The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

It is a quiet week here at the Society as we leave the dog days of summer behind. On Wednesday, 19 August, we have a Brown Bag lunch talk presented by Jordan Taylor of Indiana University. Taylor's talk, "News in Flux: Early American Information and Commerce in the Age of Revolution," explores how Americans' sources of news, as well as their discourses of authority and authenticity, changed over the course of the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions. This talk is free and open to the public and begins at noon. 

Then, on Saturday, 22 August, join us at 10:00AM for the History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. This 90-minute, docent-led tour exposes visitors to all of the public spaces in the Society's home on Boylston street while providing information on the history of the MHS, the collection it holds, and the art and architecture in the building. The tour is free and open to the public with no reservations required for small groups or individuals. Parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at or 617-646-0508. 

And finally, remember to come in and see our current exhibition, "God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill." The exhibit is free and open to the public, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, but only until 4 September, so come on in and check it out before it goes away!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 16 August, 2015, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

This week at the Society there are two teacher workshops and a Brown Bag taking place. Maritime Massachusetts: Falmouth Stories and Sources, is a three-day program (Monday, 10 August-Wednesday 12 August) which is open to educators and history enthusiasts with a fee of $35. The workshop will begin each morning at 8:30AM and run until 3:30PM. To register or to get more information, complete this registration form, or contact the education department at or 617-646-0557. This program will take place in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

On Wednesday, 12 August, join us at noon for a Brown Bag lunch talk presented by Julia James, Syracuse University. "Women in the Woods: Crime, Gender, and Community in Colonial New England, 1675-1763" draws upon various primary sources to reveal information about Native women's community roles and the intercultural relationships formed between Native and English peoples. This talk is free and open to the public.

Then, on Friday, 14 August, the Society hosts a free one-day program for teachers, co-sponsored by and the Ashbrook Center at Ashland Univesity, and with assistance from the Lincoln and Therese Filene Foundation. Framing America's Constitution is lead by Dr. Gordon Lloyd, Ashbrook Center Senior Fellow and Emeritus Professor at Pepperdine University. For more information, contact the MHS education department at or 617-646-0557. To register, visit to complete the online registraiton form. 

And on Saturday, 15 August, starting at 10:00AM is the History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute, docent-led tour is free and open to the public. Parties of 8 or more, please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 9 August, 2015, 12:00 AM

“A good house where we had a good bedroom…”: Edwin F. Atkin’s Travel Diary, 1872

While our mission statement here at the Massachusetts Historical Society proclaims that we hold materials dedicated to the study of the history of Massachusetts and the United States, we also hold materials that may be of interest to scholars researching other countries. As I am returning on a trip to Norway this summer, I decided one day to search and see what manuscripts (if any) we hold related to that country.

I was especially interested in reading about other travelers’ impressions and thoughts on the country, and so I chose to look through Edwin F. Atkins travel diary of what seems to be his first solo trip through Europe, at the age of 22 in 1872. He starts off with writing of how hard it was to say goodbye to his mother and sisters in Arlington as he left for Boston, first traveling by train to Providence and then onward to New York City, where he boarded a steamer bound for Plymouth in the United Kingdom. After a rough day at sea he writes “I think that I never again will travel by sea while anything remains to be seen in my own country.” Looking closer at the Atkins family papers, I did learn that Edwin did travel abroad again, many times to Cuba to visit his plantations there.  Apparently he either got used to sea travel, or decided that some discomfort was worth the rewards of travel. 

Reading through his diary, I started to make connections between a travel diary of the past and how we keep track of journeys today - often through a blog or social media. Similarities end there though, because travel journals in the 19th century were not intended to be shared in the same public way a travel blog is shared in the 21st century. A diary was kept mainly for yourself, to remind you of places you visited, how the food was, and to record interesting tidbits about your day. Reading each page of Edwin’s diary puts me in the mind of someone recording their thoughts so he could then recall what happened each day when choosing to share the trip with other people. For example, most of his daily entries are similar to this entry from 10 August 1872 “At Christiania [which is now Oslo, the capital of Norway] we went to Victoria House, a very good house we had a nice room and a good supper.” He was not one to speak in superlatives, often just noting the “fine scenery” and “clear weather.”

Because of his usually reserved writing, when he writes in great detail I knew he was writing of something special. On 20 August 1872, Edwin is on a steamer sailing through the Sognefjord, which he noted had “scenery of the finest kind.” He decided to spend the night sleeping on the deck: “We made a landing which woke me up; we were among scenery of the grandest - snow covered mountains just above us; from here we ran to Andal down a fjord where the rocks rose some two and three thousand feet right out of the water. Coming back through the same branch of the fjord, we entered another leading to Gudvangen more beautiful than the other with many beautiful waterfalls coming down from the rocks above more small villages…” Having been on a very similar ferry ride through the same fjord, I can completely understand his awe at the beauty surrounding him.

Edwin’s journal goes on to detail his travels around Norway and then into Sweden, and abruptly ends upon his entry into Germany. His last full entry is dated 2 September 1872 and while the next page holds the date 3 September, nothing else is written. I’d like to imagine that Edwin, like so many other travelers (myself included), was so caught up in his travels that he had no time to jot down his memories. If you are interested in reading travel diaries from faraway places, be sure to check out ABIGAIL to discover our collections here at MHS!


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 8 August, 2015, 8:00 AM

The Stamp Act and Liberating Knowledge

This August marks the 250th anniversary of the publication of the first part John Adams’s “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law.” This rather arcane title can obscure the profound message that his essay brought to that colonial resistance to the Stamp Act that had been imposed on the colonies in the spring of 1765 by the British Parliament. In this four-part series published in the Boston Gazette from August to October 1765 in the flush of opposition to this new tax, Adams attacked the Stamp Act from a different angle than simply opposition to “taxation without representation.” It was not merely the fact of a tax, but what Britain taxed: “it seems very manifest from the [Stamp Act] itself, that a design is form’d to strip us in a great measure of the means of knowledge, by loading the Press, the Colleges, and even an Almanack and a News-Paper, with restraints and duties.”

Adams, ever the lawyer, looked back over history and examined the two major legal systems that had ruled much of Europe up to the modern age—the canon law, the law of the Roman Catholic Church, and the feudal law, the law of medieval governments. In both of these legal systems, Adams saw a systematic attempt to keep knowledge from the people. In the first part of his essay, he explained how “the great” worked “to wrest from the populace, as they are contemptuously called, the knowledge of their rights and wrongs, and the power to assert the former or redress the latter. I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government—Rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws—Rights derived from the great legislator of the universe.” In England, an alliance between these two systems had formed and it “was this great struggle, that peopled America. It was not religion alone, as is commonly supposed; but it was a love of universal Liberty, and an hatred, a dread, an horror of the infernal confederacy, before described, that projected, conducted, and accomplished the settlement of America.”

In the final installment of his essay, Adams’s rhetoric soars as he calls for Americans to look into and stand up for their rights. They should use this moment when the British attempted to subjugate America and oppose their efforts through education. “Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government, ecclesiastical and civil.” And Adams argued that just as the reigns of James I and Charles I produced some of the greatest British statesmen, “The prospect, now before us, in America, ought in the same manner to engage the attention of every man of learning to matters of power and of right, that we may be neither led nor driven blindfolded to irretrievable destruction.”

John Adams’s continued commitment to education as an essential component in a free society was evident in his draft of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which included a chapter specifically calling for “The Encouragement of Literature” within the commonwealth.

If you want to learn more about the Stamp Act and the coming of the Revolution in Boston, a couple weeks are remaining to view the MHS exhibit, God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 7 August, 2015, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

Summer is speeding along and we enter a new month. Here is what is on tap at the Society in the first week of August.

On Wednesday, 5 August, we have a Brown Bag lunch talk taking place at noon. "African Americans and the Cultural Work of Freemasonry: From Revolution Through Reconstruction" is presented by research fellow Sueanna Smith of the University of South Carolina. This talk is free and open to the public. Pack a lunch and come on by.

Also on Wednesday, beginning at 6:00PM, is a public author talk. This talk features journalist James Schlett presenting his new book, A Not Too Greatly Changed Eden: The Story of the Philosophers' Camp in the Adirondacks. Registration is required for this event at no cost, please RSVP. There will be a pre-talk reception at 5:30PM. 

And on Saturday, 8 August, there is a free tour of the Society beginning at 10:00PM. The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute, docent-led tour through the buildings public spaces which touches on the history, art, architecture, and collections of the MHS. No reservation needed for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 2 August, 2015, 12:00 AM

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