The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

We are back again with the round-up of events in the week to come here at the Society. Like last week, this one is a bit top-heavy and dominated by Brown Bag lunch talks. And here is what is tap.
Starting with Monday, 21 July, there is a Brown Bag lunch talk presented by Brendan Gillis of Indiana University. "Cosmopolitan Parochialism: Magistrates and Imperial Revolution in New England, 1760-1800" investigates how shared assumptions about magisterial authority contributed to the construction of new jurisdictions incorporating non-English lands and peoples. In New England, this British model of local government proved so adaptable that it allowed justices of the peace to assert independence during a period of imperial crisis. This talk is free, open to the public, and begins at 12:00PM.

On Tuesday, 22 July, also at noon, is another Brown Bag lunch talk, this time presented by Jeffrey Egan, University of Connecticut. "Watershed Decisions: Arthur Shurcliff's Vision of the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts, 1922-1945" provides a brief historical overview of the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts, a massive public-works project that led to the disincorporation of four rural towns in the western poriton of the Commonwealth and radically transformed 39 square miles of land during the 1930s and 1940s. It will then delve into the environmental wordlview and vision of the Quabbin project held by Arthur Shurcliff, the landscape architect employed by the Boston Metropolitan District Commission to reform the grounds surrounding this new, artificial lake. 

The third and final brown bag talk of the week will take place at noon on Wednesday, 23 July. This time, long-term research fellow Jonathan Grinspan, University of Virginia/Jeffersno Scholars Foundation, presents "The Virgin Vote: Young Americans in the Age of Popular Politics." Young people fueled American democracy at its most popular. Between 1840 and 1900, children, youths and young adults turned out at rallies and elections, searching for identity, advancement, and fun. Many viewed the political system as a route to adulthood, during a period of major social instability. At the same time, politicians wooed first-time “virgin voters,” lobbied young women to influence the men in their lives, and recruited children as future partisans. Their interest helped bring about the highest voter turnouts in U.S. history. This project explores this fascinating and forgotten relationship between public politics and personal aspirations.

And on Saturday, 26 July, join us for a free tour of the Society's building on Boylston Street in Boston's Back Bay. "The History and Collections of the MHS" is a 90-minute, docent-led tour of the public spaces in the building. The tour touches on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the Historical Society. The tour is free and open to the public.  No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

Remember to keep an eye on the Society's online events calendar to see what is coming up in the near future and that our current exhibition, "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War" is now on display. The gallery is open Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM - 4:00PM, free of charge. 


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 12:00 PM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 34

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Sunday, July 24th, 1864


As to public affairs, - we appear to gain little near Richmond, - Sherman advances successfully in Georgia. Gold has been up to 270 or above it. The president calls for half a million more men, - for one year. The first abortive attempts at negotiation are symptoms which may be followed by something better. The awful sacrifices of the war go on meantime; & among the late losses is that of my friend Hall’s son, of Dorchester, assistant Henry Ware Hall, killed near Atlanta, Georgia. His father bears it heroically.

 Sunday, July 31st


This dreadful war continues its ravages, & the good & the brave fall on both sides. Maria writes me of the death of her cousin Cyprus, - my namesake & godson, - in battle near Marrietta, - fighting in the rebel cause; - & of the Christian firmness & submission with which he met death. ‘How long, O Lord!’

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 18 July, 2014, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

This week's events round-up is a bit top-heavy with four events in three days. Kicking things off on Monday, 14 July, is a Brown Bag lunch talk that begins at noon. Stop by with your lunch and listen as Jonathan Koefoed presents "Cautious Romantics: The Dana Family of Boston as the Interpretive Key to a Larger Discourse." With this project, Koefoed hopes to provide a fuller picture of the way that European Romantic texts functioned in American intellectual, cultural, and religious history by highlighting a group of "Cautious Romantics" that emerged as an alternative and conservative Romantic religious tradition in America between 1800 and the late 19th century. The program focuses on how the Dana Family functions as a critical lens through which one can view the large Cautious Romantic discourse. This program is free and open to the public.

On Tuesday, 15 July, is another Brown Bag lunch talk, this time presented by Mark Thompson of the University of Groningen. "Land, Liberty, & Property: Surveyors and the Production of Empire in British North America" examines the land surveyor as a key figure in early America - instrumental in everything form makring colonial boundaries to measuring the smallest parcel of a farmer's land. Adapting European methods to American conditions, surveyors drafted a "creole science" that served the demands of imperial authorities and common settlers alike. Together they transformed land into liberty, property, and territorial empire. This talk begins at noon and is free and open to the public. 

Also on Tuesday is a rare summer evening event. "'What is Focus?' Margaret Hall's Battle Country" is an author talk featuring Margaret R. Higonnet, editor of the forthcoming MHS publication Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: The World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall. Higonnet is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut, an affiliate at Harvard's Center for European Studies, and has published extensively on gender and World War I. Providing comment during the talk are Susan Solomon and Suzanne Diefenbach. Solomon, of Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, will comment on her research into the life and photographs of Hall. Diefenbach, great niece of Margaret Hall, will share recollections of "Aunts" and life with her at Paradise Hill Farm in Hull, Massachusetts. This event is open to the public but registration is required at no cost. Register online or call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560. Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM. 

The next day, Wednesday, 16 July, there is a third Brown Bag lunch talk. In this installment, Laurie Dickmeyer, University of California, presents "Americans in Chinese Treaty Ports: Trade and Diplomacy in Nineteenth-Century U.S. - China Relations." With this project, Dickmeyer explores the changing texture and relationship of trade and diplomacy between American and Chinese traders and diplomats from 1784 to the 1860s. This talk will present an overview of the project but will focus on findings from traders' records at the MHS. The talk is open to the public and begins at noon. 

And on Saturday, 19 July, is another free public tour. Beginning at 10:00AM, The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute, docent-led tour of the Society's historic building and touches on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the Society. The tour is free and open to the public and no reservations are required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508

Finally, remember that our current exhibition is open to the public free of charge. "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War" features photographs, letters, diaries, and memorabilia related to Margaret Hall and Eleanor (Nora) Saltonstall, Red Cross volunteers in France. This exhibit commemorates the centennial of the outbreak of World War I and celebrates the forthcoming MHS publication Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: The World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall. The exhibit is open Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM until 24 January 2015. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 13 July, 2014, 12:00 PM

Margaret Hall’s WWI Memoir: The Book, the Talk, the Exhibition

I’ve posted on the Beehive a few times about Margaret Hall, a Massachusetts woman who volunteered with the American Red Cross in France during World War I. So you may know (and if you didn’t, now you do!) that her memoir and selected photographs from her war experience will be published for the first time in the Society’s forthcoming book, Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: The World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall. The MHS will publish the volume on 14 July 2014.

Come celebrate the release of Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country on Tuesday, 15 July 2014, when the volume’s editor, Margaret R. Higonnet, will give a talk titled “‘What is Focus?’ Margaret Hall’s Battle Country.” The program will run from 6:00 to 7:30 PM following a pre-talk reception at 5:30 PM. This event is free but requires an RSVP. Register online or call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560.

And while you’re in the Society’s 1154 Boylston Street building, you can take in our current exhibition, Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War. Until then, you can get your Margaret Hall fix from July’s Object of the Month.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 11 July, 2014, 8:00 AM

Guest Post: Searching for the Federalist Party in Massachusetts

I plan to be a professional historian, but I had this nagging worry that sifting through a bunch of historical documents could be a mind-numbing slog that would turn me off of the subject I love so much. Thanks to the Massachusetts Historical Society, I now know I’m in this for the long haul. I had so much fun looking through old letters, speeches, and newspaper publications. Every text seemed to be an appeal from the long-dead author, saying, “Hear me! Know my story!” It was a thrilling experience to hear the perspective of contemporaries and draw my own conclusions.

Once I was shown around the building and told how to navigate the collection, I felt right at home. There is such a welcoming atmosphere, and I really felt the satisfaction of learning from the material, rather than simply completing an assigned project. I could assign real value to my work, and I wasn’t treated like a child. I really enjoyed working on my own investigation, alongside like-minded people, in an environment in which I felt completely at ease. During my visits I was delighted to see other young people doing the same kind of thing. The staff always took me seriously, and was always ready to help if I had a question. Until now I had never used microfiche, but within two minutes the reference librarian had me set up and I knew all I needed to know to use it. I could even take pictures of the old documents and email them to myself so I could do work at home.

My project was an investigation of just what happened to the Federalist party after the Revolution of 1800, the first major turnover of power in our government’s history. Usually we are taught that this defeated party, woefully out of touch with public opinion, faded into obscurity quickly after being defeated by Thomas Jefferson, apparently the dashing savior of the republic. The sources I looked over showed a very different story of a party that raised its standard against what they saw as misgovernment and staged a strong, if brief, political comeback.

My most invaluable resource was a collection of the letters by the arch-Federalist Harrison Gray Otis in the aftermath of the disastrous Hartford Convention. I actually came upon it by accident while looking through a collection of Massachusetts letters for a specific speech. The letters form a plea by Otis to posterity, people like us, to not let the name of Massachusetts be blackened by the misrepresentation of its conduct by the rest of the country. After watching a rival get elected governor and listening to that man’s denouncement of his own state during the War of 1812, he laments:

Hereafter it will be too late to blot out the blot made by His Excellency upon the historic page, by alleging that his speech was intended merely to chime with the slang of the day. It will be answered … that the accused party in the Legislature quailed under the pungent rebuke from the chair, and that members of the Convention continued to be dumb as sheep before their shearer … will not the rising generations of this State burn with shame and indignation when it shall constantly be thrown in their teeth by the rising generations of other States, that their base blood has crept to them through ancestors who silently admitted themselves to be stigmatized as outlaws from the “American Family!”

It was the discovery of documents such as this that helped me to develop a real connection to the project, unearthing old misconceptions and hearing age-old voices as directly as I possibly could. The MHS archives gave me a wonderful opportunity to experience historical research first hand. Even now that my fellowship is over I intend to go back and continue my research. We are so lucky to have access to these documents in Massachusetts and this organization, and I hope other people will take advantage of them as I did.


**The MHS has awarded the John Winthrop Student Fellowship since 2013. This fellowship encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the Society in a research project of their choosing.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 8:00 AM

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