Happy Birthday, Lafayette!
By Emilie Haertsch, Publications
Today marks the 255th birthday of Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, who was a Revolutionary War hero and one of the first celebrities in the United States. To celebrate, the Society joins with 23 other host institutions tomorrow for a lecture at Hamilton Hall in Salem, Mass. Prof. François Furstenberg, associate professor of history at the University of Montréal, will give the keynote lecture "When the United States Spoke French: Trans-Atlantic Politics, Land, and Diplomacy in the Age of the Revolution." A festive reception will follow to honor the marquis. For more information about the event please contact Becky Putnam of the Bowditch Institute at email@example.com or 978-744-6343.
A French citizen, Lafayette began his career as a musketeer in the king's regiment and married into a wealthy, well-connected French family. The reports of Americans fighting for liberty moved him, and in 1777 he bought a ship and sailed for America. Upon arrival, Lafayette earned an honorary commission as major general in the Continental Army. Gen. George Washington became his mentor, and Lafayette was devoted to him. Lafayette earned fame for his courage on the battlefield, and he used his family connections to obtain crucial material aid from France for the American cause. His support for the Revolution, especially as a foreigner, captured the imagination and admiration of Americans. He was beloved in the United States for the rest of his life.
Lafayette’s legacy is apparent in the Society's collections, which include correspondence, artifacts, and memorabilia from the time of the American Revolution and his celebrated return trip to the States in 1824-1825. The portrait gallery also features Jospeh Boze’s well-known portrait of Lafayette. Thomas Jefferson commissioned this work for his gallery of American heroes in honor of Lafayette's contributions to the American Revolution. The portrait depicts Lafayette at the pinnacle of his career. He wears the uniform of the French National Guard and a confident expression as he gazes off into the distance. Even at 255, he still looks good. A happy birthday to him.
| Published: Thursday, 6 September, 2012, 8:00 AM
Digitizing Dorr’s Annotated Newspapers
By Laura Wulf, Collection Services
This is the third online post about our collection of pre-Revolutionary War newspapers annotated by Boston shopkeeper Harbottle Dorr, Jr. In the first post Nancy Heywood introduced you to Dorr. In the second post Peter Steinberg highlighted some of the more humorous phrases we ran across in Dorr’s indexes. In this post, I thought I would share a behind-the-scenes look at the work that went into creating the digital images that will appear on our website in early 2013.
The four volumes that make up this collection began their digitization journey in the conservation lab where they were cleaned and rehoused in individual acid-free folders to insure their longevity. You can read about the conservation work in our Spring 2012 issue of the Society's newsletter Miscellany.
Once the conservation work was complete, the four-volume set, containing 3,674 pages, moved into the hands of the MHS Digital Projects team. Our very first task was to create spreadsheets itemizing each page so that we could standardize the digital file names, organize the sequencing, and track and account for every page of every newspaper.
Next, volumes 1 and 2 were delivered to the Digital Services Department of the Boston Public Library (BPL) for imaging. As a member of Digital Commonwealth (a Web portal and fee-based repository service for online cultural heritage materials held by Massachusetts libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives), the MHS is eligible for free digitization services provided by the BPL as part of a grant funded by the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and administered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC).
The BPL’s photography studio is equipped with 3 high-end digital camera systems, a copystand, and a vacuum table that holds items flat and perfectly parallel to the camera sensor. This equipment allows the technicians to create much higher quality digital images of the newspapers than we could create with our digital single lense reflex (DSLR) camera and copystand. Here’s what the set-up at the BPL looks like. Notice how, before the vacuum table is turned on, the corners of the newspaper are curled up:
And here is the same set up with the vacuum table turned on and the newspaper held down flat by the suction. Without the suction of the table the technicians would have to place a large piece of glass on top of the newspaper to hold it down flat, which is cumbersome, slows production and creates glare problems from the light source:
The BPL spent close to three weeks completing the digitization and file preparation. Volumes 1 and 2 were then returned to MHS along with a hard drive holding 1627 high resolution TIFF files, one for each page. We are currently working on figuring out what size images will work best on our website (given the capacity of our server, the large number of images to be presented, and the need for clear, readable text), what size repository statement will make it clear that the images come from our collection but not interfere with the online users’ ability to read the material, how to structure the website so that it will work efficiently, and how to design the interface so that it will be easy for people to use.
Once we have made these decisions, we will begin the process of creating the smaller images for display, uploading them onto our server, fine-tuning the website based on feedback from usability testing, and documenting our procedures so that the remaining images of volumes 3 and 4 can be created the same way for a consistent and high quality online presentation. The project is time consuming and labor intensive but we’re excited about this most unusual collection and hope that you’ll take the time to enjoy it once it’s up and running early next year.
| Published: Wednesday, 5 September, 2012, 8:00 AM
Interview: Spotlight on Education at the MHS
By Emilie Haertsch, Publications
On Wednesday Assistant Director of Education and Public Programs Kathleen Barker wrote about the recent teacher workshops held at the MHS. The week-long workshops, titled “At the Crossroads of Revolution: Lexington and Concord in 1775,” engaged 80 teachers from across the country, who will return to their classrooms with exciting material for their students. After the successful workshops, Barker sat down to talk with me about the Society’s ongoing educational work.
- Tell me about the history of education efforts at the MHS.
About 12 years ago MHS fellow David McCullough, whose son is a teacher, expressed an interest in developing educational efforts for teachers at the MHS. That led to the Society offering the Swensrud Fellowships for teachers beginning in 2001. That program continues today, in addition to other efforts. We have curriculum ideas available for teachers based on the materials in our collections. We also offer seminars where teachers have the opportunity to examine primary sources from our collections and take their discoveries back to their students. And we offer workshops for students and parents.
2. You recently completed two week-long summer workshops for teachers. What were the goals of these workshops?
The workshops were part of the Landmarks of American History and Culture project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the idea was to get teachers out into the landscapes where historical events happened. Our workshop was about Lexington and Concord during the Revolutionary War, so we took the teachers to those places. They were not in classrooms, but in barns, historic houses, and in Minute Man National Historic Park. We also spent time at the MHS and gave context to these places.
3. How have teachers been impacted by coming to educational events at the MHS?
Teachers from these recent workshops told us that they see history differently after being in the places where events took place, and they bring that to the classroom. Many teachers have told us they use our website in their classrooms, and they encourage their students to learn from documents from our online collections.
4. Why is it important that the rich materials in the Society’s collections reach young students?
The historical evidence in our collections helps students to develop critical thinking skills. Instead of taking the interpretation of their teacher or textbook at face value, they are able to examine original documents and form their own ideas. It’s also important to develop students’ interest in history, because they are the preservationists of tomorrow. If we want people to continue supporting historical work we need to foster a passion for history in today’s young people.
5. What are your plans for upcoming educational events at the MHS?
In the spring the Society will be cosponsoring National History Day. We’ll be holding workshops for both teachers and students for this event. Coming up on November 17th we have our Family Day, when the Society will be hosting a program for students and parents about the Revolutionary War. The Society also is planning the launch of a new website, so keep an eye out for updated curriculum help and program announcements in the Education section.
| Published: Friday, 17 August, 2012, 1:00 AM
MHS Begins Its 4th Year Tweeting JQA's Line-a-day Diaries!
By Nancy Heywood, Collection Services
Three years ago, on 5 August 2009, MHS staff began posting JQA's line-a-day diary entries on Twitter, exactly 200 years after the day described. (Read about the projects launch in a post from July 2009.) JQA's followers on Twitter received daily updates about his long voyage to Russia (he arrived in St. Petersburg on 23 September 1809) and since then have been reading JQA's brief descriptions of his official duties, aspects of his family life and recreational activities such as frequent walks. JQA's diplomatic duties included many meetings with Russia's Foreign Minister, Count Rumyantsev (JQA usually spelled his name, "Romanzoff"), diplomats from many European countries, and interactions with Levett Harris, the U. S. consul in St. Petersburg. For example JQA's line-a-day entry from 6 August 1810:
Interview and Conversation with Romanzoff. Call on Harris. Dined at Blome's. Mrs Colombi here; and Jones.
Two hundred years ago (early August 1812), from his location in St. Petersburg, JQA monitored a war between France and Russia (Napoleon's Grand Army invaded Russia in June 1812) and JQA anticipated hearing about a war between the U. S. and Great Britain. It took a long time for news to travel across the globe, but JQA received a note on 5 August 1812 officially confirming the war between the U. S. and Britain, even though the U. S. declared war on 18 June 1812. JQA's line-a-day entry from 5 August 1812:
At the sale of de Bray's furniture. Claude Gabriel here. Note from Proud. War declared 18 June by U.S. against G.B.
MHS enjoys sharing JQA’s succinct diary via tweets, and we were thrilled to get some favorable replies to a recent post mentioning his recent anniversary on Twitter:
I signed up for a Twitter account just so I could follow JQA. Thought it was a wonderful idea - still follow, still do! (from @JoanCiolino)
@JQAdams_MHS a must follow for history geeks! (from @kristinmachina)
@JQAdams_MHS keep it up, it's great! (@steveb7)
Those who have Twitter accounts can choose to follow (subscribe) to JQA's twitter posts although the tweets are also available to anyone who visits the following web page: http://twitter.com/JQAdams_MHS.
The MHS provides access to digital images of every single page of John Quincy Adams's diaries. One benefit of the ongoing JQA Twitter Project is that MHS adds transcriptions of the line-a-day diaries entries to the JQA diaries website after they are shared via JQA’s twitter account; for example, please see the display of June 1812: http://www.masshist.org/jqadiaries/doc.cfm?id=jqad23_252.
| Published: Tuesday, 7 August, 2012, 8:00 AM
Interview with Author and NEH Fellow Martha Hodes
By Emilie Haertsch, Publications
Martha Hodes, author of The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century, is the recent recipient of an NEH fellowship to conduct research at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The Sea Captain’s Wife was a finalist for the Lincoln Prize and was named a Best Book of 2006 by Library Journal. Hodes, who teaches at New York University, took the time to talk with us about the book, her past research, and her current project.
1. How did you come to know the Society and become involved in research here?
I first conducted research at MHS while I was writing my second book, The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century. The book’s protagonist, Eunice Connolly, is a white, working-class woman from New England whose husband fought and died for the Confederacy – after which she married a black sea captain from the Caribbean. Manuscript collections at the MHS illuminated important context, including anti-slavery sentiments in the New Hampshire town where Eunice lived during the Civil War, and anti-Irish sentiments in the cotton mills (where Eunice worked). Eunice lived in Lowell when the war was ending, so I also invoked a Lowell woman’s personal response to Lincoln’s assassination from the Martha Fisher Anderson Diaries at MHS. I had no idea then what my next book would be about.
2. What is the focus of your research during your NEH fellowship?
I’m writing a book, Mourning Lincoln, about personal responses to Lincoln’s assassination, encompassing northerners and southerners, African Americans and whites, soldiers and civilians, men and women, rich and poor, the well-known and the unknown, those at home and abroad. I’m specifically searching beyond the public and ceremonial record in order to move beyond the static portrait of a grieving nation that we find in headlines and sermons. The idea is to understand a transformative event on a human scale -- access to the hearts and minds of individual Americans across the spring and summer of 1865 tells us so much more than we thought we knew.
3. How did you become interested in history and decide to enter this field?
I went to college sure I’d be an English major. At Bowdoin, I ended up creating a double major in Religion and Political Theory. Then I continued my studies in comparative religion by getting an MA at Harvard Divinity School. During those years, my work-study job was at Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, and that was where I came to see that I was happier immersed less in abstract ideas and more in the workings of people’s daily lives. That’s when I applied to PhD programs in History.
4. What inspired you to write The Sea Captain’s Wife? Did you discover anything unexpected while writing it?
While writing my dissertation at Princeton, I came across an amazing collection at Duke University – the letters of Eunice Connolly’s family. They didn’t belong in my dissertation and first book (White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South), because Eunice’s story wasn’t a southern one, and I hoped no one else would discover the collection before I got to it. Lucky for me, no one did. And the letters did indeed yield unexpected discoveries -- about race and racial classification. I found that when Eunice worked as a laundress during the Civil War (that was the lowest of lowly domestic work, reserved for Irish immigrants and black women), her New England neighbors barely thought of her as a white woman, and her subsequent marriage to a man of color further justified her exclusion from white womanhood. Then, when Eunice married the sea captain and went to live in the Cayman Islands, her neighbors there came to think of her as a woman of color, but in a very different way. In the Caribbean racial system, where the category of “colored” lay closer to whiteness than to blackness, Eunice’s status -- as the wife of a well-to-do sea captain of African descent -- rose beyond anything she had known as a poor white woman in New England. All in all, Eunice’s life story illuminates not only how malleable are racial categories and their meanings, but also how much power those classifications can hold. I didn’t know any of that when I began to write her story from the letters.
5. A number of professors have used The Sea Captain’s Wife in undergraduate and graduate-level courses. How do you feel about your work being taught and what do you look for in selecting materials for your own students?
I wrote The Sea Captain’s Wife for readers both within and beyond the academy, and I’m equally thrilled when professors assign it in their classes as I am when it’s chosen by, say, a women’s reading group. In my own classroom, whether I’m teaching conventional courses (like the Civil War or Nineteenth-Century U.S. History) or less conventional courses (like Biography as History or History and Storytelling), I strive to assign books that both impart good history and illuminate people’s lives, by asking -- or prompting the students to ask -- big questions about both the past and the present. I’m happy if The Sea Captain’s Wife can accomplish some of that. It’s what I hope to accomplish, too, in Mourning Lincoln.
| Published: Wednesday, 1 August, 2012, 8:00 AM