The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Around MHS

The MHS Tweets!

The Massachusetts Historical Society is proud to announce the launch of a new organization-wide Twitter account: @MHS1791. After the success of the John Quincy Adams line-a-day diary tweets, we have similarly high hopes for this venture, which will feature historical tidbits, news on events and happenings, and behind-the-scenes glimpses. We are thrilled to engage in this new way with other historical and cultural institutions, as well as scholars, educators, researchers, visitors, and history enthusiasts. Join the conversation! Follow the Society at @MHS1791. Looking for other ways to interact with the MHS? Follow @JQAdams_MHS to keep up with the Adamses, visit out Facebook page, or check out other posts on the blog.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 3 January, 2013, 8:00 AM

Massachusetts Historical Review Volume 14 on Its Way

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: that time when a new volume of the Massachusetts Historical Review goes to press! Print subscribers will receive Volume 14 by mail in the early days of the new year, and the electronic version will be published simultaneously through JSTOR’s Current Scholarship Program. Learn more about subscription here. The journal is also a benefit of MHS membership—learn more about membership here!

The upcoming volume treats a diversity of fascinating topics:

“Boston’s Historic Smallpox Epidemic” by Amalie M. Kass
Cotton Mather’s advocacy for inoculation—a practice then unheard of in the colonies—stirred up a controversy in 18th-century Boston. Insults and accusations flew in the partisan newspapers as inoculation’s champions and opponents fought for public health—and personal glory. The source of Mather’s knowledge of inoculation may surprise you.

“The Newbury Prayer Bill Hoax: Devotion and Deception in New England’s Era of Great Awakenings” by Douglas L. Winiarski
This article explores the phenomenon of the prayer bill or prayer note in colonial religious practices, and how a satirical prayer bill was crafted to injure the reputation of Newbury Congregational minister Rev. Christopher Toppan, who vehemently opposed the popular religious revivals of the Great Awakening.

“A Prince among Pretending Free Men: Runaway Slaves in Colonial New England Revisited” by Antonio T. Bly
Bly sheds light on the lives and characteristics of runaway slaves through in-depth analysis and explication of runaway notices in newspapers. Clues within these notices tell us how fugitive slaves employed quick wits and savvy under extraordinary duress. Bly, who has compiled a database of runaway slave notices, crunches the numbers on a variety of characteristics, illuminating the most common months for escape, the race, linguistic ability, and work backgrounds of runaways, and more.

“Boston, the Boston Indian Citizenship Committee, and the Poncas” by Valerie Sherer Mathes
When the Ponca Indians of Nebraska were forced from their homeland in 1877 and sent to the inhospitable Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma), many Americans sympathized with their plight. Among those who took up the cause was the Boston Indian Citizenship Committee, a group of philanthropists, described in detail for the first time in this article. Mathes also chronicles the speaking tours in support of the Poncas, including the tour of Ponca chief Standing Bear.

The new volume also includes review articles by Sarah Phillips and Chernoh Sesay concerning environmental history and books about Phillis Wheatley and Venture Smith, respectively.

Every issue of the MHR offers pieces rich in narrative detail and thoughtful analysis, and Volume 14 is no different. The MHS looks forward to its publication.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 30 November, 2012, 1:00 AM

Making the Body Politic

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Suzanne and Caleb Loring Research Fellow Ann Holder of the Pratt Institute discussed her research on post-Civil War citizenship, race, and public spaces in a presentation titled “Making the Body Politic: Sexual Histories, Racial Uncertainties, and Vernacular Citizenship in the Post-Emancipation U.S.” The presentation drew on one chapter from a book-length project exploring “public space as a battleground for citizenship.” In this particular chapter, Holder focuses on segregation debates and practices on streetcars and railways from the late 1860s into the early 20th century. She looks comparatively at Boston, Richmond (Virginia), and New Orleans in order to explore how the public space of streetcars and railway carriages were negotiated with regards to race, class, and sexuality, as these public transit systems developed and became necessary for urban life over the course of the 19th century.

Historians have often assumed that, following emancipation, the categories of black/white were easily mapped onto American society as a substitute for slave/free. Holder argues instead that racial segregation, in custom and law, actually rose in response to the uncertainty of racial categories in the Reconstruction era.  Inter-racial sexual relationships during the era of slavery had created racial ambiguity that slavery regulated; once slavery ended, the instability of racial identities exposed the fallacy of a clear demarcation between black and white. Segregation, she suggests, was a “newly-created borderland” between white and black communities, and one which required new mechanisms for enforcement – such as physical segregation in public spaces. Where once whites were relatively free to travel “at will” in black spaces, in the latter half of the 19th century they became subject to new laws restricting them to white spaces. This led to complaints, for example, by whites about crowded whites-only streetcars (particularly when black cars passed by relatively empty, as during organized boycotts), and the rise in arrests of whites for violating segregation laws. In other words, whites had to be disciplined into the “white role” in a similar (though lesser, less violent) fashion as blacks.

Here at the MHS, Holder is exploring the history of segregation in Boston transit, which was practiced customarily in the early 19th century before it fell victim to the campaigns to “strip the legal system of reference to race” in the early 19th century, and to repeal laws banning inter-racial marriage. She notes how the “forced democratization” of crowded public spaces, and the “physicality of encounters with the ‘other’” whether of another class, sex, and/or race, often discomfited those of higher social standing and introduced an unmistakable undertone of sexuality to the experience of traveling. In her presentation, she quoted an anonymous diarist who recounted his unhappy experience of traveling from New York to Boston on the railway, using the word “amalgamation” to describe class mixing in train cars – a word that would, in the Reconstruction era, come to mean inter-racial sexual relations.

Discussion following Holder’s presentation explored the various ways in which imposed order was attempted on the disorganization of public transit, whether by the creation of “first class” rail cars, smoking cars, women-only cars, or racially-segregated trolleys and trains.

We look forward to seeing where Anne Holder takes her research from here, and are very pleased to have her with us throughout the academic year pursuing her work in our Reading Room.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 28 November, 2012, 8:00 AM

Who’s Your Favorite Historian?

Although it’s only early November, program planning for the winter and spring of 2013 is well under way here in the Education Department. The MHS will be offering an interesting mix of public programs in the coming months, including concerts, author talks, a walking tour, and even a dramatic reading! Even as we experiment with different program formats, however, we always remember to ask ourselves how we can shine a spotlight on the Society’s unique resources and assets. In addition to our amazing collections, the MHS also employs a phenomenal staff with connections to an engaging array of historians, public figures, artists, and others who make use of history in their work. How can we tap into this deep pool of historical enthusiasm? What is the best way to connect all of these fantastic people with our public program audiences?  We’ve come up with a few ideas, but we’d love to hear what YOU think.

One program we will pilot in 2013 is modeled after something we’ve tried at our annual fundraiser, “Cocktails with Clio.” At each of the past two events, the Society’s President has interviewed a prominent historian as part of the evening’s entertainment. We’d like to build on this format and develop an entire series of discussion-based programs that feature historians working on intriguing projects.

So ... who is your favorite historian? Who would you like to converse with at the MHS? Along the same lines, we’re also on the lookout for non-historians who could comment on how history affects their work. Jurists, for example, could discuss how they use history to frame their responses to current court cases, while city planners could explain how they engage with the past while planning for the future. Are there other “opinion makers” you’d like to see at the MHS? Use the comment form below to let us know!

Of course, writers and artists use history in their work all the time, and we’re excited to offer several prominent examples of historically minded creations this spring. In February, for example, we will host author William Martin, who will share the experience of writing his latest book, The Lincoln Letter, a work of historical fiction that takes readers on a an adventure through Civil War Washington. In May, we will bring our collections to life in song and theater. Local playwright Rob Velella will join us for a dramatic reading that explores the friendship between Charles Sumner and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His performance is based on the letters, journals, and other documents created by both men. Later in the month, Berklee Professor of Music Education Peter Cokkinias brings his Boston Saxophone Quartet to MHS. The group will perform music from the era of the American Civil war and provide historical commentary on songs that our audience will be sure to recognize. Are you ready to sing along?

Now that you’re all excited about 2013, don’t forget that we have some nifty programs coming up in November and December. Be sure to visit our web calendar often for more information about programs on the horizon.

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 8 November, 2012, 1:00 AM

Terrorism No New Topic to Presidential Elections

It’s Election Day, and there has been a lot of talk in the news lately about terrorism influencing the current and last two presidential elections. But although sometimes it feels like it’s a relatively new political issue, the fear of terrorism has been part of the American political discussion since our nation’s founding. During the presidential election of 1800, terrorism and its prevention were hot topics, and part of what cost Pres. John Adams his reelection.

During Adams’s presidency, America was involved in the Quasi-War with France from 1798 through 1800. France was a great ally to the United States during the American Revolution, but much changed in the intervening years. The United States made peace with Great Britain in 1783, and several years later the French monarchy collapsed. Revolutionary France declared war on Great Britain, and Great Britain joined a coalition of European monarchies that aimed at containing the French Revolution. The United States remained neutral in the conflict. In addition, the U.S. government refused to repay debts owed to France from the American Revolution, claiming that they were owed to the French monarchy, which no longer existed. Ignoring American neutrality, French privateers began seizing American merchant ships in the West Indies. This led to an undeclared war between the United States and France—the Quasi-War.

Pres. Adams and the Federalist Party supporters aligned with Great Britain. They viewed the French Revolution as mob rule and resented what they saw as foreign intervention in American domestic politics. They also feared the threat of possible invasion. Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law in 1798. The four laws targeted French immigrants and sympathizers to the French cause, but also foreigners in general and anyone who criticized the government. The Alien and Sedition Acts increased the residency requirement for citizenship from five to fourteen years and empowered the president to deport aliens “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States” at will. No one ever was prosecuted or deported as a “dangerous” alien and the law expired in 1800, but it had a chilling effect on resident aliens. A separate law that allowed the president to restrain or remove enemy aliens in wartime was the only act that had wide support in congress (and still is in effect today), but was not used by Adams because the U.S. never formally declared war on France. The laws also limited the freedom of the press, a sentiment that Adams had strongly supported as author of the Massachusetts Constitution. The Sedition Act gave the government broad power to suppress public attacks on the government and its officials, and, as a practical matter, allowed the Federalists to prosecute their political opponents. The Sedition Act also had a fixed term and ended on the last day of Adams’s presidential term in March 1801.

When the Federalists attempted to use the Alien and Sedition Acts to silence their opposition, they met strong opposition from the Democratic-Republican Party, a party more closely aligned with the ideals of the French Revolution and under the leadership of Vice President Thomas Jefferson. Most newspapers of the day were partisan, and when Republican newspapers harshly criticized the Adams administration for its handling of French relations, fourteen authors and editors were tried under the new Sedition Act. Playwright and newspaperman James Burke, Vermont congressman Matthew Lyon, and newspapermen Thomas and Abijah Adams were among those indicted for seditious libel.

The 1800 presidential election was a bitter continuation of the previous presidential election. One of the Democratic Republicans’ chief criticisms of the Federalist Party was of its efforts to centralize and increase governmental power, illustrated by the passage of the Alien and Section Acts and the resulting infringement on individual rights. Republicans were not necessarily against prosecutions for seditious libel, but believed they should take place in state rather than federal courts.

The Republicans won the election of 1800 and, at least in part because of the unpopular acts, Adams became a one-term president. He was succeeded by Jefferson who, in his conciliatory first inaugural speech, said that “…every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names, brethren of the same principle. WE ARE ALL REPUBLICANS; WE ARE ALL FEDERALISTS.” His administration too soon would be at war with foreign “terrorists,” in this case the Barbary pirates, who attacked and kidnapped American sailors in the Mediterranean.

During the recent presidential debates, Pres. Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney addressed their own positions on terrorism and homeland security. Although the threat may look slightly different now, with a greater focus on foreign terrorists rather than internal subversion, it’s nothing new to American politics. Just ask John Adams—and Thomas Jefferson. And don’t forget to vote!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 6 November, 2012, 1:00 AM

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