The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Natural Beauty

Spring has officially, if tardily, sprung here in Boston and researchers and staff alike are again staring distractedly out of the reading room windows at the green grass, new leaves, and vibrant sunshine.

To draw our wandering attention back inside, I decided to showcase a few examples of early Bostonians preserving and portraying the natural world in all its beauty.

While the MHS offers countless examples of artistic depictions of nature, I chose just two to share here: one for its pure beauty, the other for its scientific bent.

The first is a nondescript volume from the Quincy-Howe family papers. Labeled as “Flower paintings, clippings -- Eliza S. Quincy,” and dating to the mid-19th century, the volume is part scrapbook, part sketchbook, with newspaper clippings of familial news mounted opposite hand-drawn sketches of ornate flowers.


Colorful painting of a flower in Eliza S. Quincy’s 19th century album of flower paintings and clippings


The emphasis of this work is artistic, the mood of the drawings complements the clippings. They are at turns mournful and celebratory, with romantic lines and rich colors.

A painting of a somewhat mournful-looking flower sits opposite a 1867 poem on the life and death of J.W.R.


A delicately-colored painting of a flower in full bloom is unaccompanied by a newspaper clipping


From a similar period (1850s-1870s) the second example is far more scientific, although the beauty of nature is not lost on the viewer (or creator).


The cover of Ocean Mosses from 1872, owned, if not assembled, by Mrs. Edwin Lamson


Inside 3 bound volumes from the Lamson family papers are pressed clippings of “ocean mosses” and “ocean flowers” collected along New England coastlines. Some are identified with binomial nomenclature, others are left unlabeled. All are impressively well intact for being approximately one-hundred-and-fifty years old.

An unlabeled segment of ocean moss from a Lamson family volume entitled Ocean Mosses c. 1850


A labeled segment of ocean moss from Mrs. Edwin Lamson’s 1872 volume


Even though this collection tend towards a more scientific look at underwater nature, the elegance and beauty of these plants prevails.


Artfully arranged ocean mosses surround a poem in Mrs. Edwin Lamson’s June 22, 1872 volume

The poem wreathed by moss reads:

Not

fanned by the

winds of a summer

parterre, Whose gales

are but sighs of an evening

air, Our delicate, fragile and 

exquisite forms, Were nursed

by the billows, and rocked

By the storms. 


Investigating a bit, this appears to be a slightly modified verse of a longer poem entitled “Seaweeds”:


Oh call us not weeds, but flowers of the sea,

For lovely, and gay, and bright-tinted are we;

Our blush is as deep as the rose of thy bowers,

Then call us not weeds, -- we are ocean’s gay flow’rs,

 
Not nurs’d like the plants of the summer parterre,

Whose gales are but sighs of an evening air;

Our exquisite, fragile, and delicate forms

Are the prey of the ocean when vex’d with his storms


I found several versions of this poem, although few bore official attribution. One version, attributed to a Miss Elizabeth Aveline of Lyme Regis, England, that I found most interesting was mentioned in a book by Patricia Pierce on Mary Anning, an English paleontologist whose early 19th century discoveries of Jurassic marine fossils helped shape our scientific understanding of the world. Pierce mentions how Anning scrawled this poem in an album under a clutch of dried seaweed. An eerily similar description to Lamson’s treatment pictured above.

While I found no reference to Anning amongst the Lamson volumes, this tentative, poetic link piqued my interest in the transatlantic discussions of scientific discoveries had by 19th century women. A topic I am sure to continue exploring.

If 19th century depictions of the natural world strike your fancy and you would like to see these volumes in person, please feel free to stop in and visit our library. If you are interested in seeing what other materials we have related to botany and the beauty of nature you can browse our online catalog, ABIGAIL, from the comfort of your own home.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 21 May, 2016, 3:43 PM

Following Their Bliss: Two Very Different Trips to California

Serendipity is one of the great things about working in archives. Just a few months apart, the MHS acquired, purely by chance, two collections related to members of the Bliss family. Pelatiah Lawrence Bliss (Lawrence to his friends) and James Wheaton Bliss were very, very, very distant cousins. In fact, to trace their exact connection, you’d have to go back many generations, to the 17th century.

While Lawrence and James were contemporaries, there’s no reason to believe they knew—or even knew about—each other. And they didn’t have much in common. Lawrence (1821-1851) was the youngest child of a West Springfield, Mass. tanner. He tried his hand at various careers, working as a store clerk, teacher, and farmer in Georgia, Alabama, and Michigan, apparently without much happiness or success at any of them.

James (1825-1875), on the other hand, was an established Boston businessman. According to the Bliss family genealogy published by a relative, “as a prominent and successful merchant in the clothing trade [James] was highly esteemed. […] Few men of his age were more frequently consulted by their business associates.” He served on the Executive Committee of the Boston Board of Trade.

I did find one interesting parallel between Lawrence and James: both men traveled from Boston to San Francisco, though under dramatically different circumstances. In 1849, Lawrence joined the California Gold Rush and sailed on the Drummond around Cape Horn. The trip took seven months. Twenty-one years later, his distant cousin James rode on the first chartered transcontinental railroad excursion to San Francisco and back. He was home in just over a month.

Both manuscript collections are small, but Lawrence’s papers consist primarily of correspondence, including a detailed 18-page letter he wrote during his voyage on the Drummond. He seemed to have no illusions about his prospect for success in the Gold Rush, worrying, as he watched a sunset, about how “deceitful luster” can lead to “perished expectations.”

 

 

James’s train trip was luxurious. A colleague described the Pullman excursion here at the Beehive a few years ago. The MHS has also digitized a broadside about the trip, as well as the first issue of the newspaper printed on the train. You can find James and his teenage daughter Josie, who accompanied him, listed on both documents. I don’t have a picture of James, but here’s Josie, with the receipt for their fare.

 

Lawrence was unfortunately unsuccessful as a gold prospector. On 8 Aug. 1850, he wrote home, “Misfortune, disaster, & disappointment seem to have attended me ever since I arrived in the country. […] Don’t let anybody come to California whom you can influence.” And a few weeks later, “I cannot blame myself for my ill success, as I have done the best I could.” He died penniless in San Francisco just three days shy of his thirtieth birthday.

As for James, he married Sarah Jane Wood in 1849 (the same year of Lawrence’s fateful trip west) and had six children, four of whom lived to adulthood. He died in 1875.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 18 May, 2016, 2:40 PM

This Week @ MHS

It feels like spring finally arrived here in Boston. Why not get outside and take a walk to the MHS for some public programs? This week we are heavy on our lunchtime Brown Bag talks, but there are also a couple other public programs to balance things out. Here's what's coming:

- Monday, 16 May, 12:00PM : The first Brown Bag talk of the week is titled "Valuing the Body of the Enslaved: From the Cradle to the Grave." Pack a lunch and come listen to short-term research fellow Daina Ramey Berry of the University of Texas at Austin. Berry presents her framework for understanding the valuation of enslaved peoples from birth to beyond death, based on 10 years of research in northern and southern archives. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Monday, 16 May, 6:00PM : "Jefferson the Architect" is the final public program from the Jefferson Series, which centers around our current exhibition. In this talk, Henry Adams of Case Western Reserve University explores the impact of Jefferson in American architecture and the legacy he has left on our country's built environment. This talk is open to the public, though registration is required with a fee of $20 (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members). There is a pre-talk reception at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM. 

 - Wednesday, 18 May, 12:00PM : Brown Bag talk number two this week is presented by Sarah Templier of Johns Hopkins University, and is called "The Lives of Textiles: Trading and Consuming Clothing, Fabrics, and Apparel Accessories in French and British North America, 1720s-1770s." The progam presents an overview of Templier's dissertation research. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Thursday, 19 May, 6:00PM : POSTPONED: "Mass Momentum: Highlighting the Innovation Hub."

- Friday, 20 May, 12:00PM : The third and final Brown Bag talk this week features Travis Jacquess, University of Mississippi. In his talk, "'My Principles for Government...Are Fixed,' Declarations of Independence between Fathers and Sons in the Age of Revolution," Jacquess argues that the spirit of of independence - the spirit of '76 - gave rise to the spirit of individualism, which was passed from father to son as a natural product of their experience in the Revolution and their engagement in the new American Republic. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Saturday, 21 May, 1:00PM : Join us for the final instalment of this season's discussion of primary readings, Begin at the Beginning, led by Dr. Abby Chandler. "John Gyles' Odd Adventure : A Different Captivity Narrative" tells a story of his upbringing among the Micmac and Maliseet peoples: a story of understanding and respect, unlike most Puritan captivity narratives that tell tales of horror and fear. This program is open to the public and registration is required at no cost; Please RSVP

Finally, if you have not yet come in to see the Private Jefferson, your time is running out. The exhibition remains on view to the public through Wednesday, May 26. Don't miss it!

There is no Saturday tour this week

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 15 May, 2016, 12:00 AM

Margaret Russell’s Diary, May 1916

Today, we return to the line-a-day diary of Margaret Russell. You can read previous installments here:

January.

February.

March.

April.

Margaret Russell’s diary entries for May 1916 presented a puzzle which was solved through the collective sleuthing of archivists on social media. Early on in my transcribing I stumbled upon a word in the May 3 entry I could not decipher:

 

 

I posted the image on Twitter and by the end of the evening not only had the word been successfully translated (“sessions”), but the larger story behind the entry had been hunted down by curious followers. It turned out that in May 1916, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America held a meeting in Washington, D.C. at which Margaret Russell attended as a Massachusetts delegate (she writes of being part of “the Boston Party”). Unfortunately, she fell ill while in D.C. and spent much of her time there bedridden. She reports on May 9th that “people [were] very kind in sending flowers.” She spent much of the month feeling poorly, though her diary also records afternoon drives and occasional social calls or family dinners.

 

* * *

May 1916

 

1 May. Monday - Left on the 10 o’clock spent the night at Colony Club & saw Kate who is quite poorly.

 

2 May. Tuesday - Did a few errands, very hot. Met the Boston Party with Francis P. at 3.30 for Washington.

3 May. Wednesday. Opening of the sessions. Felt poorly and thought it was the heat. Lunched at Hattie’s. Drove with F. P. down Potomac. 

4 May. Still hot & do not feel well. Went to White House & thought Mrs. Wilson very attractive. Took drive to Chevy Chase camp. Mass. party in evening.

5 May. Had a bad night & feel feverish so went for Dr. Handin who says it is [liver?]. Ankles red & swollen.

6 May. Saturday. In bed.

7 May. Sunday - still in bed.

8 May. Monday. Frances & all hands left. Miss Didier [illegible] came & is bright & pleasant.

9 May. Tuesday - People very kind in sending flowers. Still in bed but feel better.

10 May. Wednesday - In bed but days pass quickly.

11 May. Thursday - Like Dr. Handin so much.

12 May. Friday. In bed but better.

13 May Friday - Got up after lunch & went for hour’s drive with Hattie & then back to bed.

14 May. The same - Dr. Handin comes every day.

15 May. Sunday - left at 12.30 & got to N.Y. very comfortably. Spent night at Belmont also Miss. Didier.

16 May. Monday - Kate Cary came to see me. Said good job to Miss D-- & left on 12 o’c. Miss Ahler joined me at the Springfield. Not too tired. Family to dine.

17 May. Tuesday - Stayed in bed till lunch & then on couch for the rest of day. Felt the fatigue of the journey.

18 May. Wednesday - Sent for Dr. Smith who looked me over. Let me go to drive in the P.M.

19 May.  In bed till twelve - drive to Swampscott after lunch. Then rested. Margaret Bradley engaged to Roger [illegible].

20 May. Friday - In bed till twelve. Went out in my new car for long drive. Feel better.

21 May. Saturday - Out at eleven for errand & to see Aunt Emma. Rested & then to see M. Bradley.

22 May. Sunday - Stayed in till I went to lunch with H.G.C.’s. Then to drive & to Fall River Hosp. to see E. Murray. Family to dine.

23 May. Monday - Doctor says I have improved in all respects. Went to see Marian then Mary’s & after lunch to botany lesson.

24 May. Tuesday. Lunched at Alice Burn’s. Only Sallie Ames & Mrs. Bell. Went to dine & home to rest.

25 May. Wednesday - Errands in the morning. Went to Swampscott.

26 May. Thursday.

27 May. Friday - Walked down town & bought flag. Took a long drive.

28 May. Saturday - Great preparedness procession. Went out & walked about, great enthusiasm.

29 May. Sunday. Walked to cathedral. Photographer came to take the 4 generations. Baby was good. Family to dine.

30 May. Monday - lunched with Marian. To E & E & then Good S--. Saw Aunt Emma.Came home & rested.

31 May. Packing - Packing.

 

* * *

If you are interested in viewing the diary in person in our library or have other questions about the collection, please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.

 

*Please note that the diary transcription is a rough-and-ready version, not an authoritative transcript. Researchers wishing to use the diary in the course of their own work should verify the version found here with the manuscript original.

 

Image: Edith Wilson, no date. Portrait from the Library of Congress

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 12 May, 2016, 8:00 AM

Implementing Technology in Current Jefferson Exhibition was a TAG Team Effort

Last fall, as the Massachusetts Historical Society planned its current exhibition, The Private Jefferson, an interdepartmental team of staff members successfully pursued a wonderful opportunity to incorporate technology into the galleries.  Thanks to the efforts of Gavin Kleespies, Director of Programs at MHS, and Ryan Gaspar, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Microsoft, MHS staff members were able to showcase MHS digital content in an interactive content management system for exhibitions, Touch Art Gallery (TAG).  Numerous high resolution digital images, short videos, and interactive features are available on a variety of touchscreen devices within the Jefferson exhibition.

TAG was developed by a team of programmers (mostly undergraduate computer science students) at Brown University led by Professor Andries van Dam, the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Professor of Technology and Education.  Carolyn Gress, Marketing Project Manager, Microsoft, coordinated a meeting in October between some staff from the MHS and Professor van Dam and some of his students.  During the visit to Providence, Rhode Island, MHS staff saw and interacted with the digital museum experience they created using TAG for the Nobel Foundation.

Notable features of the TAG system include: the display and delivery of high resolution images of exhibition items and their associated metadata in various sets ("collections"); management of related material including audio and video clips; and interactive segments on topics ("tours").  Gallery visitors can browse the items, "grab" and zoom in to closely examine the high resolution digital images, select, start (and interrupt) the interactive tours to closely examine the featured images.

Due to several previous grant-funded digitization projects, MHS has many existing high resolution digital images of documents within the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts.  These digital assets and the existing metadata were good starting points for the implementation of TAG within the Jefferson exhibition, but it took intensive work and effort by many staff members to ready the digital features by the opening date of the Jefferson exhibition.

The digital team (Laura Wulf, Peter Steinberg and I) had to work efficiently to assemble over a hundred images and descriptions.  Bill Beck, MHS's web developer, worked with Trent Green (the Brown University student who our main contact for TAG server and software issues) on the batch ingest and overall configuration of the system.  Several staff members (Gavin, Sara Sikes, Sara Georgini, Peter Drummey and I) focused on the content for six interactive features and developed outlines and scripts to tell specific stories about the Jefferson materials.  The production of those interactive tours was truly a team effort with Gavin and Bill taking the lead on many sequencing and editing tasks; the digital team assembling more images; Sara, Sara and Peter providing narration for some tours; and Jim Connolly and Hobson Woodward recording additional audio clips.  Three staff members, Chris Coveney, Carol Knauff and Laura Lowell, provided excellent feedback regarding the multimedia overviews (the "tours").

The digital content and the touch screens of various sizes--ranging from one large (65") screen to two Dell All-in-Ones and one Microsoft Surface tablets--had to be physically incorporated into the exhibition. Gavin worked with exhibition designer Will Twombly and MHS's Chris Coveney to ensure that the screens were accessible and functional in the gallery spaces.

The result of so many people's efforts with the planning meetings, the configurations, the production tasks and deployment steps is an exhibition celebrating MHS's 225th anniversary with significant historical manuscripts (the core of the collections) as well as value-added digital content on current touch-screen devices.  We strived to make the digital content as informative and user-friendly as possible. 

Please visit the Jefferson exhibition to examine both the original manuscripts on display as well as the digital components on the touch screen devices in the galleries.  Professor van Dam and some of his students will be giving a gallery talk about the development of the Touch Art Gallery system on Friday, May 13, at 2PM.

 

Image:  Screenshot of a tweet Liz Loveland sent during the Jefferson exhibition opening with an image of a manuscript page from the Farm Book delivered on a touch screen device.

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 May, 2016, 8:00 AM

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