This Week @MHS

We have a busy week of programming at the MHS. Here is a look at what is planned:

On Monday, 9 March, at 6:00 PMInventing Boston: Design, Production, & Consumption, 1680–1720 with Edward S. Cooke, Jr., Yale University. During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Boston was both a colonial capital and the third most important port in the British empire. Boston was also an independent entity that articulated its own identity while appropriating British culture and fashion. Edward Cooke examines period dwellings, gravestones, furniture, textiles, ceramics, and silver, revealing through material culture how the inhabitants of Boston were colonial, provincial, metropolitan, and global, all at the same time. This detailed account demonstrates how Bostonians constructed a distinct sense of local identity, a process of hybridization that exhibited a desire to shape a culture as a means to resist a distant power. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members, EBT or ConnectorCare cardholders). 

On Tuesday, 10 March, at 5:15 PM: The Metabolism of Military Forces in the War of Independence: Environmental Contexts & Consequences with David Hsiung, Juniata College, and comment by James Rice, Tufts University. In order to function during the War of Independence, armies and navies needed multiple sources of energy—food, firewood, work animals (which also needed food), ammunition, and more. How did specific natural environments, both proximate and distant, fuel those military metabolisms? How did such actions affect those environments in the decades and centuries that followed? This paper is the seed of a book proposal that, when watered by your feedback, will germinate come summertime. This program is co-hosted by the Boston Seminar on Environmental History and the Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar* series. Seminars are free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, 11 March, at 6:00 PM: City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism with Abram C. Van Engen, Washington University in St. Louis. Abram Van Engen shows how the phrase “City on a hill,” from a 1630 sermon by Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop, shaped the story of American exceptionalism in the 20th century. By tracing the strange history of Winthrop’s speech, from total obscurity in its own day to pervasive use in modern politics, Van Engen reveals the way national stories take shape and shows us how those tales continue to influence competing visions of the country—the many different meanings of America that emerge from a preservation of its literary past. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members, EBT or ConnectorCare cardholders).

On Thursday, 12 March, at 5:15 PM: Fashioning a Life: How Style Matters in Biography with Caroline Weber, Barnard College; Channing Joseph, University of Southern California; and moderator Natalie Dykstra, Hope College. Is fashion art or commerce? Frivolous or full of meaning? Is fashion evidence? This panel brings together Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie-Antoinette Wore to the Revolution and Proust’s Duchess, and Channing Joseph, whose forthcoming book recovers the untold story of formerly enslaved William Dorsey Swann, who became, in the 1880s, a progenitor of ballroom and drag culture. They will join moderator Natalie Dykstra, author of Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, and now at work on a biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner, in a conversation about the ways biographers use fashion to decode lives and historical contexts. This is part of the New England Biography Seminar series. Seminars are free and open to the public.

On Saturday, 14 March, at 10:00 AM: The History & Collections of the MHS. This is a 90-minute docent-led walk through of our public rooms. The tour is free and open to the public. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

*Our seminars bring together a diverse group of scholars and interested members of the public to workshop a pre-circulated paper. After brief remarks from the author and an assigned commentator, the discussion is opened to the floor. All are encourage to ask questions, provide feedback on the circulated essay, and discuss the topic at hand. Discussion is followed by a reception of light refreshments. The sessions are free and open to everyone.

Fire! Voices from the Boston Massacre
On the evening of March 5, 1770, soldiers occupying the town of Boston shot into a crowd, killing or fatally wounding five civilians. In the aftermath of what soon became known as the Boston  Massacre, questions about the command to “Fire!” became crucial. Who yelled it? When and why? Because the answers would determine the guilt or innocence of the soldiers, defense counsel John Adams insisted that “Facts are stubborn things.” But what are the facts? The evidence, often contradictory, drew upon testimony from dozens of witnesses. Through a selection of artifacts, eyewitness accounts, and trial testimony—the voices of ordinary men and women—Fire! Voice from the Boston Massacre explores how this flashpoint changed American history. The exhibition is on display at the MHS through 30 June 2020, Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM.