Time & Demise: Document Descriptions at the Massachusetts Historical Society

By Andrew Kettler, University of Toronto, Andrew W. Mellon short-term research fellow at the MHS

Time is the historian’s obsession. Wasting time is the academic’s demise. For a cultural historian, the archive can often seem like the proverbial haystack. Because the focus of cultural research is frequently upon specific and often obscure topics rather than narrative or quantitative history, the manuscript archive is often a daunting and byzantine maze where searching for single references that relate to a defined subject can be an obstructed and time consuming journey.

Occasionally, finding single references can take hours of laborious reading of problematic handwritten materials. As such, many cultural historians turn their works towards theoretical analysis and printed materials to avoid wasteful hours of archival research when the buried needle is difficult to discover. However, the general concern with these archival mazes is commonly overcome when document descriptions within library and manuscript catalogs provide enough detailed summaries to help cultural historians, and all researchers, narrow their focus prior to possibly wasting time reading unnecessary materials.

While completing research for my project on the history of smell and slavery in the Atlantic World, I recently worked at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). While serving as a short-term fellow under the auspices of the Andrew Mellon Foundation, I worked often with the Beck-Alleyne family papers, 1787-1936. I had not originally sought out this collection prior to arriving in Boston, as my work at the MHS focused on searching for descriptions of slave bodies and plantation life within different paper collections from the 18th century.

Despite my initial oversight of this collection, the notes in the introduction to the Beck-Alleyne collection provided by the library staff involved great detail regarding the correspondence of family members and the specific papers within the collection. As a part of this assortment, and nearly all other collections at the MHS, researchers are frequently guided through centuries of papers through these simple keyword connections.

Specifically included as keyword links in the summaries for the Beck-Alleyne papers are topics related to slavery, trade, secession, and rebellion that cover vast areas from Boston to Barbados. Rarely would a scholar of plantation culture look to correspondence from a New England shipping family for notes on Bussa’s Rebellion in Bridgetown of 1816. However, because of the primary details provided in the document description by the library staff, keyword searches trigger important summaries of this rebellion that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

As portrayed by the ease of maneuvering through the Beck-Alleyne papers, the MHS is the premier archive for discovering specific references through these detailed document descriptions. The research team, from those who worked at the archive decades ago to the current library staff, have consistently provided document summaries that offer much more details than nearly all other archives with similar collections. Practically every manuscript document to be accessed at the MHS includes paragraph length descriptions that provide the cultural historian keyword search terms to help focus research much more quickly and consequently avoid wasting the researcher’s time with reading irrelevant materials for their projects.

The keyword searches that are now common within historical research due to the vast accessibility of digital materials makes exploration much quicker and frequently less precise. However, the greater force of historical research remains within the manuscript archive, where materials are recovered and interpreted for the broader historical audience and the public sphere. The detailed descriptions provided within primary keyword searches at the MHS deliver researchers markedly more time to produce engaging scholarship through limiting wasted time upon documents that could be poorly, lightly, or mistakenly described in the hands of less caring and coordinated research teams.

This Week @MHS

Join us at the MHS this week for a program! Here is a look at what is planned:

On Monday, 10 June, at 6:00 PM: Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait? Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, & the Fight for the Right to Vote with Tina Cassidy. In 1913, on the eve of his presidential oath of office, Woodrow Wilson landed in Washington, D.C., to witness 8,000 protesting suffragists, led by Alice Paul. From solitary confinement, hunger strikes, and mental institutions to sitting right across from President Wilson, this narrative reveals the inspiring near-death journey, spearheaded in no small part by Paul’s leadership, it took to grant women the right to vote in America. 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 or EBT cardholders).

On Wednesday, 12 June, at 12:00 PM: “I did glimpse a tiger, but what I really got was malaria”: Massachusetts Women in India, 1920-1940 with Shealeen A. Meaney, Russell Sage College. Today we hear about American women heading off to Rishikesh to trian as yoga instructors, but what did India mean to women travelers from Massachusetts a century ago? This talk explores the ways that women experienced and wrote about India as tourists, hunters, and seekers in the decades after suffrage. This is part of our brown-bag lunch programBrown-bags are free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, 12 June, at 5:00 PM: MHS Fellows Annual Meeting & Reception. MHS Fellows are invited to a special program at 4:30 PM followed by the Society’s annual business meeting at 5:00 PM. A reception will follow. This program is open only to MHS Fellows.

On Thursday, 13 June, at 6:00 PM: The Presidents: Noted Historians on the Lives & Leadership of America’s Best & Worst Chief Executives with Brian Lamb, Susan Swain, James Traub, and Peter Drummey. Over a period of decades, C-SPAN has surveyed leading historians on the best and worst of America’s presidents across a variety of categories—their ability to persuade the public, their leadership skills, their moral authority, and more. The crucible of the presidency has forged some of the very best and very worst leaders, along with much in between. Brian Lamb and Susan Swain will discuss presidential leadership qualities with historian James Traub and Peter Drummey, MHS. 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 or EBT cardholders).

On Saturday, 15 June at 10:00 AMThe 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 abentley@masshist.org.

“Can She Do It?”: Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Featuring dynamic imagery from the collection of the MHS, the exhibition illustrates the passion on each side of the suffrage question. For over a century, Americans debated whether women should vote. The materials on display demonstrate the arguments made by suffragists and their opponents. While women at the polls may seem unremarkable today, these contentious campaigns formed the foundations for modern debates about gender and politics.

Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

Strawberry Fun at the MHS

By Rakashi Chand, Senior Library Assistant

June is finally here! The days are getting warmer and the strawberry crop is ripe.

Strawberry Festivals were popular in New England, especially in the 19th century. They often occurred in late spring/early summer when New Englanders could finally enjoy warmer weather and the strawberries were ripe. The celebrations ranged from church gatherings and dances to fundraisers, picnics, and theatre nights.

In our collection of Theatre Broadsides, we have some especially enjoyable examples from Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Club. The Club hosted an Annual performance called “Strawberry Night.” The plays performed and the broadsides that accompanied them are irresistibly comical! In the spirit of strawberry season here are a few examples.

Found in the Strawberry Night theatre broadside from 1866:

 “… While the enchanted and vest-bursting audience are recovering from the effects of this remarkable concatenation of clownish stupidity, insatiable ambition, unalloyed virtue, and unsophisticated innocence, their attention will be called on the wonderful and elaborate German Duet…”

“…That the aching sides and smoke-filled eyes of the audience may have no rest, there will immediately follow a most wonderful, original, burlesque, tragic, extravaganzetta, entitled Babes In The Wood!”

Strawberry Night broadside, 1866
“Heir at Law,” Strawberry Night theatre broadside, 1866

And in the 1868 theatre broadside:

“Theatre H. P. C. Strawberry Night..: the evening’s Performance will begin with the farce, Friend Waggles! … The important and all-absorbing business transacted, and seats once more carefully resumed, the curtain rises on the farce, Wanted: One Thousand Spirited Young Milliners for the Gold Diggings.”

“In order that the plot play may be perfectly comprehensible to the most casual observer, the scenes will occasionally be changed.”

Theatre broadside, 1868
Detail of Hasty Pudding Club, Strawberry Night theatre broadside, 1868

The class of ’95 produced “Poor Pillicoddy” on 21 June 1894. The broadside states:

“After the Crowd has been decoyed into the Theatre by the Orchestra, the Management will lock the doors and present the serio-tragic spectacular drama, entitled “Poor Pillicoddy”…

Theatre broadside, 1894
Hasty Pudding Club, Strawberry Night, theatre broadside, 1894

The last comments in the broadside are thoroughly enjoyable:

Theatre broadside, 1894
Hasty Pudding Club, Strawberry Night, Theatre broadside, 1894

The MHS has an endearing and historic association with the strawberry and celebrations in its honor. An invitation to a strawberry festival in 1856 led to the donation of Mr. Thomas Dowse’s vast and coveted library:

“SPECIAL MEETING, JUNE, 1886. A Social Meeting of the Society was held at the house of Mr. Charles Deane, in Cambridge, on Friday, the 18th instant, at five o’clock, P.M.

The Hon. Robert C. Winthrop said:

“…But another of these Cambridge meetings was still more memorable, and can never be forgotten in the history of our Society. I refer, as I need hardly say, to the meeting at good George Livermore’s in 1856, just thirty years ago. From that meeting came the library and large endowment of our great benefactor, Thomas Dowse. Mr. Dowse was a neighbor and friend of Mr. Livermore, and had been specially invited by him to come over to our strawberry festival. Age and infirmities prevented his acceptance of the invitation ; but the occasion induced him to inquire into the composition and character of our Society, and he forthwith resolved to place his precious books, the costly collections of a long life, under our guardianship, and to make them our property forever. From that meeting the regeneration of our Society may thus be fairly dated. Cambridge strawberries have ever since had a peculiar flavor for us, – not Hovey’s Seedling, though that too was a Cambridge product, but what I might almost call the Livermore Seedling or the Dowse Graft, which were the immediate fruits of our social meeting at Mr. Livermore’s.

Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, Vol. 3, [Vol. 23 of continuous numbering] (1886 – 1887), pg. 53-54.

Inspired by the description above, and modeled on the spirited event of 1856, the MHS Library held its first Strawberry Festival in 2007.  The Strawberry Festival is now an annual tradition that the MHS staff and friends look forward to attending each year. The Library Reader Services staff bring in imaginative and delicious dishes and drinks with the strawberry as the star ingredient. Here are a few photos from our 2019 Strawberry Festival:

2019 Strawberry Festival
MHS President Catherine Allgor and members of the Reader Services Staff at the 2019 Strawberry Fesitval
Food at the 2019 Strawberry Festival
2019 Strawberry Festival
2019 Strawberry Festival
MHS staff enjoying the 2019 Strawberry Festival

We wish you all a lovely summer and look forward to seeing you in our Reading Room, to learn more about the Hasty Pudding Club, Theatre Broadsides, and strawberry festivals!

“Let the Whole Government Go to Eternal Smash”: The Civil War Letters of Dwight Emerson Armstrong, Part III

By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

This is the third post in a series. Read Part I and Part II.

Letter from Dwight Armstrong to his sister Mary
Detail of letter from Dwight Emerson Armstrong to Mary (Armstrong) Needham, 21 Dec. 1861

When we left Private Dwight Emerson Armstrong in the fall of 1861, he and his regiment, the 10th Massachusetts Infantry, were stationed at Camp Brightwood (later Fort Stevens) in Washington, D.C. Dwight had seen no action yet, but was anxious to join the fight. Rumors abounded, both in camp and up North: the war would be over in a month or last another year; D.C. was in danger of imminent attack or perfectly safe; the regiment would be sent into battle at any moment or assigned to guard the nation’s capital; the troops were winning great victories or merely stumbling through inconsequential skirmishes.

Camp Brightwood was comfortable, and the soldiers had grown accustomed to the sound of nearby gunfire and cannon blasts, but the uncertainty irritated Dwight. His letters to his sister Mary (Armstrong) Needham in October 1861 were his bitterest yet, full of angry underlining for emphasis.

They have got old Armstrong this time but if Uncle Sam ever gets into another row with his rebellious children I know of one who wont help him chastise them, even if the old gent got whipped himself individually. Here they are keeping this great army here in idleness waiting for what; if anybody knows I wish they would tell. I believe that the officers are afraid to attack the rebels; it look[s] like it certainly and if they are not, why dont they do it.

In fact, the delay was making him cynical about the whole idea of reunification, and he told Mary that the Union should just fight or go home: “Now if the South cant be beaten why not give up at once and let the whole government go to eternal smash and have it done with.”

He’d started writing more broadly about the war and politics, criticizing the U.S. army for, among other things, their “foolish” attempt to starve the South “into submission.” There was also the undeniable fact that the Confederacy had chalked up a number of victories on land and sea, which called into question the reassurances of Northern generals. Dwight even began to doubt that God was on the side of the Union!

On 5 December 1861, Dwight reached the ripe old age of 22. Five days later, he wrote to Mary in a more introspective vein.

Many things have happened in the 22 years I have seen that we little thought of and how many, many things will happen during the next 22 years that we little think of now. It is true as you say we are all weaving the web of life and nations as well as individuals must play the part designed for them in the beginning and though we poor wretches often think that the machinery don’t work right yet doubtless in the end we shall all see that the jolts and wreckings were a part of the great plan and without which the web could not have been perfect.

Up to this time, he’d mentioned slavery only once or twice, but on 12 January 1862, he discussed the subject at length. He started by describing the “contrabands” at Camp Brightwood, enslaved people who’d escaped to Union lines.

We have got quite a lot of “contrabands” in our camp and they are very useful. Money would not hire one of them to set his foot out side of the camp for fear his master would get him. The slave as a class are much more intelligent than the white folks; after all that has been said about their not being able to get their own living and the like. P.M. General Blair has got some of the nicest slaves I ever saw. I wish I was half as smart as some of them.

(Montgomery Blair was Abraham Lincoln’s postmaster general from 1861 to 1864. Blair lived nearby and, according to Alfred S. Roe’s history of the 10th Regiment, had visited the camp the previous October.)

Dwight went on to compare the enslaved people and free black people he’d seen in D.C. The freemen were “as much poorer than the poorest people at the North as you can think” and usually had to beg for subsistence. Most slaves, he said, were not only more intelligent, but better fed and clothed, so they felt superior to and mocked “their free brethren” when they met in the street. Knowing this, “the free shun[ned] the slaves as they would a pestilence.”

The collection unfortunately doesn’t include Mary’s reply, but we can fill in the blanks from Dwight’s next letter. On 21 January, he clarified:

You want to know why the slaves want to be free if they were much better off then [sic] their colored brethren. It is true that all the slaves I have seen are much better off in every respect than the free negroes. But there is no such thing as a man’s being contented in slavery so long as there is a single spark of humanity in him. Most of the slaves I have seen, seem to be pretty well contented, but after all they aren’t, and never can be, so long as they have a master.

The 10th Massachusetts Infantry left Camp Brightwood on 10 March 1862 after a seven-month stay. For more “jolts and wreckings,” come back for Part IV of Dwight’s story here at the Beehive.

This Week @MHS

Here is a look at the programs we have planned for the first week of June:

On Monday, 3 June, at 12:00 PM: Tour of Fenway ParkJoin Gordon Edes for a private tour of Fenway Park with opportunities to take photos on the field and see team artifacts. This event is sold out.

On Wednesday, 5 June at 12:00 PM: “Things are not invariably so here”: Sheriffs, Capitalism, & the Formation of Legal Authority in 19th-century America with Chad Holmes, West Virginia University. This project focuses on the sheriff as an upper class representative whose authority and responsibility were altered by the democratic and capitalistic transformations of nineteenth-century America. The sheriff was not the gun-slinging officer of the American Wild West. The sheriff’s image—once grounded in pomp and regal status—evolved into one of market regulator and his own individual success. Increased responsibility for collecting debts and conducting sheriff sales redefined how Americans understood law and order in commercial terms. This is part of our brown-bag lunch programBrown-bags are free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, 5 June at 6:00 PM: Making History Gala featuring David McCullough in conversation with NPR’s Meghna Chakrabarti. David McCullough has been acclaimed as a “master of the art of narrative history.” He is twice winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. David’s new book,The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, will be released in May 2019.  The event will take place at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, 138 St. James Avenue, Boston. General admission tickets are $500 per person. Purchase tickets here.

On Saturday, 8 June at 10:00 AMThe 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 abentley@masshist.org.

“Can She Do It?”: Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Featuring dynamic imagery from the collection of the MHS, the exhibition illustrates the passion on each side of the suffrage question. For over a century, Americans debated whether women should vote. The materials on display demonstrate the arguments made by suffragists and their opponents. While women at the polls may seem unremarkable today, these contentious campaigns formed the foundations for modern debates about gender and politics.

Please note that the library will close at 3:00 PM on Friday, 7 June. Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

Creative & Original Programming at the MHS

By Gavin Kleespies, Director of Programs, Exhibitions and Community Partnerships

The MHS offers a variety of creative and original programs throughout the year. Here is a look back at some of the original programs we hosted in the winter and spring as well as an overview of a few programs that are coming up this summer. Stay tuned for more information about a series we are planning for fall 2019 that explores the history of subsidized housing in Boston.

This winter, we partnered with the Old South Meeting House to host a three part series on the history of the Great Molasses Flood. These discussions commemorated the 100th anniversary of the disaster and addressed the critical social themes raised and the aftermath. Many who know of the Flood perceive the events as almost tragi-comedy or as an anomalous catastrophe outside the bounds of historical contextualization. In fact, the Flood, and the trials that followed, bring up many questions as to how we frame or mythologize historical events, the responsibilities of businesses and government oversight, and the rights and status of immigrant communities. Our panelists included local scholars and activists along with  Stephen Puleo, the author of the seminal book on the Molasses Flood titled, Dark Tide as well as many other books on Boston area history. Hundreds of people attended these talks where they had the chance to engage in thoughtful dialogue, share their stories or insights, and pose questions to the panelists.

Great Molasses Flood program
The Great Molasses Flood Revisited

In February, we hosted a program with Prof. Julian E. Zelizer, Princeton University; Michael Tomasky, editor of Democracy; and radio personality Robin Young, WBUR and NPR, to discuss how political polarization has led our country to a state of almost complete dysfunction. The conversation was steered by Robin Young giving Zelizer and Tomasky the chance to reflect on past political strife as well as modern day gerrymandering and conflicts within parties which force both sides towards the extremes. The conversation that ensued was a great example of using history to explain current events.

In May, the panel discussion Boston Women Designers: Then and Now offered a creative and original look at how gender norms have been changing in the field of design in Boston. MHS President Catherine Allgor began the program with a historical note about women designers in Boston. The discussion that followed explored how the field has changed and what walls still need to come down. We partnered with the Fenway Alliance and the Boston Preservation Alliance to produce the show, which helped us reach new audiences and sparked a lively set of questions at the end.

Panelists - Boston Women Designers
Boston Women Designers, 14 May 2019

On Saturday, 1 June, the official historian of the Boston Red Sox, Gordon Edes, will join panelists Leigh Montville, Jane Leavy, and John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, in a discussion to mark 100 years since the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. For many, this infamous sale was the catalyst of a nearly century long losing streak and still stokes a rivalry between the New York and Boston teams. At the time, Red Sox owner, Henry Frazee, justified the move stating: “With this money the Boston club can now go into the market and buy other players and have a stronger and better team in all respects than we would have if Ruth had remained with us.”[1] In fact, it was widely speculated that the princely sum paid for Ruth ultimately financed Frazee’s ventures as a Broadway producer and was never used to replenish Red Sox talent. Regardless, the deal left Boston fans to look on with irony, superstition, or just plain frustration as the Red Sox failed to bring a World Series pennant home to Boston for another 86 years.

The Sale of the Century panel is just one of the exciting original public programs offered by the MHS this summer. In July, we will host a series of talks on the early China trade in Massachusetts, drawing on the expertise of local scholars and curators who will examine the ways in which the China trade helped shape the global profile of the Bay State. This series of programs is especially important to the MHS community because of its strong ties to our collection. In 1984, the China Trade Museum of Milton converted to the Forbes House Museum. In the process, it gave the bulk of its manuscript collection to the MHS. Art and objects headed to the Peabody Essex Museum. For the first panel talk in the series, Layla Bermeo, Assistant Curator of Paintings at the MFA; Karina Corrigan, Curator of Asian Export Art at PEM; and Peter Drummey, the Stephen T. Riley Librarian at the MHS, will take a closer look at the art inspired by the trading period along with intersections between these prominent collections.

Click on the links below for more information about these programs. And visit our online calendar for a look at everything we have planned in the coming months.

Sale of the Century: How the Red Sox Peddled Babe Ruth to the Yankees

The Legacy of the China Trade in Massachusetts: Art, Artifacts, & Manuscripts in Local Collections

The Legacy of the China Trade in Massachusetts: The Emergence of a Global Boston

The Legacy of the China Trade in Massachusetts: Families, Fortunes, & Foreign Luxuries

[1] O’Leary, James C. “Red Sox sell Babe Ruth for $100,000 cash.” Boston Globe. 6 January 1920: bostonglobe.com. Web. 29 May 2019

This Week @MHS

The MHS will be closed on Monday, 27 May and Friday, 31 May but we still have a number of programs planned for the week including a brown-bag lunch, an evening talk about Oliver Wendell Holmes, a tour, and a daytime program about the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Here’s a look at what is planned:

On Wednesday, 29 May, at 12:00 PM: The Right to Hail an Officer at Night: Contests of Authority in Occupied Boston with Nicole Breault, University of Connecticut. Who had authority in occupied Boston? The arrival of British regulars and the encounters that followed raised such questions for Boston’s night watch. Using official reports and complaints filed by the night watchmen in November of 1768, this talk explores the logistical and emotional dimensions of occupation at street level.This is part of our brown-bag lunch programBrown-bags are free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, 29 May, at 6:00 PM: Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Life in War, Law, & Ideas with Stephen Budiansky. Oliver Wendell Holmes twice escaped death as a young Union officer in the Civil War when musket balls missed his heart and spinal cord by a fraction of an inch at the Battles of Ball’s Bluff and Antietam. He lived ever after with unwavering moral courage, unremitting scorn for dogma, and an insatiable intellectual curiosity. Named to the Supreme Court by Theodore Roosevelt at age sixty-one, he served for nearly three decades, writing a series of famous, eloquent, and often dissenting opinions that would prove prophetic in securing freedom of speech, protecting the rights of criminal defendants, and ending the Court’s reactionary resistance to social and economic reforms. 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 or EBT cardholders).

On Saturday, 1 June at 10:00 AMThe 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 abentley@masshist.org.

On Saturday, 1 June at 3:00 PM: Sale of the Century: How the Red Sox Peddled Babe Ruth to the Yankees with Gordon Edes, Boston Red Sox historian; Jane Leavy; Leigh Montville; and John Thorn, official historian of Major League Baseball. At 24, Babe Ruth was already regarded as one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball, having helped deliver three World Series titles to the Red Sox in just four seasons. In 1919, he was coming off a season in which he successfully transitioned to outfielder and shattered the Major League record for home runs in a season. Then, on December 26, 1919, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee agreed to sell Ruth to the Yankees for an astronomical sum. In pinstripes, Ruth became the most famous player in baseball history setting a course in which the Yankees won 40 American League pennants and 27 World Series titles. The Red Sox, however, went 86 years without winning a World Series. This drought became known as “The Curse of the Bambino.” Join us as our panel discusses the deal that altered the face of baseball history. A display of Ruth related artifacts will be part of the reception. A pre-talk reception and chance to view the display will begin at 2:00; the speaking program begins at 3:00. There is a $25 per person fee ($10 for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders).

“Can She Do It?”: Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Featuring dynamic imagery from the collection of the MHS, the exhibition illustrates the passion on each side of the suffrage question. For over a century, Americans debated whether women should vote. The materials on display demonstrate the arguments made by suffragists and their opponents. While women at the polls may seem unremarkable today, these contentious campaigns formed the foundations for modern debates about gender and politics.

Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

Announcing the 2019-2020 MHS Research Fellows

by Katy Morris, Research Coordinator & Book Review Editor

As an institution that has collected since 1791, the MHS offers spectacular opportunities to conduct cutting-edge research on the nation’s past. Our collections consist of manuscripts, portraits and artifacts, photographic images, newspapers, maps, and the personal papers of three presidents. These carefully preserved items lay nestled in their designated folders, boxes, and storage rooms awaiting the curious minds and discerning eyes of scholars who will ask questions that lead to new ways of telling the American story.

Every year, the Research Department at the MHS administers roughly a quarter million dollars in research support to help scholars from all career stages access our remarkable collections. These fellowships range from short-term funding (4-8 weeks) to long-term residency (4 to 12 months). Hundreds of graduate students, historians, literary scholars, art historians, and independent researchers submit their applications for consideration. Our selection committees review these diverse proposals and carefully select the very best for funding. We look for projects that make good use out of our collections, that thoughtfully present their ideas, and that make significant contributions to their particular field of study.

After months of review, we are proud to announce the fellowship winners for the 2019-2020 year. This cohort of fellows explores a wide variety of topics, such as the histories of motherhood, race and citizenship, empire and colonialism, maritime cultures, twentieth-century politics, popular literature, education, domesticity, abolition, Jewish identity, animals and the environment, medicine, and sexuality. Over the next year, these research fellows will travel to the archive to comb through the documents and artifacts that shed light on the past. They will stumble upon new discoveries, labor patiently over seemingly impenetrable records, and spend long hours interpreting the past.

They will also join the humming research community at the MHS. In additional to administering fellowship awards, the Research Department offers a range of programming that bring together academics and the public to workshop research projects, talk shop, and enjoy history together. At brown bag lunch talks and seminar sessions, research fellows will have the opportunity to share their work and connect with other scholars. Keep an eye on our calendar and come join the conversation.

Congratulations to our incoming fellows – we can’t wait to learn more about your work!

MHS Research Fellows, 2019-2020

MHS-NEH Long-Term Fellows

Lauren Duval
American University
The Home/Front: Gender, Domestic Space, & Military Occupation in the American Revolution

Sean Griffin
Lehman College
Labor, Land, and Freedom: Antebellum Labor Reform & the Rise of Antislavery Politics

Peter Wirzbicki
Princeton University
The Abolitionist Nation: An Intellectual History of Nation, Democracy, & Race During Reconstruction, 1863-1877

Kelly O’Donnell
Thomas Jefferson University
Hippocratic Vows: How the Doctor’s Wife Transformed American Medicine

Suzanne & Caleb Loring Fellowship on the Civil War, Its Origins, and Consequences

Kevin Hooper
University of Oklahoma
Seizing Citizenship: African Americans, Native Americans, & the Pursuit of Citizenship in the Antebellum United States

MHS Short-Term Fellows 2019-2020

African American Studies Fellowship
Aston Gonzalez
Salisbury University
Brilliant Contests: Black Genius during the Long Nineteenth Century

Andrew Oliver Research Fellowship
Chip Badley
University of California, Santa Barbara
The Practiced Eye: Painting & Queer Personhood in Nineteenth-Century America

Benjamin F. Stevens Fellowship
David J. Gerleman
George Mason University
History on the Hoof: New England’s Horse and Cattle Industry During the American Civil War

Conrad & Elizabeth H. Wright Fellowships
Kristen Beales
The College of William & Mary
Thy Will Be Done: Merchants and Religion in Early America, 1720-1815”

Malcolm & Mildred Freiberg Fellowship
Lance Boos
Stony Brook University
Print & Performance: The Development of a British Atlantic Musical Marketplace in the Eighteenth Century

Marc Friedlaender Fellowship
Miriam Liebman
City University of New York
A Tale of Two Cities: American Women in Paris and London, 1780-1800

Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Fellowship
Catherine Treesh
Yale University
Creating a Continental Community: Committees of Correspondence & the American Revolution

Military Historical Society of Massachusetts Fellowship
Thomas Rider
University of Wisconsin – Madison
War by Detachment: the Continental Army & Petite Guerre

Ruth R. Miller Fellowships
Abena Boakyewa-Ansah
Vanderbilt University
The Currency of Freedom: Black Women & the Making of Freedom During the American Civil War

Erica Schumann
Binghamton University
A Republic of Numbers: Enumeration and Ideology in the Early American Household

B. H. Dowse Fellowships
Nicholas Garcia
University of California, Davis
The New England Company & the Rise of English Colonialism

James Farwig
Ohio State University
‘Any Indyan which they shall attain to’: Slavery & Early Intercultural Contact in North America and the Caribbean

Andrew W. Mellon Fellowships
Yuri Amano
Johns Hopkins University
Bodies in Pain: The Medical Culture of Sympathy in the United States (1830-1865)

Elizabeth Herbin-Triant
University of Massachusetts Lowell
The Lords of the Lash & Loom: Abolitionists, Anti-Abolitionists, & the Business of Manufacturing Slave-Grown Cotton

Samantha Payne
Harvard University
The Last Atlantic Revolution: Race & Reconstruction in Cuba, Brazil, & the United States, 1865-1912

Patrick Browne
Boston University
The Ordeal of Homecoming: Northern Civilians & the Social Response to the Returning Union Veteran

Matthew Gallman
University of Florida
Loyal Dissenters, Angry Copperheads, & Violent Resisters: The Northern Democratic Party & the American Civil War

Michael D’Alessandro
Duke University
Staged Readings: Contesting Class in Popular American Literature & Theatre, 1830-1875

Todd Whelan
Graduate Theological Union
Calling the Unconverted: Jews, Indians, & Missionary Publishing in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1649-1830

Madeline Zehnder
University of Virginia
Pocket-Sized Nation: Cultures of Portability in America, 1790-1840

Lila Teeters
University of New Hampshire
Native Citizens: The Fight Over Native American Citizenship in the United States, 1866-1924

Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni Fellowship
Hannah Smith
University of Minnesota
The ‘Midwifery Debates’ in Britain & Early America

Yoav Hamdani
Columbia University
Uncle Sam’s Slaves: Slavery in the United States Regular Army, 1797-1865

New England Regional Fellowship Consortium

Asaf Almog
University of Virginia
Looking Backward in a New Republic: Conservative New Englanders & American Nationalism, 1793-1854

Kathryn Angelica
University of Connecticut
Career Activists: Women’s Organization & Social Reform in New England, 1830-1890

Catherine Baker
Independent scholar
The Last & Living Words of Mark: Following the Clues to the Enslaved Man’s Life, Afterlife, & to His Community in Boston, Charlestown, & South Shore Massachusetts

Lilian Barger
Independent scholar
A Cultural History of Feminist Thought & the Gender Revolution, 1750-2000

Lucian Bessmer
Harvard University
What Should We Teach Our Teachers? The Changing Educational Priorities in New England, 1950-1990

Nicole Breault
University of Connecticut
The Night Watch of Early Boston

Lily Brewer
University of Pittsburgh
Contemporary Landscape: Photography & the Post-9/11 United States Frontier

Robert S. Bridges
University of Georgia
‘Dragged up hither from the sea’: The New Bedford Whaling Industry & Linkages to Capitalist Development

Emily Clark
Johns Hopkins University
Renouncing Motherhood: Women’s Sexualities & Labors in Eighteenth-Century New England

Christopher Costello
University of California San Diego
A Vast Consolidation: Everyday Agents of Empire, the United States Navy, & the Processes of Pacific Expansion, 1784-1861

Mary Eyring
Brigham Young University
Saltwater: Globalizing Early American Grief

Andrew Fogel
Purdue University
Comics & the Politics of Jewish Identity in America, 1938-1955

Elizabeth Groeneveld
Old Dominion University
Embodying Lesbianism: How 1980s Lesbian-Made Pornography Reimagined Sex & Power

Cory Haala
Marquette University
The Progressive Center: Midwestern Liberalism in the Age of Reagan, 1978-1992

Amber Hodge
University of Mississippi
The Meat of the Gothic: Animality & Social Justice in United States Fiction & Film of the Twenty-First Century

Chad Holmes
West Virginia University
Sheriffs, Capitalism, & Civil Society in Early Republic New England

Kevin Hooper
University of Oklahoma
Seizing Citizenship: African Americans, Native Americans, & the Pursuit of Citizenship in the Antebellum United States

Jared Lucky
Yale University
Cattle, Empire, & ‘Cowboys’ in Colonial New England

Matthew Marsh
University of North Dakota
Byzantium in the Long Late Antiquity

John Morton
Boston College
To Settle the Frontier on Sober Principles: Power, Faith, & Nationality in the New England-Maritime Borderlands

Kevin Murphy
State University of New York at Stony Brook
Coercion & Sworn Bond in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic

Minami Nishioka
University of Tennessee Knoxville
Civilizing Okinawa: Intimacies Between the American & Japanese Empires, 1846-1919

Leslie-William Robinson
Brown University
Morale & the Management of Men: The Control, Resistance, & Rebellion of Soldier-Workers in Early Twentieth-Century America

Peter Wirzbicki
Princeton University
The Abolitionist Nation: An Intellectual History of Nation, Democracy, & Race During Reconstruction, 1863-1877

Dylan Yeats
New York University
Shaping Northern Political Culture: Evangelical Networks & the Politics of State Building, 1790-1840

Abigail Adams’s “favorite Scotch song”

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

Have you ever wondered what Abigail Adams’s favorite song was? Or maybe you wondered if John and Abigail had a song that was their song. A series of letters written between 1778 and 1787 seems to provide the answer.

Abigail Adams had an established affinity for “Scotch” songs. She was moved by the “Native Simplicity” of the lyrics and thought they had “all the power of a well wrought Tradidy.” While John was overseas serving as a commissioner at Paris, Abigail and her two youngest sons, Charles and Thomas, were fending for themselves in one of the severest winters Braintree had ever known. Abigail’s daughter, Nabby, was staying in Plymouth with friends, and her eldest son, John Quincy, was in France with his father.

“How lonely are my days? How solitary are my Nights?” Abigail wrote to her husband on 27 December 1778. “Secluded from all Society but my two Little Boys, and my domesticks, by the Mountains of snow which surround me . . . I am solitary indeed.” Someone Abigail identified only as a young lady found her in the midst of “a Melancholy hour” and decided to sing to her to cheer her up. That was when Abigail first heard the song “There’s Nae Luck about the House”—a song she would fondly cite again and again over the years.

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams
Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 27 December 1778

The traditional song, attributed to Jean Adam, tells the story of a wife excitedly greeting her seafaring husband, or “gudeman,” after he’s been “awa’.” Abigail, deeply moved by the sentiments of the song, begged for the music. Her son Charles, then eight years old, learned the song so that he could sing it and console Abigail whenever she needed.

Abigail enclosed the music in one of her letters to John, telling him “It has Beauties in it to me, which an indifferent person would not feel.” She drew out several couplets that she found particularly relatable: “His very foot has Musick in’t, As he comes up the stairs” as well as “And shall I see his face again? And shall I hear him speak?”

On 13 February 1779, when John received the music in France, he was similarly affected. “Your scotch song . . . is a charming one. oh my leaping Heart.”

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams
Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 13 February 1779

Abigail’s affection for the song was shared with her dearest friends. On 15 March 1779, Mercy Otis Warren wrote to her, “You May feelingly join with me and the Bonny Scotch Lass, and Warble the Mournful Chorus from Morn to Eve. Theres Little pleasure in the Rooms When my Good Mans awaw.”

In 1785, when Abigail tried to illustrate to her teenaged niece Lucy the importance of expressing genuine sentiments simply, she referenced the song again. “It is that native simplicity too, which gives to the Scotch songs a merit superior to all others. My favorite Scotch song, ‘There’s na luck about the house,’ will naturally occur to your mind.”

A year later, while living in London, Abigail learned that her family back home in Massachusetts “were all turning musicians.” Her niece was becoming adept at the harpsicord, her nephew had taken up violin, and John Quincy and Charles were learning the flute. “Our young Folks improve fast in their musick,” her sister reported in May 1786. “Two German Flutes, a violin and a harpsicord and two voices form a considerable concert.”

Though she was now reunited with her husband and daughter, Abigail’s family was still separated by the Atlantic Ocean. “Here you would have felt a pleasure which you never experienc’d in a drawing Room at St James,” her sister wrote on 14 July 1786. “To vary our Scene musick is often call’d for . . . and then my sister how do I Wish for you. No one ever injoyd the pleasures of young People more than you use’d too.”

Abigail couldn’t join their late night concerts by the fire, but she came up with a way to make her presence felt. In the winter of 1787, she received a letter from home: “The musical society at Braintree return their thanks for those Scotch Peices of Musick whih you so kindly Sent them.”

The 2019 Season of National History Day in Massachusetts

By Elyssa Tardif, Director of Education

The 2019 season of National History Day in Massachusetts is nearing its end, and we are so proud of the 5,900 students who participated across the state as well as their incredible teachers! This year’s theme was “Triumph and Tragedy,” which inspired students to tackle some of the more complex historical moments and figures in history. Projects ranged in topic and include an exhibit on the Harlem Hellfighters; a website on Comfort Women and the Creation of the Korean Council; a performance on the friendship between Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren; and a documentary on the Woburn Cancer Cluster.

This year, 791 students competed in the regional competitions in March, and 333 students competed at the state competition in April. There are 70 students who will compete at the national competition which will take place in College Park, Maryland, in June.

Students presenting at National History Day in Massachusetts
National History Day in Massachusetts student participants

We are very pleased to report that 64 schools participated in the NHD program this year. This is a 20% increase from last year! With generous funding from the Mass Cultural Council and Mass Humanities, we have been able to expand the program by offering introductory workshops to new schools and will continue this work next year to reach even more students and teachers.

We celebrated the National History Day program at the Massachusetts State House on 22 April, in commemoration of the beginning of public education in America that took place in 1635 with the founding of the Boston Latin School. The State House event was sponsored by Rep. Chynah Tyler, and we were joined by our partners at Mass Cultural Council as well as Sen. Jason Lewis, Rep. Alice Peisch, Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, and Rep. Peter Capano.

Photo of 22 April 2019 event at the State House
National History Day celebration at the Massachusetts State House, 22 April 2019

We welcome members of the public to learn more about the NHD program.  There is no better way than to serve as a judge at one of our competitions! Please contact us at education@masshist.org for more information.