycurgus. Read also his life of Solon (scanned copy). I find amusement in these occupations, and our weather is mild and sea so smooth that I can employ more time in reading and writing than I ever could at sea before. Yet it seems to me that I do not employ my time to the best advantage. My thermometer is an amusement. A celestial globe would also be an agreeable companion. And de Lapede’s Natural History of Fishes, Pinkerton’s Geography, and Mavor’s little collection of Voyages and Travels.

8/17/1809: Lives of Themistocles and Camillus. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Themistocles and Camillus.

8/18/1809: Pericles & Mrs. Grant’s Letters. See entries for 8/8 and 8/11. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Pericles. JQA notes in his long diary entry that he finished Mrs. Grant’s letters and the first volume of Plutarch. He calls the Pericles biography “as interesting as any in the volume.”

8/19/1809: Fabius Maximus. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Fabius Maximus.

8/20/1809: Two Sermons of Massillon. See entry for 8/6. JQA was less positively inclined toward these two sermons (on the certainty of a future state and on the reverence to be observed in churches), writing in his long diary entry (manuscript image, partial transcription) “They pleased me less than those of the last week.”

8/21/1809: Life of Alcibiades. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Alcibiades.

8/22/1809: Life of Coriolanus. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Caius Marcius Coriolanus. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he also read Plutarch’s comparison between Alcibiades and Coriolanus (scanned copy).

8/23/1809: Timoleon and Paulus Æmilius. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Timoleon and Paulus Æmilius. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he also read Plutarch’s comparison between the two (scanned copy).

8/24/1809: Life of Pelopidas. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Pelopidas. In his long diary entry, JQA complains that he “suffered so much weariness that I could neither write nor read with satisfaction.”

8/25/1809: Marcellus- Absalom & Achitophel. For Marcellus, see entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Marcellus. Second book is John Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel: A poem (first published at London in 1681). An annotated digital edition is available here. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he also read Plutarch’s comparsion between Pelopidas and Marcellus (scanned copy), and makes comments on Dryden’s text.

8/26/1809: Aristides and Cato the Censor. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Aristides and Cato the Censor. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he began reading “something of the life of Mahomet, introductory to Savary’s french translation of the Koran.”

8/27/1809: Two Sermons of Massillon, on Relapses and Prayer. See entry for 8/6. JQA adds comments about the sermons in his long diary entry.

8/28/1809: Philiopoemen and Flaminius. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Philopoemon and Titus Quinctius Flaminius. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he also read Plutarch’s comparison between Philopoemon and Flaminius, completing the second volume of Plutarch.

8/29/1809: Pyrrhus and Caius Marius. Savary’s Mahomet. For Pyrrhus and Caius Marius, see entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Pyrrhus and Caius Marius. Second book is one of several editions of the Koran as translated into French by Claude Etienne Savary (with the life of Mohammed appended; see entry for 8/26). A scanned copy of the biography, from a 1786 Amsterdam edition of the Koran, is available here via Google Books.

8/30/1809: Lysander and Sylla. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Lysander and Sylla. In his long diary entry JQA writes that he did not complete the sketch of Sylla’s life.

8/31/1809: Cimon and Lucullus. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Cimon and Lucullus. In his long diary entry, JQA reports “leaving the latter [Lucullus] unfinished.”

See the September post for a continuation of JQA’s reading list.

Society Awarded NEH Grant

By Jeremy Dibbell

The MHS has received a $160,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The funds will enable us to develop and present two one-week Landmark Institutes for eighty high school teachers from across the country in partnership with Minute Man National Historical Park. The workshops, “At the Crossroads of Revolution: Lexington and Concord in 1775,” will take place from 18-23 July and 1-6 August 2010. Jayne Gordon and Kathleen Barker of the Society’s Education department will be the project co-directors. Among the scholars lined up for the institutes are William Fowler, Robert Gross, Brian Donohue, and Ray Raphael.

More information on the NEH’s Landmark Institutes program is available here.

New JQA Roundup Page

By Jeremy Dibbell

Due to the high level of interest in the John Quincy Adams Twitter project, our wonderful digital team has created a new web page to provide an entry-point into the project (with links to the Twitter page and the scans of the manuscript diaries, background information, and other information). We’ll be including some of the media coverage here too, so watch for changes as we move forward. Mr. Adams continues to attract new followers at a fairly good clip as he makes his way across the ocean – as of this morning he’s just passed the 13,000-mark.

Meet & Greet: Administration & Development

By Jeremy Dibbell

It’s been quite a while since we’ve done a Meet & Greet post (and I’ve only got a few departments left, too!). The folks in Administration and Finance, as well as in the Development office, do much work to keep the place up and running every day, so it’s their turn:

The Society’s president is Dennis Fiori, and his Executive Assistant is Mary Kearns.

Peter Hood is the Director of Finance, while Tammy Hamond serves as Account Manager and Chris Coveney is the Chief Technology Officer. Our Operations crew consists of Chris Carberry (Operations Manager), Jennifer Smith (Operations Assistant) and James “Harry” Harrison (Custodian).

Nicole Leonard is our Director of Development, and Emily Hogan is the Annual Fund Coordinator.

Complete contact information is available here.

MHS Library Was Hopping in July!

By Jeremy Dibbell


July was a banner month for the MHS library staff. We had 484 researchers visit the library (202 individual researchers), conducted 91 reader orientations (not including two large groups of community college professors here for week-long workshops), copied over 1,800 pages of material, retrieved over 800 items from the stacks, and answered more than 140 reference emails and 80 phone calls. Most of those statistics absolutely obliterated last year’s numbers.

Quite a month!


John Quincy Adams, Media Darling

By Jeremy Dibbell

Apologies for the long post, but I wanted to take a chance to round up some of the major media coverage John Quincy Adams has been getting this week, provide a little more background (and offer up the perspective that his wife had on the trip to Russia), and answer some questions we’ve been getting since the project launched:

When I announced that we’d be launching a Twitter feed of John Quincy Adams’ line-a-day diary entries, I wrote “We certainly hope others will find JQA’s journey as fascinating as we do.” I think I speak for all of us here at MHS when I say that we never expected the wave of attention that this story has gotten – the last few days seem almost unreal. We began getting some local blog and press attention last Friday (Boston Globe Brainiac blog, Bostonist, Universal Hub). On Tuesday afternoon, the Associated Press went live with a story  about the project (long version; short version), which was picked up by literally hundreds of media outlets around the world. Various versions of that soon appeared in Computerworld, Switched, CNET, Tippingpointlabs, and many other technology-oriented sites. I was interviewed for WBZ, the local CBS affiliate (video) and our Librarian, Peter Drummey, talked to Fox 25’s Sarah Underwood (video).

On Wednesday I spoke with Robin Young from WBUR’s “Here and Now” (audio), and Thursday the project was featured in the New York Times, NPR’s “Morning Edition” (audio), CNN’s Political Ticker blog, ABC’s “World News Tonight” (video) and by MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show (video). We got anecdotal reports from around the country that the story was covered widely on local television and radio broadcasts.

And the followers, oh the followers! The number of people who have taken the time to reach out and follow the Twitter feed has been increasing by leaps and bounds all week, with sometimes hundreds of new folks following in any given hour. On Tuesday afternoon we had just a few hundred (600 around 4 p.m.); on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. it was 2,682; at 6 a.m. on Thursday it stood at 5,467, and as I write on Friday morning we’ve just passed 9.000. We intend to follow back all those who followed JQA. At first we simply couldn’t keep up, and then Twitter’s follow limits stymied us, but we’re trying – if you are following JQA and aren’t being followed back yet, don’t take it personally – we hope to be able to follow you soon!

The reaction on Twitter has been positive and really fun to watch. A sampling: “extremely geeky but a great use of twitter; former prez john quincy adams to begin tweeting his original daily journal entries”; “Following celebrity tweets is soooo 19th Century! John Quincy Adams was tweeting 200 years ago”; “John Quincy Adams may be the best thing to happen to Twitter. This just made my day”; “Excellent idea to get people engaged with history- thank you and great work!”; “Now THIS is interesting, entertaining, informative, and BRILLIANT! way to go MHS!” You can follow the reaction at

You can follow JQA’s diary entries here, and subscribe via RSS using the URL here. Remember, the line-a-day entries we’ve posted are supplemented by longer entries in JQA’s other diaries; if you search by date, you’ll be able to read digitized versions of the expanded entries.

Now, amidst all the excitement and turmoil of leaving for Russia, there was another side to the story. John Quincy Adams’ wife Louisa Catherine was not a fan of the idea, and even less a fan of leaving two of their young children behind in America. Remembering the events in an 1840 memoir, Louisa wrote:

This day the news arrived of Mr Adams’s appointment to Russia and I do not know which was the most stuned with the shock my Father or myself— I had been so grosly deceived every apprehension lulled—and now to come on me with such a shock!— O it was too hard! not a soul entered into my feelings and all laughed to scorn my suffering at crying out that it was affectation— Every preparation was made without the slightest consultation with me and even the disposal of my Children and my Sister was fixed without my knowledge until it was too late to Change—

Judge Adams [JQA’s brother Thomas Boylston Adams] was commissioned to inform me of all this as it admited of no change and on the 4 of August we sailed for Boston I having been taken to Quincy to see my two boys and not being permited to speak with the old gentleman [John Adams] alone least I should excite his pity and he allow me to take my boys with me—

Oh this agony of agonies! can ambition repay such sacrifices? never!!— And from that hour to the end of time life to me will be a susession of miseries only to cease with existence—

Adieu to America—

You can read more about the Adamses and their time in Russia in “The First Ambassador: John Quincy Adams in St. Petersburg, 1809-1815,” an article by two of my Adams Papers colleagues (Mary Claffey and Sara Sikes) which appeared in the September/October 2008 issue of Russian Life. The article is available in PDF form here, courtesy of Russian Life.

Finally, since we’ve received several calls and emails about how readers and followers of JQA can support the MHS and the JQA project, I will point out our Support MHS website, which offers several options for contributing to the Society’s programs. We never intended for this to be a way to raise money, and we truly appreciate the interest.

It’s been quite a week – acting as John Quincy Adams’ impromptu publicist has been a new experience for me, and seeing the great feedback has been very exhilarating for all of us at MHS. We’re thrilled, and we hope you will all stick with us as we go forward! To Russia, with tweets!

Punch Before Tea?

By Jeremy Dibbell

Our August Object of the Month is the Edes Punch Bowl, famously used to quench the thirst of a group gathered at the home of Benjamin Edes on the afternoon of 16 December 1773, just hours before the Boston Tea Party.