“Standing Up, Stepping Forward, and Speaking Out” on 9 September

By Sarah Bertulli, Public Programs Coordinator

To kick off our fall season of virtual programming and what is sure to be a contentious and all-consuming election season, the MHS is presenting  Standing Up, Stepping Forward, and Speaking Out: The Political Courage to take a Principled Stand with John W. Dean III and William F. Weld on 9 September at 5:30 PM. This conversation, moderated by historian Ted Widmer, will explore the formative career experiences of Dean and Weld that inspired in each an enduring dedication to voice dissent against their own party when it mattered most, even when it hurt them politically, or derailed their career.

John Dean served on Richard Nixon’s White House Counsel from 1970-1973. In his role as legal advisor to President Nixon, Dean was clearly implicated in the cover-up of the Watergate scandal; however his choice to cooperate in the investigation ultimately led to the resignation of the president and the conviction of top aides to the president, including Dean himself. On June 25, 1973, Dean delivered 245 pages of prepared testimony against president Richard Nixon. A reported 80 million Americans tuned in to watch the five days of Mr. Dean’s congressional testimony, which would come to be widely understood as an astonishing single-handed take-down of a sitting president. Many speculate that without Dean’s testimony against Nixon, and the subsequent discovery of the president’s recorded conversations that corroborated Dean’s story, the Watergate crisis would never have risen to the level of impeachment.

William Weld is perhaps mostly widely known as the 68th governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, vice presidential candidate as a member of the Liberatarian Party in 2016, and Republcian presidential candidate running against incumbent Donald Trump. Weld began his career as legal counsel to the United States House Committee on the Judiciary in the impeachment process against Richard Nixon in 1974. Unlike John Dean, Weld never had a starring role in the Senate hearings, but he did contribute to the pivotal report “Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment,” which has been amended and used during the impeachment hearings of William J. Clinton and Donald J.Trump. As U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts under President Ronald Reagan, Weld was noted for his prosecution of white collar and financial crimes. He was later promoted to be head of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department in Washington, a post he held until he resigned in protest over the improper conduct by United States Attorney General Edwin Meese in 1988.

Joining Dean and Weld, is historian Ted Widmer, a MHS Trustee, former advisor and speechwriter for both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and author of the recent book, Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington. Widmer will help facilitate what should be a lively conversation and offer his reflections on what it meant to be a Bostonian during the Watergate scandal, when some of the major players hailed from the city.

Join us on Wednesday, 9 September, at 5:30 PM for Standing Up, Stepping Forward, and Speaking Out: The Political Courage to take a Principled Stand. Please note, this is an online event held on the video conference platform, Zoom. Registrants will receive an email with links to join the program. Register today!

2020 John Winthrop Student Fellow Ishan Narra: on Researching the French and Indian War

By Kate Melchior, MHS Assistant Director of Education, and Ishan Narra, John Winthrop Student Fellow

Every year, the MHS selects one or more high school students for our John Winthrop Student Fellowship. This award encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the MHS in a research project of their choosing. Students perform historical research and create a project (usually an assignment for class) using materials at the MHS, both in our archives or digitized online. This project can be something assigned in a class, a National History Day project, or something of the student’s invention!  Both student and teacher each receive $350 to support their research. Applications for the 2021 student fellowships are due on 18 February 2021.  Learn more and apply!

This year, John Winthrop Student Fellow Ishan Narra and his teacher Ed Rafferty of Concord Academy are researching Mashpee resistance and the web of colonizer and indigenous relationships in the conflict known as the French and Indian War.

John Winthrop Student Fellow Ishan Narra, Concord Academy

This summer, I intend to write a research paper on Indigenous and European experiences during the French Indian War. I hope to utilize a variety of primary sources from the Massachusetts Historical Society’s archives in order to analyze the complex network of relationships between Indian nations in the Northeast, French colonists, and English settlers. Due to COVID-19, my research paper will not be completed until later this summer. However, before it became clear as to how I would access the MHS archives in the midst of the pandemic, I continued to conduct research for my paper by reading secondary sources regarding the French and Indian War. Using books such as The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America by Colin Calloway and The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War by Fred Anderson, and articles such as “We, as a tribe, will rule ourselves”: Mashpee’s Struggle for Autonomy, 1746-1840 by Daniel Mandel, I was able to craft an introductory piece of prose that focused on Native American historiography. The unique manner in which the Mashpee resisted British imposition on their culture resonated with me, and in the historiography section of my paper, I emphasize how the Mashpee nation engaged in a legal rebellion rather than a physical one, and employed their knowledge of legal documents to hold the settlers accountable for their wrongdoings. The objective of this section is to counter the common narrative that depicts war and Indian resistance as a unidimensional conflict. Specifically, I highlight the Mashpee Revolt to demonstrate how resistance occurred in many different forms and resulted from protracted animosity between communities. Furthermore, this introductory portion provides the backdrop to the main section of my research paper as it challenges the reader to confront the convoluted tensions between Indian nations and European settlers that had already been established prior to the war, and eventually erupted into a massive conflict that affected every population in North America.

In the primary section of the paper, I intend to elaborate this thesis by bringing to light not only the experiences of individuals during the French and Indian War, but also the systems that were in place that caused Indian communities to make the difficult decision of engaging in the war. One primary source that will provide me with useful evidence is Jeduthan Baldwin’s journal. Because the military official’s account spans over thirty years and begins just one year after the start of the French and Indian War, it details his experience when Indian soldiers first enlisted to help the British and how Indians were treated by newly allied officials. Furthermore, these documents record Baldwin’s experiences while working for the English military as both a military engineer and a commander. As such, the documents will allow me to contrast the ways in which lower ranked soldiers engaged with Indian allies and how highly esteemed officials valued Indian soldiers’ and leaders’ knowledge. Another source from the Society’s collection that would complement Baldwin’s account is Timothy Nichols’ diary. This diary will provide me with another perspective of a British soldier during the French and Indian War that I could compare with Baldwin’s viewpoints. Additionally, as this diary accounts for a more specific time period (one summer), and details a particular battle at Quebec, I can compare Nichols’ descriptions of Indian soldiers when they were the British soldier’s allies and descriptions of Indian soldiers when they were the soldier’s enemies to determine which biases about Indians had been instilled in English soldiers.

The John Winthrop Fellowship has provided me with an opportunity to deepen my understanding of a topic that has intrigued me and to develop my ability to conduct in-depth research. Having the vast collection of the MHS at my disposal will allow me to compare different perspectives and to learn more about Indigenous history and Indigenous people’s interactions with Europeans. Native American history is a subject that is often overlooked and suppressed by White perspectives. I believe that it is critical to understand multiple historical narratives of Indigenous people in order to truly understand the impact of historical events, social factors, and beliefs on present-day U.S. society. I have been fascinated by Native American history since the first course that I took on this topic during my Freshman year. This Fellowship has allowed me to more thoroughly explore this subject and understand how important it is for present and future generations to learn about this history.

Announcing the 2020-2021 MHS Research Fellows

by Katy Morris, Research Coordinator & Book Review Editor

We are pleased to announce the fellowship winners for the 2020-2021 academic cycle. 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).

This incoming cohort of fellows explores an exciting variety of topics. They range from environmental histories of borderlands, placing making, urban planning, and the circulation of goods and animals, to cultural histories of queer art and literature, sacred music, and landscape paintings. Others delve into histories of abolitionism and suffrage, histories of imperialist expansions, migrations, and globalization. Still others are exploring the histories of books, imprints, and manuscripts.

While we cannot welcome these fellows to our doors just yet, our library staff is hard at work helping our fellows access our collections remotely. We are also delighted to host virtual Brown-bag Lunch Programs that showcase their work.

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

MHS Research Fellows, 2020-2021

MHS-NEH Long-Term Fellows

  • Kabria Baumgartner, assistant professor, University of New Hampshire, “The Life and Times of Robert Morris: America’s First Human Rights Lawyer”
  • Frank Cirillo, post-doc, University of Virginia, “The Abolitionist Civil War: Immediatists and the Fate of the Union”
  • Marc-William Palen, senior lecturer, University of Exeter, “Pax Economics: The Economic War for Peace, 1846-1946”
  • Amy Watson, post-doc, University of Southern California, “Patriots Before Revolution: The Invention of Party Politics in the Atlantic”

 

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

  • Andrew Donnelly, Ph.D. candidate, Harvard University, “Reconstructing Sexuality: The Politics of Sex and Manhood in the Civil War Era”

 

New England Regional Fellowship Consortium

  • Jasmyn Barringer, Ph.D. Candidate, Boston University, “Hunting Haitian Devils: Trans-historical Representation of Caribbean Peoples as Monstrosities”
  • Kabria Baumgartner, assistant professor, University of New Hampshire, “The Life and Times of Robert Morris: America’s First Human Rights Lawyer”
  • Stephen Berry, associate professor, Simmons University, “Caught Between Sailors and Saints: Pacific Peoples in the Age of American Maritime Expansion”
  • Mark Bland, independent scholar, “The World of Simon Waterson, Stationer: Family, Finance and the Control of the Book-Trade in Early Modern England”
  • Caylin Carbonell, Ph.D. candidate, William & Mary, “Fraught Labor, Fragile Authority: Households in Motion in Early New England”
  • Charlotte Carrington-Farmer, associate professor, Roger Williams University, “Equine Labour: Horses and the Making of New England”
  • Nym Cooke, independent scholar, “Inventory of American Sacred Music Imprints and Manuscripts Through 1820”
  • Rachel Corbman, visiting assistant professor, Wake Forest University, “Conferencing on the Edge: A Queer History of Feminist Field Formation”
  • Jackson Davidow, lecturer, Rhode Island School of Design, “Gay Art and Politics in 1970s Boston”
  • Camden Elliott, Ph.D. student, Harvard University, “Environmental Histories of the French and Indian Wars, 1688-1764”
  • Hongdeng Gao, Ph.D. candidate, Columbia Univeristy, “Migration, Medicine and Power: How Chinese New Yorkers Gained Better Access to Health Care, 1949-1999”
  • Eric Huntley, Lecturer, MIT, “Failing to Make Urban New England: A Spatial History of Planning Failure in Boston, Providence, and Portland”
  • Melissa Johnson, adjunct, Mt. Hood Community College, “Open Secrets: Women, Gossip, and Watchfulness in Seventeenth-Century New England”
  • Carla Kaplan, professor, Northeastern University, “‘Queen of the Muckrackers’: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford”
  • Cheryl Knott, professor, University of Arizona, “Environmental Projections: How the Limits to Growth Books Changed the Way We Think About the Earth’s Future”
  • Rebecca Marisseau, Ph.D. candidate, Brown University, “A Well-Oiled Machine: New Bedford Whale Fishery and the Production of the Early American State”
  • Don James McLaughlin, assistant professor, University of Tulsa, “New Edition of Sarah Orne Jewett’s 1885 Novel A Marsh Island”
  • Erik Nordbye, Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard University, “The Cost of Free Religion: Religious and Economic Liberties in New England after the Great Awakening”
  • Mary Overholt, M.A. student, Yale University “Space Tactics: Radical Feminist Health Centers & Clinical Imaginaries”
  • Jerrad Pacatte, Ph.D. candidate, Rutgers University, “‘For Town or Country’: African American Women, Labor, and the Pursuit of Freedom in New England, 1740-1860”
  • Allison Pappas, Ph.D. candidate, Brown University, “‘Light as a Recording Agent of the Past’: The Temporal Register in Astronomical Photography at the Harvard College Observatory”
  • Patrick Parr, independent scholar, Lakeland University of Japan, “Malcolm Before X”
  • Alyssa Peterson, Ph.D. student, University of Texas, Austin, “‘And the Vapours at that time belcht forth from the Earth into the Air’: How Earthquakes Caused Disease in the Long Eighteenth Century”
  • Erin Runions, professor, Pomona College, “Fallen Angels and Hell in Proslavery and Abolitionist Discourses, 1830-1865”
  • Henry Snow, Ph.D. Candidate, Rutgers University, “The Ends of the Ocean: Power and Change at the Atlantic Dockside, 1740-1840”
  • Astrid Tvetenstrand, Ph.D. candidate, Boston University, “Seasons as Verbs: Nineteenth Century Landscape Painting and the Creation of American Second Home Culture”
  • Sunny Xiang, assistant professor, Yale University, “Intimate War, Atomic Wear”
  • Mimi Yang, professor, Carthage College, “What is Women’s Suffrage Centennial to a “Browner” and “Flatter” America?”

 

MHS Short-Term Fellows 2019-2020

  • Danielle Alesi, Ph.D. candidate, University of Nebraska, Lincoln (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “Consuming Empire: Eating and Engaging with Animals in the Americas, 1492-1650”
  • Zachary Bennett, visiting assistant professor, Connecticut College (Mary B. Wright Environmental History Fellowship), “Contested Currents: Rivers and the Remaking of New England”
  • John Bidwell, curator, Morgan Library & Museum (Malcolm and Mildred Freiberg Fellowship), “The Declaration of Independence: Prints, Broadsides, and Facsimiles”
  • Thomas Brown, professor, University of South Carolina (Andrew Oliver Research Fellowship), “Monograph on the Shaw Memorial”
  • Stephen Carter, assistant professor, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (Marc Friedlaender Fellowship), “Adamsian Afterlives: Thinking American Pasts in a Post-American World”
  • Dwain Coleman, Ph.D. candidate, University of Iowa (Military Historical Society of Massachusetts Fellowship), “Black Civil War Veterans and the Fight for Community in the Midwest”
  • Christian Cuthbert, independent scholar, (Society of Colonial Wars Fellowship), “Preaching and Practice in Inter-colonial Warfare, 1744-48”
  • Arlene Diaz, associate professor, Indiana University (Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni Fellowship)
  • Nicholas DiPucchio, Ph.D. candidate, Saint Louis University (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “American Expansions: Imperial Frustrations and the Evolution of Manifest Destiny, 1775-1845”
  • Camden Elliott, Ph.D. student, Harvard University (Society of Colonial Wars Fellowship), “Environmental Histories of the French and Indian Wars, 1688-1764”
  • Ashley Garcia, Ph.D. student, University of Texas, Austin (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “An American Socialism: The Fourierist Movement and Nineteenth Century American Culture”
  • Holly Gruntner, Ph.D. candidate, College of William & Mary (Kenneth and Carol Hills Fellowship in Colonial History), “‘Some People of Skil and Curiosity’: Knowledge and Early American Kitchen Gardens, 1650-1830”
  • Joseph Hall, associate professor, Bates College (W.B.H. Dowse Fellowship), “Making Home: Wabanaki and English Claims to Place, 1600-1800”
  • Yiyun Huang, Ph.D. candidate University of Tennessee, Knoxville (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “The Chinese Origins of Medicinal Tea: Global Cultural Transfer in a Vast Early America”
  • Mallory Huard, Ph.D. candidate, Pennsylvania State University (Ruth R. & Alyson R. Miller Fellowships), “America’s Private Empire: Gender and Commercial Imperialism in Nineteenth Century Hawai’i”
  • Leslie Leonard, Ph.D candidate, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “The Burdens and Blessings of Responsibility: Responsibility, Duty, and Community in Nineteenth-Century America”
  • Mia Levenson, Ph.D. student, Ph.D. student, Tufts University (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “Nineteenth-Century Physicians and the Performance of Popular Anatomy”
  • Brian Maxson, associate professor, East Tennessee State University (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “The Strange Tale of a Latin Speech, Renaissance Venice, and Nineteenth-Century New England”
  • Cody Nager, Ph.D. candidate, City University of New York (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “From Different Quarters: Regulating Migration and Naturalization in the Early American Republic, 1783-1815”
  • Kristin Olbertson, associate professor, Alma College (W.B.H. Dowse Fellowship), “Credible Women: Gender & Testimony in Eighteenth-Century New England Courts”
  • Benjamin Remillard, Ph.D. student, University of New Hampshire (Benjamin F. Stevens Fellowship), “‘In Reduced Circumstances’ Yet Civically Engaged: The Activism of Southern New England’s Revolutionary War Veterans of Color”
  • Makiki Reuvers, Ph.D. candidate, University of Pennsylvania (C. Conrad & Elizabeth H. Wright Fellowship), “Bodies of Empire: The Political, Religious, and Corporeal Makings of Subjecthood in Seventeenth-Century New England”
  • Hannah Schmidt, Ph.D. student, University of Maine (Society of Colonial Wars Fellowship), “Identities Held Captive: Geography and Forced Migration in the Captivity Narratives of the Colonial Northeast”
  • Kaila Schwartz, Ph.D. candidate, College of William & Mary (Kenneth and Carol Hills Fellowship in Colonial History), “Naming New Englanders: Family, Legacy, and Identity, 1620-1850”
  • Alina Scott, Ph.D. student, University of Texas, Austin (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “A Reason to Petition and Pray: Religion, Citizenship, and Autonomy in Native Petitions, 1800-1850”
  • Darcy Stevens, Ph.D. student, University of Maine (Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Fellowship), “Conceptions of Neutrality During the American Revolution in the Northeast Borderlands”
  • Arleen Tuchman, professor, Vanderbilt University (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “History of the Family Disease of Addiction”
  • Evan Turiano, Ph.D. candidate, City University of New York (African American Studies Fellowship), “Running Toward Abolition: Fugitive Slaves, Legal Rights, and the Coming of the Civil War”
  • Jessica Vander Heide, Ph.D. candidate, Lehigh University (Ruth R. & Alyson R. Miller Fellowship), “Schooling Intimacy: Lessons in Love, Romance, and Sexuality at American Female Academies, 1780-1870”
  • Cassandra Jane Werking, Ph.D. candidate, University of Kentucky (Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni Fellowship), “Is My North Star Also Your North Star? How the Borderlands Between Canada and the United States Shaped the American Civil War”

Congratulations to the Student Winners of our first Virtual National History Day Contest in Massachusetts!

by Kate Melchior, Assistant Director of Education

2020 is an unprecedented year for National History Day in Massachusetts.  While COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down in countless ways, our community rushed in to help make sure that this experience would not be cancelled for our students.  In the midst of a pandemic, 686 students from across Massachusetts presented 406 projects to 207 tireless volunteer judges, who assessed their projects in 68 teams across two rounds of judging.  There are 61 students who will continue on to represent Massachusetts at the National History Day® virtual national contest, where they will compete with students from across the country and around the world.  A huge congratulations to all of our students, teachers, parents, judges, and volunteers for making this historic competition a success!

In the 2019-2020 season, over 6,000 students from 69 schools across the Commonwealth spent the school year working hard on documentaries, papers, exhibits, websites, and performances.  This year’s theme, “Breaking Barriers in History,” inspired students to tackle some of the more complex historical moments and figures in history. Projects this year cover a wide swath of historical eras and subjects including: the history of Sesame Street, ACT UP, Deaf education, the Seattle Open Housing Campaign, Bessie Coleman, Frida Kahlo, climate change, and much more.

After competing at their school levels, hundreds of students prepared to participate in the regional and state competitions.  However, COVID-19 required a last-minute pivot to an entirely virtual competition amidst shutdowns across the state.  Through heroic effort, students and teachers submitted virtual versions of their projects, and a crew of judges volunteered to assist with our first ever state-wide History Day contest in Massachusetts!  Everyone came ready with fantastic questions, insightful and kind commentary for our students, and a willingness to be flexible about our last-minute virtual system.

On Monday, 4 May, we announced the winners of our 2020 competition in a virtual awards ceremony.  In addition to the 61 students moving on to Nationals, 98 students were awarded special prizes to honor excellence in specific areas, such as Best Use of Primary Sources, Best Project in LGBTQ+ History, and Best Project in Sports History.  You can read more about our winners and their projects here.

Thank you again to all of the students, teachers, parents, schools, and judges who supported this unprecedented competition.  Thank you as well to all of our sponsors at the Mass Cultural Council, Mass Humanities, and the Richard Saltonstall Charitable Foundation.

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.

History Day Has Gone Virtual—and We Need Judges!

by Elyssa Tardif, Director of Education

True to our 2020 theme “Breaking Barriers,” National History Day in Massachusetts has transitioned for the first time ever to a virtual contest! Looking for something to do at home? Learn some amazing history and support our students from the comfort of home by judging at our new state-wide competition. We have over 840 students competing, so we are looking for 200+ judges who have a love of history. Learn more on our website, or sign up now on our Judge Registration Form!

Judging will take place between 17 and 23 April, on your own schedule. For more information, please e-mail education@masshist.org. No experience or technological expertise required; PDPs provided for teachers.

We look forward to celebrating history and our students’ hard work with you!

 

“Sic vos non vobis”

by Daniel Hinchen, Reference Librarian

Did you ever wonder where the name for this blog came from? The Beehive does seem an odd name for a platform that is spreading news of an institution like the MHS.  While the source of this name and associated imagery is well-known I invite you to take a look back at an older post called “Behind the Title: Why the Beehive?” to learn how we got here.

MHS Seal
Left: MHS seal as depicted on fireplace in Ellis Hall. Right: MHS seal as depicted on glass door to Ellis Hall.

Now you know all about Virgil and his hexameters and how someone else stole credit for his work. But it is a single line, “Sic vos non vobis malleficatis apes” (Thus do ye, bees, for others make honey) that has stuck with us. Like bees making honey, the staff of the MHS collects, preserves, and makes accessible the materials of our history as a commonwealth and as a nation not for ourselves, but for all those who wish to learn from them. And now more than ever, in this strange time of social isolation, the staff of the MHS is working to find new ways to carry on that mission so that others may continue to take lessons from our shared history.

Even though our beehive (1154 Boylston Street) is currently closed, the Library Reader Services staff is available to help you with the research you want to conduct. Granted, being away from our home means we are limited in the amount of honey we can produce, but we are ready to help how we can. With that in mind, here is a quick list of ways you can connect with us to ask your questions, and some easy ways to find content on our website.

As always, our online catalog, ABIGAIL, is open for searching for materials that might help your research. While much of it will remain inaccessible without being in the building, there are plenty of ways to find digital editions of some of our resources on our website:

All of this information and more is also available on two new web-pages we’ve created to illustrate how we are updating our Reference Services and Reproduction Services during this time when we do not have physical access to our collections.

So, if you have a burning question–or even a casual curiosity–relieve some of that isolation and reach out to our reference team by

  • E-mailing us at library@masshist.org
  • Leaving us a voicemail at 617-646-0532
  • Tweeting us @MHS1791_Ref

Revisiting the Boston Massacre, 250 Years Later

by Laura Williams, Visitor Services Coordinator

When thinking back on the American Revolution, we return to the state of Massachusetts, its capital city of Boston, and the numerous pivotal events that took place there which shaped American history. One such event which comprises this famed coup is the Boston Massacre of 1770. A present-day popular tourist stop along The Freedom Trail, the site of the Boston Massacre is preserved for all to see in a rough recreation outside The Old State House. This momentous confrontation between British soldiers and the citizens of Boston marked a turning point for the American people and the beginning of a series of battles for independence from the British regime. After 250 years, we at the MHS are commemorating this event and highlighting pieces from our collections within the exhibit, Fire! Voices of the Boston Massacre, on display through June 2020.

On the evening of 5 March 1770 on King Street in Boston, a small riot among the civilians led to bloodshed when British soldiers fired into the unruly crowd. With five of those civilians killed and others injured, the event soon became known as the Boston Massacre. This event was preceded by many clashes involving the British soldiers stationed in Boston and the growing tension and unrest surrounding the British tax acts on the American people. Boston citizens were already participating in nonconsumption and nonimportation efforts; the fight between Tories and Patriots was growing; and the British soldiers who were meant to protect the Customs Commissioners had long been wary of their place there.

Witnesses of the Boston Massacre share their experiences of that fateful night in this video from the exhibition:

Notably, only two of the eight British soldiers who were arraigned were found guilty of manslaughter (rather than murder). This verdict sent waves through the community, and yearly commemorations of the occurrence would follow in Boston until 1783 when the celebration of Independence Day would take precedence. Had the events on the evening of 5 March been prevented, many other historic clashes including the Boston Tea Party, Battle of Bunker Hill, etc. may look very different today. This violent culmination of tension between Bostonians and the British played a significant role in the larger sentiment among the entire country.

Included in our collections are artistic renditions of the event itself, letters, diary entries, court documents, and many more pieces which describe and manifest the “Massacre” and its legacy 250 years later. With sources such as these, we are able to recognize the larger impact that this event had on the American population and the road towards the American Revolution. Our additional companion websites which accompany our exhibition are linked below, and explore a detailed history of the various events leading up to the Massacre, the many perspectives of the American citizens, and finally the consequent forging of the nation. The exhibition is on display at the MHS through 30 June 2020, Monday Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM.

Companion websites:

Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre

Perspectives on the Boston Massacre

The Coming of the American Revolution: 1764 to 1776

250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre

by Gavin W. Kleespies, Director of Programs, Exhibitions and Community Partnerships

Paul Revere engraving of the Boston Massacre
The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment, by Paul Revere, 1770.

As many of our readers may know, we are approaching a big anniversary in Boston. The 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre is on 5 March 2020 and there is a lot happening in the city to mark the date. Here is a look at some of the events:

  • Fire! Voices of the Boston Massacre is open to the public at the MHS. 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. Come learn about the Boston Massacre and “hear” for yourself—through a selection of artifacts, eyewitness accounts, and trial testimony—the voices of ordinary men and women, and discover how this flashpoint changed American history. Learn more about the Massacre on our companion website. 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.
  • On Friday, 21 February, at 2:00 PM, the MHS presents FIRE! Voices of the Boston Massacre Gallery Talk with Amanda Norton, MHS. Learn more about why John Adams, a noted Patriot, defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre and how he won acquittals for all but two of them. No registration required.
  • On Wednesday, 4 March, at 6:00 PM, the MHS will host a talk by Serena Zabin on her new book: The Boston Massacre: A Family History. The story of the Boston Massacre is familiar to generations. But from the very beginning, most accounts have obscured a fascinating truth: the Massacre arose from conflicts that were as personal as they were political. Serena Zabin draws on original sources and lively stories to follow British troops as they are dispatched from Ireland to Boston in 1768 to subdue the increasingly rebellious colonists. She reveals a forgotten world hidden in plain sight: the many regimental wives and children who accompanied the armies. We see these families jostling with Bostonians for living space, finding common cause in the search for a lost child, trading barbs, and sharing baptisms. Becoming, in other words, neighbors. When soldiers shot unarmed citizens in the street, it was these intensely human and now broken bonds that fueled what quickly became a bitterly fought American Revolution. 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). Click HERE for more information or to register.
  • On Thursday, 5 March, at 9:00 AM, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution will host a Wreath-laying ceremony at the Granary Burying Ground. A formal service by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution will take place at the grave of the victims of the Boston Massacre including Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr. For more information, visit: www.dar.org/national-society/national-society-dar-commemorates-250th-anniversary-boston-massacre. 
  • On Thursday, 5 MarchReflecting Attucks opens at the Old State House in Boston. The new temporary exhibit will explore the life and memory of Crispus Attucks, a man of African and Native American descent and the first casualty of the Boston Massacre, and provoke visitors to consider how Attucks has been remembered over the past 250 years. To complement the exhibit, Revolutionary Spaces will offer special tours and facilitated dialogues in the galleries. The exhibit will be on display until March 2021 and is included in museum admission.
  • On Thursday, 5 March, at 12:00 PM, the Boston Athenæum will host a Curator’s Choice talk on Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre. Join Polly Thayer Starr Fellow in American Art & Culture Theo Tyson and Assistant Curator Ginny Badget for an in-depth look at the inception of Revere’s engraving and how it continues to shape American historical memory today. Members are free; non-members are free with admission ($10). Online registration is coming soon. To register, please contact Events at 617-720-7600.
  • On Thursday, 5 March, from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM, a commemoration of the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre will be held at the Old South Meeting House. Gov. Charlie Baker will be joined by other key civic and community leaders to reflect on how our most difficult national memories can inspire us to reach for our highest American ideals. There are 50-100 seats available for the public. Registration is required. For more information, visit: eventbrite.com/e/boston-massacre-250th-anniversary-commemoration-tickets-95405922683.
  • On Thursday, 5 March, at 2:00 PM, there will be a curator talk on the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre at the Concord Museum in Concord, Mass. In a special gallery talk about Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere and His Ride, curator David Wood will discuss the Boston Massacre and its legacy. Using multiple editions and interpretations of Paul Revere’s print of the events on the Boston Common, Wood will unveil how a skirmish between neighbors sparked a city’s unrest that led to a country’s revolution. Members are free; non members can attend with museum admission. 
  • On Saturday, 7 March, beginning at 1:00 PM, the Boston Massacre will be reenacted. Beginning at 1:00 PM there will be numerous historical vignettes taking place between the Old South Meeting House and the Old State House culminating in the Boston Massacre reenactment at 7:00 PM. Join us as tensions between the citizens of the Town of Boston and the British soldiers stationed in town build and eventually boil over resulting in what has become known as the “Boston Massacre.” This daylong event will allow visitors to meet with reenactors portraying a variety of citizens of 1770 Boston who are eager to share their perspective on the events in Boston since the landing of the troops in October of 1768. For more information, visit: https://www.bostonhistory.org/massacre250.

Investigating Abigail Adams: My Time as a John Winthrop Student Fellow

By Kate Melchior, MHS, and Ella Amouyal

Every year, the MHS selects one or more high school students for our John Winthrop Student Fellowship. This award encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the MHS in a research project of their choosing. Students perform historical research and create a project (usually an assignment for class) using materials at the MHS, both in our archives or digitized online. This project can be something assigned in a class, a National History Day project, or something of the student’s invention!  Both student and teacher each receive $350 to support their research. Applications for the 2020 student fellowship are due on 11 February 2020.  Learn more and apply!

In 2019, Ella Amouyal and her teacher Jenna Wolf from the Cambridge School of Weston were awarded one of our student fellowships to research Abigail Adams’ diplomatic mission to France and England in 1784-88. Ella spent several months working in the MHS library with the support of our research librarians and produced an online exhibit. Read Ella’s account of her experience at the MHS, where she describes exploring the collections, speaking with historians, and using a microfilm reader for the first time.

Investigating Abigail Adams: My Time as a John Winthrop Student Fellow
By Ella Amouyal, Cambridge School of Weston

Portrait of Abigail Adams
Abigail Adams (Mrs. John Adams) by Benjamin Blythe, c. 1766

My experience as a John Winthrop Student Fellow in the Spring of 2019 was an incredible learning opportunity. My research focused on Abigail Adams’ time in Europe, and my final project was the creation of an online exhibit, I aimed to produce an engaging, interactive experience that would impact and educate a wider audience.

My exhibit explores Abigail Adams’ time in Europe  through three lenses: patriotism, economics and education. These lenses allowed me to clearly specify the ways Europe influenced Abigail Adams. When I began my research, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of secondary and primary sources; I had so many questions–too many, perhaps. I found that honing in on more concise channels helped me tremendously with scope and organization.

I began the project by reading secondary sources to help frame my research in a broader context. This was first step was key, as it allowed me to understand more about the time and place my topic was grounded in, and exposed me to the questions, ideas and observations of professional researchers. My advice to a future student fellow would be to start by exploring secondary sources already published by the Massachusetts Historical Society. These sources will help you uncover new primary sources during you discovery phase, and they will help you to understand the subject more broadly. The MHS is an institution available to all learners; being a fellow affords you more access to the Society’s incredible collection of materials and helpful experts.

My next step was to attend one of the many lectures the Society offers regularly. You should, too. I had the pleasure of attending a pop-up talk hosted by the head of the Adams’ papers. If you are a fellow, attending a lecture or other event at the MHS is an excellent way to gain access to experts, ask questions, and enhance your knowledge. Talking about your research–and hearing about experts’ research–is one of the most important aspects of conducting research. Historians are tasked with educating, so there is nothing to be scared about. What’s more, they will probably be so excited to see a young scholar interested in the subject. Capitalize on the opportunity and seize it. The process of being a fellow is not just to learn about the past; it is also to learn how to communicate, ask questions, stay organized and do independent research.

As you conduct your own research, remember your work does not have to be limited to primary sources offered by MHS. Your research will become stronger when you explore many routes for learning and balance your evidence–primary sources, secondary sources, their context and analysis. However, finding and analyzing primary sources is the most important part of doing the work. And it’s work.

When you conduct your research using the online catalog Abigail, remember one thing: it has a learning curve. It can be quirky. Some quick tips: I found that looking up specific words and phrases can be confusing and yield thousands of results, which are impossible to navigate. One way to mitigate this potential problem is to search by specific dates; for instance, my research focused on Abigail Adams’ diplomatic missions to Europe from 1784 – 1788, which allowed me to limit the primary sources by the correspondences she wrote during this four-year period.

And while students today have grown up believing the Internet holds the keys to every door, remember that not all of the Society’s holdings are available digitally. This is where the excitement of visiting the MHS came in; I had the opportunity to spend hours pouring over documents in the Reading Room and Library. The Society is a warm, inviting and open environment. I was initially scared to visit because I was unfamiliar with historical archives or larger research libraries. Don’t be nervous. Remember the mission of the Society is to educate, so I immediately felt accepted and invited. In addition, the building itself is a work of art–there is so much to see. Alas, most of my visit was spent with a machine new to me–the microfilm.

This contraption is, quite simply, a film roll that includes photographed versions of historical material. The librarians are extremely nice and helped guide me through the steps of using a microfilm. I previously had no knowledge of microfilm but I think it is an amazing device because it helps preserve the original letters and makes it easier to access the material safely. What’s more, reading the historical handwriting can also be extremely difficult. I asked the librarian if the letters I was looking at had been transcribed, which helped me see them in a more legible, modern font.

Microfilm reader in use at the MHS
A photo of a letter on microfilm taken during my first visit to the MHS library, photo by Ella Amouyal

Conducting research with the MHS was an amazing opportunity and I learned a lot. I learned about the fascinating intellect and ideology of Abigail Adams and about new historical figures like Mercy Otis Warren–Adams’ friend and confidant–someone previously unknown to me. I also learned that research is not always about sitting in the library, spending hours analyzing an original letter. It’s also about organization, retooling a question or avenue to explore, and most importantly, time management. Research is not always about reading books either; sometimes it entails pouring over transcribed documents online in your pajamas while drinking tea, or even awkwardly learning to scroll through microfilm. But it’s in these moments that you learn and grow the most. This is why conducting research is a rewarding opportunity for every student, even those who do not want to be historians or archivists. Research teaches you skills that are important for every subject and job – skills such as empathy and critical thinking. This is why I am going to propose a mini-unit this Spring to the history department at my high school on analyzing primary sources utilizing the free resource of the MHS Abigail catalogue.

I often wondered what Abigail Adams would have thought about a teenage girl 300 years later looking at the intimate letters she wrote to her friends, family and acquaintances and the letters she received. I wondered if she would have been shocked or perhaps happy. Abigail was always a forceful proponent of female education, one of the many reasons why I find her fascinating and inspirational. Her knowing that women would be able to research her words equally to any man would probably have brought her immense pride and joy.

If you have any interest in history and research, I would highly recommend applying to be a fellow. The John Winthrop Student Fellowship gives you access to thousands of letters and material and is truly a unique, enlightening experience for all students interested in delving into American history.

If you are interested in learning more about the John Winthrop Student Fellowship or any of our other programs, please visit the Center for the Teaching of History website or e-mail us at education@masshist.org.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Looking In and Reaching Out

By the MHS Welcome Team

The MHS is the first historical society in America. Our current building (1154 Boylston Street) was dedicated in 1899 and was built to be a temple to history. Designed by renowned Boston architect Edmund March Wheelwright, the building has grand rooms, some with dark wood paneling and others with monumental portraits hanging above white marble mosaic floors. It is the epitome of what you might imagine for the spaces of Boston’s 19th-century Brahmin elite.

1154 Boylston Street entry
Front door of the MHS

This palace of history is available to anyone who wants to do research in our library, attend a program, or visit an exhibition. While the MHS is free and open to the public, we are now in the process of thinking about how accessible we really are. There is certainly beauty in Wheelwright’s design and the monumental portraits on display are of historically important people.  However, from the experiences and reactions of visitors, we know that our building may not be welcoming to all.  After a quick review last year, we found that while there were images of people of color in our temporary exhibitions, there were no such images in other rooms that are open to the public. Since realizing that, we have made some adjustments to our permanent displays.

Now is the time to take a step back, look critically at how the MHS presents itself, and ask ourselves if our institution is truly welcome to anyone who has an interest in history. Following a series of internal discussions, we decided to form a taskforce—internally referred to as the Welcome Committee—to explore these questions.

This group is working to evaluate our spaces and art as they are now and find ways to broaden the depth and diversity of our collections. We are aware that we need different perspectives and critical distance from the institution to have a robust evaluation.  Therefore, as part of this effort, we plan to invite people from other museums, professions, and backgrounds to walk through our spaces and let us know what they see. Listening to their comments and working together, we hope to develop a plan that will respect Wheelwright’s design while also making the space feel comfortable and welcoming to the diverse, complex, and beautiful population that represents the nation today. If you have thoughts or suggestions on this process, we welcome them. Please feel free to reach out to Gavin Kleespies or Carol Knauff with your messages.