Collection Profile: Francis Blake Photographs

By Jeremy Dibbell

One of the most interesting of our image collections here at MHS are the Francis Blake photographs, more than 1,000 images taken by physicist and amateur photographer Francis Blake (mostly during the years 1875-1898). Blake is known for his early use of high-speed photography: “In the mid-1880s, Blake designed a focal-plane shutter that allowed him to take photographs with exposure times of 1/1000 to 1/2000 of a second. (The average working speed of a contemporary commercial shutter was about 3/100 of a second.) The resulting stop-action images of trains, pigeons, horses, bicyclists, and athletes were exhibited in Boston, Philadelphia, and London from 1891 to 1893 to critical acclaim.”

We’ve digitized a selection of Blake’s photographs, including a few of his well-known portraits and high-speed images; these are browsable here. The image included here (taken c. 1886-1889) is an “action shot” of Blake’s son Benjamin.

You can read more about Blake and his photos in a short biographical essay introducing the digital images.

Upcoming Events @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

We’ve got a very full calendar of events for the next few weeks. Here’s what’s going on through 7 May:

On Thursday, 22 April, former long-term research fellow April Haynes will speak on “Making ‘False Delicacy’ True: The Passions of Female Moral Reformers, 1835-1845.” This seminar, part of the Boston Seminar on the History of Women and Gender, will be held at the Schlesinger Library, Harvard, beginning at 5:15 p.m. Please read the Seminars @ MHS blog post for more information on attending seminars, including how to make reservations and receive the papers in advance.

At 2 p.m. on Friday, 23 April, Leslie Wilson (Curator of Special Collections at the Concord Free Public Library) will give a gallery talk here at MHS to complement the ongoing exhibition: “No Worthless Books: Elizabeth Peabody’s Foreign Library and Bookstore, 1840-1852.” More information here.

We’re happy to present the First Annual Jefferson Lecture on Wednesday, 28 April. Douglas L. Wilson will speak on “Jefferson’s ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’ and Lincoln’s ‘Discoveries and Inventions.'” Refreshments will be served at 5:30 p.m., with the lecture to begin at 6 p.m. Reservations for this event are required – you can sign up here.

On Thursday, 29 April, the Boston Immigration and Urban History seminar series continues with a 5:15 p.m. talk by Gunther Peck of Duke University, “Trafficking in Race: Locating the Origins of White Slavery, 1660-1815.” Claire Potter of Wesleyan University will give the comment. Please read the Seminars @ MHS blog post for more information on attending seminars, including how to make reservations and receive the papers in advance.

MHS Members and Fellows are invited to participate in a special tour of Mt. Auburn Cemetery on Sunday, 2 May, “Mount Auburn & the MHS: Intertwining Paths.” More information here, and registration is required for this event.

On Monday, 3 May, Newsweek editor Evan Thomas will be here for a brown-bag lunch event relating to his new book The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898. This event will begin at 12 noon, and reservations are requested. You can sign up here.

On Wednesday, 5 May, we’ll have another brown-bag lunch presentation by Danielle Boulay of Simmons College. Danielle will speak on “Portraits of Courage?: An Examination of the Civil War Carte de Visite Album of Charles P. Bowditch.” This event will begin at 12 noon.

Later on Wednesday, 5 May, there will be a panel discussion on the recent MHS publication Remaking Boston: An Environmental History of the City and Its Surroundings (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009). Co-editor Anthony Penna will moderate the discussion. Refreshments will be served at 5:30 p.m., with the panel convening at 6 p.m. Reservations are requested for this event; you can sign up here.

And last but certainly not least, on Thursday, 6 May the Boston Early American History seminar series continues, with Katherine A. Grandjean of Wellesley College presenting a talk, “Canoes, Cartpathsm and Colonization: The Evolution of Travel in Early New England, 1635-75.” Cynthia Van Zandt of the University of New Hampshire will deliver a comment. Please read the Seminars @ MHS blog post for more information on attending seminars, including how to make reservations and receive the papers in advance. The seminar will begin at 5:15 p.m.

Wood a Pulitzer Finalist

By Jeremy Dibbell

We’d like to congratulate MHS Fellow Gordon S. Wood, whose book Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford University Press, 2009) was named a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in History. The winner in that category this year was Liaquat Ahamed, for Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World. Joining Wood as a finalist was Greg Grandin, the author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City.

Interact with Jefferson in new “Notes” Site

By Jeremy Dibbell

On the eve of Thomas Jefferson’s 267th birthday, we at MHS are delighted to annouce a new web presentation of the manuscript copy of Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, his only full-length book. Read more about the manuscript here.

By way of introduction to the new site: “When Jefferson was in Paris in 1785 representing the United States as a diplomat, he paid to have 200 copies of Notes printed for private distribution. Prior to publication, Jefferson reworked an earlier version of his manuscript by using sealing wax to attach corrections and changes written on small additional pieces of paper to full handwritten pages. He also expanded the text by inserting additional full pages. These changes show the evolution of Jefferson’s ideas on a number of topics, and the supplemental information he gathered as he wrote. This website allows the reader to interact directly with Jefferson’s complex manuscript by reading the original manuscript and by following all the changes that he made to the text before it was first published – including the opportunity to see passages written by Jefferson that have been hidden by attachments for more than two centuries.”

Our digital projects team has really worked some pretty amazing magic with this presentation – you can literally lift attachments off the page and see what Jefferson wrote underneath – or flip up additions and check out what’s on the back. It’s a little complicated at first, so I encourage you to use the Tutorial before you begin. It helps, believe me! Once you’ve mastered the navigation, you can start browsing at page 1, select your chapter, choose a selected passage, or search.

Also check out the list of sources for further reading, and some additional documents compiled by Jefferson during the composition of this work (including a table of Virginia birds).



This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

Just one public event this week:

On Tuesday, 13 April, the Boston Environmental History Seminar series continues with a 5:15 p.m. talk by Anya Zilberstein of Concordia University, “Cold Comfort: The Benefits of Climate Change in Early Northern America.” Brian Donahue of Brandeis University will give the comment. Please read the Seminars @ MHS blog post for more information on attending seminars, including how to make reservations and receive the papers in advance.


Notes of the State of … Connecticut??

By Jeremy Dibbell

You’ve probably heard of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (and if you haven’t, just wait until next week, and watch this space!), but you may not have heard that Jefferson’s text was an expanded version of answers to a set of questions posed by François Marbois, the secretary to the minister from France, Anne-César, Chevalier de La Luzerne. In late 1780 and early 1781, Marbois sent lists of queries to representatives of each state (some with 16 questions, some with 22), requesting information ranging from “descriptions of the state boundaries and natural resources to the religion and social customs of its people. He asked for information about state history, population (including Native American peoples), manufacturing, and colleges, as well as specific information about how each state handled estates taken from Tories.”

Our April Object of the Month is a draft of Roger Sherman’s reply to Marbois, which he wrote in November 1782. Sherman, a Connecticut representative to the Continental Congress from 1774-81 and again in 1783-84, notes in his letter that he has delayed answering until he was “able to obtain an account of all the articles about which you desire to be informed.” He goes on to provide answers to Marbois’ questions, and enclosing several additional lists and texts. Of the principal manufactures, he writes: “Coarse linens & Woolens. Potash. Salt Petre, of which more than 100 Tons has been made in Connecticut Since the present war. & a Sufficient quantity of G. powder. Most kinds of Iron ware is also manufactured here, such as Cannon, & Cast Iron of all kinds & Edge Tools Such as Axes Sythes &c.” Of Tory property: “The Estates of the Rebels who have joined the Enemy or voluntarily taken probation under them are forfeited to the State, & disposed of for the expence of the war.” You can see images of the full draft letter, or read a transcription, here.

In her Object of the Month essay, Digital Projects Coordinator Nancy Heywood also touches on the other known responses to Marbois. John Witherspoon penned “A Description of the State of New-Jersey” (viewable here via Google Books), and we have a copy of Marbois’ queries regarding that state in the William Livingston papers II (viewable online here). And General John Sullivan answered Marbois in December 1780 regarding the state of New Hampshire, of which the original is at the Huntington Library (we have copies of both Marbois’ queries and Sullivan’s reply in our Miscellaneous Bound collection). The Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds Marbois’ letter to Thomas McKean with queries about Delaware, although we don’t know if any response exists. Of course the most famous reply, which was what grew into Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (the original manuscript copy of which is part of the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson manuscripts at MHS, and is now viewable online here).

Are there other “Notes on the state of ___” still out there? We suspect it’s entirely possible, and welcome news on any of them!


Spring Events at AAS

By Jeremy Dibbell

While our own events calendar remains jam-packed (and we hope you’ll visit often), our friends at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester have some really stellar public programs coming up too, so please check out their calendar and take advantage of these offerings. Some of the upcoming events include:

– A conversation between National Endowment for the Humanities chair Jim Leach and historian Jill Lepore, “Uncivil Discourse”, “a public discussion on the state of political discourse in America, past and present. This program is part of a fifty-state American Civility Tour that Leach is conducting to raise awareness of how divisive and potentially dangerous harsh and hateful language can be. Leach believes that the exchange of ideas and the consideration of other viewpoints are central to the humanities and that we need to bring this spirit of reason back into politics.” Wednesday, 14 April at 7:30 p.m.

– Author talks by Gordon S. Wood, Ezra Greenspan, Walter W. Woodward, and Lori Ginzburg, among others.

Full calendar here.

2010-2011 Research Fellows Announced

By Jeremy Dibbell

The MHS awards a wide variety of research fellowships each year, and I’m happy to be able to pass along the list for the 2010-11 season. Please pardon the lengthy list. For more information about each type of fellowship, click the link in the heading. We look forward to welcoming back longtime friends and meeting new ones from among this exciting group.

MHS-NEH Long-Term Research Fellowships:

Rachel Van, Columbia University, Free Trade and Family Values: Kinship Networks and the Culture of Early American Capitalism

Joanne van der Woude, Harvard University, American Aeneids: Conquest and Conversion in Poetry from the Americas

Suzanne and Caleb Loring Research Fellowship (with the Boston Athenaeum):

Peter Wirzbicki, New York University, Black Intellectuals, White Abolitionists, and Revolutionary Transcendentalists: Creating the Radical Intellectual Tradition in Antebellum Boston

New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC) Awards (with 16 other institutions)*

Thomas Adams, Tulane University, The Servicing of America: Service Work, Political Economy, and the Making of Modern America

*Rachel Cope, Brigham Young University, Drops of Grace and Mercy: How Women Cultivated Personal Change through Conversion Processes

Christine DeLucia, Yale University, The Memory Frontier: Making Past and Place in the Northeast after King Philip’s War

Allison Elias, University of Virginia, Gendering the Problems of Working Women: Clerical Workers, Labor Organizing, and Second-Wave Feminism

Hayley Glaholt, Northwestern University, ‘Reversing the Chivalry of Christ’: Quaker Women Challenge the ‘Species Line’ of Pacifist Ethics

Jane Fiegen Green, Washington University St. Louis, The Boundary of Youth: Adulthood and Civil Society in Early America, 1780-1850

Yu-ling Huang, State University of New York at Binghamton, The United States and Reproductive Politics in Postwar East Asia: A Transnational Network of Demographic Knowledge, Contraceptive Technologies, and Population Control Policies

*Robert Mussey, ‘To Seek a Better Country’: A Biography of Richard Cranch and Family

*Nicholas Osborne, Columbia University, Little Capitalists: Savings Institutions in United States History, 1816-1941

Christopher Pastore, University of New Hampshire, From Sweetwater to Seawater: An Environmental and Atlantic History of Narragansett Bay, 1636-1836

*Joshua Smith, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Yankee Doodle Upset: New England’s Yankee Identity in the War of 1812

Peter Wirzbicki, New York University, Black Intellectuals, White Abolitionists, and Revolutionary Transcendentalists: Creating the Radical Intellectual Tradition in Antebellum Boston

* Note: Those names marked with a * will be conducting research at MHS through this award.

MHS Short-Term Research Fellowships:

Richard Boles, The George Washington University, Divided Faiths: The Rise of Segregated Northern Churches (African American Studies Fellowship)

Annie Rudd, Columbia University, The Performance of Everyday Life: A History of the Photographic Pose (Andrew Oliver Research Fellowship)

Anthony Antonucci, University of Connecticut, ‘When in Rome’: American Relations with the Italian States from Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1790-1860 (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)

Matthew Bahar, University of Oklahoma, The People of the Dawnland and Their Atlantic World (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
Irene Cheng, Columbia University, Forms of Function: Self Culture, Geometry, and Octagon Architecture in Antebellum America (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)

Rachel Herrmann, University of Texas at Austin, Food and War: Indians, Slaves, and the American Revolution (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)

Sarah Keyes, University of Southern California, Circling Back: Migration to the Pacific and the Reconfiguration of America, 1820-1900 (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)

Susan Pearson, Northwestern University, Registering Birth: Population and Personhood in American History (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)

Nathan Perl-Rosenthal, Columbia University, Corresponding Republics: Private Letters and Patriot Societies in the American, Dutch and French Revolutions, ca. 1765-1792 (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)

Marc Selverstone, University of Virginia, Henry Cabot Lodge and the Withdrawal of American Troops from Vietnam (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)

David Silverman, The George Washington University, Thundersticks: Firearms and the Transformation of Native America (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)

Eric Hinderaker, University of Utah, Boston’s Massacre: Authority and Violence in the British Empire (Benjamin F. Stevens Fellowship)

Mary Kelley, University of Michigan, American Reading and Writing Practices, 1760-1860 (Malcolm and Mildred Freiberg Fellowship)

Marc-William Palen, University of Texas at Austin, The Cleveland ‘Conspiracy’: Mugwumpery, Free Trade Ideology, and Foreign Policy in Gilded-Age America (Marc Friedlaender Fellowship)

David Preston, The Citadel, Braddock’s Veterans: Paths of Loyalty in the British Empire, 1755-1775 (Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Fellowship)

Nora Doyle, University of North Carolina, ‘A Higher Place in the Scale of Being’: Experience and Representation of the Maternal Body in America, 1750-1865 (Ruth R. & Alyson R. Miller Fellowship)

Laura Prieto, Simmons College, New Woman: New Empire: 1898 and Its Legacies for Women in the United States (Ruth R. & Alyson R. Miller Fellowship)

Edward Hanson, The Papers of Robert Treat Paine (Paine Publication Fund Fellowship)

Brian Gratton, Arizona State University, Henry Cabot Lodge and the Politics of Immigration Restriction (Twentieth Century Fellowship)

Sara Damiano, The Johns Hopkins University, Financial Credit and Professional Credibility: Lawyers and Laypeople in New England Ports, 1700-1776 (W.B.H. Dowse Fellowship)

Neal Dugre, Northwestern University, Creating New England: Intercolonial Political Culture and the Birth of a Region in the Seventeenth-Century English Atlantic (W.B.H. Dowse Fellowship)

This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

Please join us on Wednesday, 7 April for a brown-bag lunch talk by Robert J. Robertson of Lamar University, “Louisa Adams and her brother, Henry, in Italy – A brief glimpse.” This event will begin at 12 noon. More info here.

And the “Margaret Fuller and Her Circles” conference kicks off on Thursday, 8 April with a keynote address at 6 p.m. by Mary Kelley of the University of Michigan, “‘The Measure of my Footprint’: Margaret Fuller’s Unfinished Revolution.” A reception will follow. The conference will continue on Friday and Saturday here at MHS.