The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Education Programs

Guest Post: The Boston Post Road

National History Day (NHD) was upon us. The dreaded three-month research project that requires scouring the depths of every database for any primary or secondary source that could help prove our thesis. After many late nights of research, and enough tears (and pizza) to last us a lifetime, we had given up hope in finding any valuable sources. In a time of despair, we turned to the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) for guidance. With a topic like the Boston Post Road, how could it not?

With the help of Mrs. Sampson, our remarkable history department head at Stoneham High, we were able to contact Kathleen Baker and Anna Clutterbuck-Cook. They assisted us in arranging a visit to the MHS, where we were able to meet the rest of the knowledgeable and welcoming staff.

We walked into the MHS expecting to see stereotypical old men with their shirts buttoned to the very top, sitting in the corner of every room we entered, reading large encyclopedias. With this in mind we were prepared to act as proper and professional as we could.  Contrary to what we expected, we checked in and quickly realized that MHS was staffed by young, enthusiastic historians. We were welcomed with an informative tour of where everything was located. Although we were entirely new to the MHS, the staff treated us as if we were any other historians. Along with finding great sources, the respect we received from the staff boosted our confidence in our historical research skills.

Now we were ready to find what we really came to the MHS for: colonial newspapers on microfilm!!!  Although, the actual letter that started the Boston Post Road in 1672 may also have been important to see.  The staff was always ready to help, which made the entire process much easier than anticipated.  A few clicks later and we were in!  It was incredible to see old newspapers that were transported along the Post Road to relay the world’s current events in the early 1700s, transformed into a computer document and displayed right in front of us.  The only thing that could top it was being able to hold the physical letter that essentially started the Boston Post Road.  Oh yeah, we did that too!  We were guided into a room with rows of tables accompanied by dim lighting as not to fade the age old documents. The woman helping us explained that we were allowed to take pictures of the documents, which we took full advantage of. Although we had to stay quiet and respect the others working, they did allow us to pass the documents to each other. A piece of advice for anyone who will be reading colonial letters: brush up on your ability to read sophisticated cursive if there is no transcript for the particular letter.

We were able to quickly and efficiently find everything we had come for. But beyond the sources and helpful staff, the experience gave us an opportunity to join the professional field of history and make an argument. With our foundation of quality research backing us, NHD was more than a high school project, it was our transition into respectable historians.


**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: Friday, 7 October, 2016, 12:00 AM

Summer Professional Development for Teachers: FAQ

Summer is right around the corner, which means the MHS education department is busy organizing another round of exciting, hands-on learning opportunities for K-12 teachers. Read on to learn more about what the MHS can offer you (or your favorite teacher) in the coming months!

Does the MHS offer workshop for teachers during the summer months?

Absolutely! You can visit the Teacher Workshop page on the MHS website to find our current program offerings. In the summer of 2016, we will host programs on women in the era of the American Revolution, whaling and maritime history, the Civil War, and the creation of the U.S. Constitution.

What will I do at an MHS teacher workshop?

Workshop participants become historians as they examine original documents and artifacts from the Society’s collections. Many workshop sessions are also designed to model various ways to use primary sources in the classroom. We also like to provide educators with opportunities to discuss current historical scholarship, so most of our workshops include guest speakers who have worked extensively with materials from the MHS. Our visiting scholars understand the demands of classroom teaching, and make every effort to provide content that you can use to enhance your own lessons. We frequently collaborate with other organizations to create programs, so many of our workshops include field trips to partner sites. This summer’s workshops include visits to places like the Museum of Fine Arts, Old North Church, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and the Cape Ann Museum.

Reading John and Abigail Adams letters at the MHS

Can I earn a stipend through any of your programs?

Yes! Throughout 2016, the Society is celebrating its 225th anniversary. Thanks to funding from the Richard Saltonstall Charitable Foundation, we are offering a special three-day workshop on “Teaching Three Centuries of History through MHS Collections.” The workshop is open to educators and library media specialists of grades 5-12. Participants will engage with items in our collections, learn from guest historians, and investigate different methods for using primary sources in the classroom. We will explore topics such as colonial encounters between English settlers and native peoples, urban politics in the era of the American Revolution, African American poetry and antebellum abolition efforts, and the woman’s suffrage movement. Each participant will be expected to curate a set of classroom resources on a specific topic in exchange for a $500 stipend and two graduate credits. Educators and library media specialists of grades 5-12 are welcome to apply. You can find the application instructions on our website:

Can I earn Professional Development Points and/or graduate credit at these workshops?

Yes. The MHS is a registered PDP provider with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Most of our programs also offer the option of graduate credit (for an additional fee.)

How can I learn more?

For information about programs for teachers and students, including workshops, fellowships, and online resources, visit the Education pages of the Society’s website, or contact the education department at

Teachers as students on Lexington Green

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 9 March, 2016, 1:35 PM

From the Magna Carta to Boston School Desegregation: An Educational Summer

Summer is in full swing at the Society, and that means I’m surrounded by teachers and students (of all ages) who love history as much as I do. Our season began with a workshop for a group of educators visiting from Oxnard, California. After viewing artifacts from the era the American Revolution, the group debated the effectiveness of the boycotts of British goods that took place in Boston in the 1760s and 1770s. This program was a great example of the connections MHS staff members have made at workshops and conferences over the years. The group leader, Blake Thomas, was a participant in our 2010 Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop (which was just funded again by the National Endowment for the Humanities for the summer of 2015!).  

July brought new partnerships and new friends to the MHS. July 10-11, MHS education staff co-hosted a workshop with the Museum of Fine Arts to celebrate their special exhibition Magna Carta: Cornerstone of Liberty. The exhibit features many documents from MHS collections, including two manuscript copies of the Declaration of Independence, originally written by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, currency engraved by Paul Revere, and Elbridge Gerry’s annotated copy of the U.S. Constitution. Participants enjoyed viewing the exhibition and analyzing other documents from the MHS and artifacts and paintings from the MFA. As a final activity, participants had to create their own broadsides that offered commentary on the theme of rights and liberties in the pre-revolutionary era.

This month also featured a visit from MYTOWN students researching the American Revolution in the Boston area. MYTOWN is a great organization that engages students in the learning and teaching of their local history. These particular student viewed documents from the period pertaining to the Revolution in general (like the Declaration of Independence), as well as materials related specifically to the Dillaway Thomas House in Roxbury. They even blogged about their experience at the MHS! 

I spent the week of July 18 working with a fun group of educators participating in the Primarily Teaching program at the National Archives in Waltham. Together we researched Boston school desegregation, in particular the records pertaining to Morgan v. Hennigan, the case that prompted Boston Public Schools to adopt busing in order to reverse segregation in its schools and facilities. By the end of the week, I had worked with my counterpart at the Archives, Annie Davis, to develop a new workshop on the changing meanings of equality in education over the last two and a half centuries. (Look for it on our program schedule in 2015.)

August might be right around the corner, but summer isn’t over yet. There are still opportunities to attend an MHS workshop. Join us in Searsport, Maine, or, Falmouth, Massachusetts, for an upcoming workshop on the first years of the Early Republic. These “Old Towns/New Country” workshops introduce participants to local aspects of national stories such as the War of 1812, economic crises, political debates, and the flourishing of a distinctly American culture. We have a number of other programs for educators on the horizon for fall, including a two-day workshop on women and World War I, a program for students and teachers interested in National History Day,  and another two-day session on the history of Boston and the Sea. Keep an eye on our events calendar for more details!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 1 August, 2014, 1:00 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

Adventures in Western Massachusetts

What do Herman Melville, papermaking, and Shays’ Rebellion have in common? Perhaps you already knew that all three have a connection to Berkshire County in Massachusetts. On 15-16 November 2013, educators and history enthusiasts had the opportunity to immerse themselves in these topics as part of the Society’s recent series of workshops, “Old Towns/New Country: The First Years of the New Nation.” This program, offered in conjunction with the Berkshire Historical Society at Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, the Crane Museum of Papermaking, and the Pittsfield Athenaeum, offered participants a behind-the-scenes look at the fascinating history of the region.

Friday’s highlights included a discussion of the events known as Shays’ Rebellion, tiptoeing through gravestones, and vacuuming water from paper pulp.  First, Gary Shattuck shared his research into the life of his ancestor, Job Shattuck, a participant in the uprising that closed several Massachusetts courts in 1786 and 1787. We discussed the complicated political, social, and economic conditions that led to the “rebellion,” as well as Shays’ and Shattuck’s legacies. Is it really accurate to call these court closings a rebellion? As Gary pointed out, men like Shattuck were not trying to overthrow the system of government, just regulate it. (Perhaps that’s why the title of Gary’s new book is Artful and Designing Men: The Trials of Job Shattuck and the Regulation of 1786-1787.)

Friday afternoon began with a conversation with Dean Eastman, a retired history teacher from Beverly High School and the co-creator (with Kevin McGrath) of the fantastic website, Primary Research: Local History, Closer to Home. Many of the primary-source-based projects featured on the site were collaborations between Dean’s students, historians, and local history organizations. Dean explained how one investigation into the designs carved into eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gravestones encouraged student research on topics including local artists, the religious culture of Massachusetts, and even the growth patterns of lichen. Dean is currently looking for history buffs to participate in a project that traces the men and women who served as apprentices in Essex County, Massachusetts. Visit to learn more. The day concluded with a visit to the Crane Museum of Papermaking in Dalton. Curator Peter Hopkins treated us to a hands-on introduction to the art of making fine paper. Did you know that Crane & Co. supplies the majority of the paper that will become United States currency? Although we didn’t get to make money, everyone did take a turn at making a sheet of paper.

Saturday was devoted to exploring the physical structures and features of the landscape that make Berkshire country such a special place. Curator Will Garrison gave participants a look at some of the artifacts donated to the Berkshire Historical Society over the years. Although the Society is headquartered at Melville’s Pittsfield residence, Arrowhead, the organization’s collections include many intriguing artifacts that speak to the history of the region. Participants caught a glimpse of a nineteenth-century sampler, a cozy looking quilted skirt, a piece of the hull from the U.S.S. Constitution, and part of the press used by the residents of Cheshire, Massachusetts, to make a 1,200-pound wheel of cheese for President Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Our tour of Arrowhead concluded with a walk through his home with Betsy Sherman, Director of the Berkshire Historical Society. She talked about Melville’s longstanding connection to—and affinity for—the Berkshires, as well as the references to the people and places of the region that fill the pages of his writings. She saved the best part of the tour for last: a glimpse into Melville’s study and the stunning view of Mt. Greylock beyond his window. We ended the day in the local history room at the Pittsfield Athenaeum, where Kathleen Reilly treated us to a comprehensive overview of the library’s many resources. Like Dean, she also has a potential research project for anyone with time and interest to spare. Just ask her about the mystery of the twin paintings….

For information about upcoming public programs or workshops, please visit our web calendar or contact the Education Department.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 9:23 AM

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