The MHS Education Team is in Our Revolutionary Era 

By Heather Wilson, Assistant Director for K-12 Learning 

As we approach the 250th anniversary of the start of the Revolutionary War, we are excited to announce the launch of four new primary source sets on topics set in the 1770s on the History Source! We were thrilled to spend the summer working with scholars and K-12 teachers to breathe new life into these historical topics, and teachers can download all materials to use in their classrooms for free! These four new source sets were made possible with funding from the MA Society of the Cincinnati. Read on for a brief description of our new sets. 

Investigating Multiple Perspectives on the Boston Massacre

several ships waving British flags approach a densely settled port with a long wharf and many church steeples in the background
In 1768, Paul Revere portrayed his anxiety over the arrival of “British ships of war landing their troops” in Boston. This print is a reproduction from 1868. 

The arrival of British troops in Boston in the fall of 1768 – dispatched to protect customs officials tasked with collecting duties put in place by the Townshend Acts – is the catalyst for this primary source set on the Boston Massacre. With this context, students then analyze visual and written propaganda created in the wake of the night of 5 March 1770. Teaching activities use witness testimonies from a diverse array of Bostonians to help students understand that people’s accounts of that night conflicted with one another and could be influenced by their existing social relationships and politics.   

The Evolving Legacy of Crispus Attucks: 1770-1863 

black ink on yellowed paper shows a line of soldiers shooting at a crowd and a Black man falling. Text around it reads: “Crispus Attucks, March 5th 1770, the day which history selects as the dawn of the American Revolution”
Broadside advertising an 1863 event during which abolitionists gathered to commemorate Crispus Attucks as a martyr, and the Boston Massacre as the “dawn of the American Revolution.”

According to a Boston newspaper a week after the Boston Massacre, Crispus Attucks, a Black and Indigenous formerly enslaved man, had been born in Framingham and was passing through Boston “in order to go for North Carolina” in his work as a sailor. Instead, Attucks was one of five victims killed by British soldiers on the night of 5 March 1770. Attucks’ role that night was contested. Some portrayed him as the instigator and leader, while others claimed he was merely a spectator. In his defense of the British soldiers, John Adams blamed Attucks for the Massacre, using only select witness testimony as evidence. In the mid-19th century, the Black abolitionist and historian William Cooper Nell revived the public memory of Attucks. Like Adams, he portrayed Attucks as the leader of the event, but in the heroic role of a martyr standing up against tyranny.  

Attucks was not the only person of color present in the streets of Boston that fateful night, even though Revere’s famous engraving depicts only white people at the scene. Witness testimony and depositions from the trial of the soldiers also include the words of Andrew (last name once known), a literate man enslaved by a member of the Sons of Liberty, and Newton Prince, a free Black lemon merchant and pastry chef who ultimately left Boston for London as a Loyalist. 

Boston 1773: Destruction of the Tea 

shriveled brown tea leaves sit inside a glass bottle that is closed up with a cork; cursive handwriting in brown ink on a yellowed paper is inside the bottle
The label on this glass bottle filled with loose tea leaves reads, “Tea that was gathered up on the shore of Dorchester Neck on the morning after the destruction of the three cargo’s, at Boston, December 17, 1773.”

December 16th of this year marks the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, or, as it was known at the time, the Destruction of the Tea. In this set, students explore broadsides, diary entries, artifacts, political cartoons, news articles and more to understand the wide variety of perspectives various stakeholders brought to the tea crisis. The set ends with the first three Coercive Acts, which Parliament enacted to punish and exert increased control over the rebellious colony. 

Massachusetts Loyalists: Revolution and Exile 

neat, large cursive handwriting on yellowed paper
On 29 September 1778, 11-year-old Eliza Byles wrote a letter to her aunts in Boston from Halifax, Nova Scotia, where her Loyalist family had fled in exile. Eliza was the daughter of Mather Byles, who had been the rector of Old North Church.

Following the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, British colonists in North America were proud to be part of such a vast empire. By 1775 – and following a series of protests against British tax policies – the first battles of the Revolutionary War had taken place in Massachusetts. However, not all colonists joined the Patriot cause. In this set, students explore who Loyalists were, why they maintained their allegiance to the British Crown, and what consequences they faced as a result.  

Many thanks to: Kate Bowen, Abigail Portu, G. Patrick O’Brien, PhD, Ben Remillard, PhD, J.L. Bell, and Serena Zabin, PhD, for their work as writing consultants and/or scholarly advisors on these source sets!

Check out all four sets on the History Source

The MHS Welcomes Back Another Year of National History Day in Massachusetts!  

By Simbrit Paskins, Student Programs Coordinator

The 2024 National History Day Season Is Upon Us
In Massachusetts, students across the state in grade 6-12 gear up for History Day project presentations and statewide contests! While many students will present their best work at in-house, school-day history showcases, many other students are in preparation mode for the upcoming NHD competition, of which thousands of students across the country are also preparing!

This Year’s National Theme Is “Turning Points in History
The theme prompts students to think about an idea, event, or action that directly, or sometimes indirectly, causes change. While students are currently digging deep into related research and project planning, young scholars from across the commonwealth will soon be excited and eager to present their work to the community and to their peers! 

Volunteer Judges Are An Essential Part of NHD
In 2024, the MHS will host 3 Regional Competitions in Leicester, Stoneham, and Foxborough, MA, and 1 State competition in Winchester, MA. We anticipate strong student participation in the new year, and will need the support of community members who are willing to volunteer their time on contest day as NHD Judges. 

On contest day, judges work in teams to review entries in a specific category, interview students, and provide written feedback notes. Many students refer to these notes and to their judging experience to make recommended edits and improvements to their projects, whether they are moving on to the state contest or planning to compete again in the next year. Judges also help select which projects advance from the Regional to State competition.  

You don’t need to be an historian to be an amazing NHD judge or to contribute to a positive and memorable student experience. We provide a judging orientation and other training materials so that volunteers feel prepared to judge on contest day. For more information on judging at a local contest, please fill out our “2024 Judge Interest Form” and visit our website here

About National History Day
As described by the National History Day Organization, “National History Day® (NHD) is an educational nonprofit organization that engages teachers and students in historical research. The mission of NHD is to improve the teaching and learning of history in middle and high school through an innovative framework of historical inquiry and research. Students learn history by selecting topics of interest, launching into year-long research projects, and presenting their findings through creative approaches and media.” ( NHD 2024 Theme Book, “What Is National History Day?”, https://nhd.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/NHD-2024-Theme-Book-FINAL-UPDATED-web.pdf, Accessed: 11/15/23) 

Last year, over 600 students in MA participated in NHD in MA! With the support of local educators, parents and guardians, sports coaches, after school program coordinators, and the Massachusetts Historical Society, middle and high school students across the state created thoughtful, research-based, and informative History Day projects. We can’t wait to see what new and exciting work students are getting into in the upcoming 2024 season! 

Save the Date!

Saturday, March 2, 2024 

  • Stoneham Regional Competition: Stoneham Central Middle School (149 Franklin Street Stoneham, MA 02180). Contest Coordinator: Paula Sampson, psampson@masshist.org. 
  • Foxborough Regional Competition: Foxborough High School (120 South St, Foxborough, MA 02035). Contest Coordinator: Leah Cardullo, mhdsouthshore@gmail.com. 

Sunday, March 10, 2024 

  • Leicester Regional Competition: Leicester Middle School (174 Paxton St Leicester MA). Contest Coordinator: Norman Everett, centralwestnhdma@gmail.org. 

Saturday, April 6, 2024 

  • Massachusetts State Competition: Winchester High School (80 Skillings Road, Winchester, MA 01890). Contest Coordinator: Simbrit Paskins, nhd@masshist.org. 

Resource Links: 

  • To stay connected with “All Things NHD” please join our newsletter by clicking here
  • Want to volunteer as a judge? Click here to complete the “2024 Judge Interest Form”. 

Announcing our 2023 Student and Teacher Fellowship Recipients

By Kate Melchior, Associate Director of Education

The MHS Education Department is excited to announce our cohort of student and teacher fellows for the 2023 season! 

Each year, the MHS offers fellowships to three K-12 educators and one high school student; offering the opportunity to explore the Society’s archives. Teacher fellows are invited to research and create educational materials using documents and artifacts from MHS collections, responding to a gap in their curriculum or diving deeper into classroom content knowledge. High school student fellows work with a teacher mentor to research a topic of their choosing and create a project to share their findings, gaining experience in the field of history and working in archival spaces. 

We are thrilled to be working with the following scholars this year:

Swensrud Teacher Fellows

Sydney Slayer, Lyons Township HS (Illinois) is investigating American imperialism in South America and Hawai’i.

Matt Weiss, Verde Valley HS (Arizona) is exploring shifts in Haudenosaunee politics and diplomacy in the early 1700s.

Kass Teacher Fellow

Michael M. Khorshidianzadeh, Victor School (Acton, MA) is researching Massachusetts progressivism and peace movements in the lead-up to World War I.

John Winthrop Student Fellow

Sahai Virk, Milford HS (Milford, MA) is examining the history of medical care and health care on marginalized populations and communities in Massachusetts.

Our Education fellows will present their findings in blog posts later this fall.

For those who are interested in applying, the MHS Education Fellowships are available to all K-12 educators and high school students from all U.S. states and territories. Applications for next year’s fellowship cohort will open in January 2024. Visit our website for more information and sign up for the Education newsletter to be the first to hear about next year’s applications!

National History Day: National Competition 2023

By Kate Melchior and Simbrit Paskins

On 11 June, for the first time in four years, a team of 61 middle and high school students from across Massachusetts set out to the University of Maryland, College Park, for the 2023 NHD National Contest. There they joined a group of over 3,000 students representing all 50 United States, Washington, D.C., Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and international schools in China, Korea, and South Asia.  Can you picture it? A sea of young people, on a college campus, excited about history and ready to take Nationals by storm!

Image shows the backs of several students walking towards a building. Students are wearing red t-shirts and black drawstring bags with a white MHS History day logo imprinted.
Massachusetts students at NHD National Contest

Once at College Park, students spent the week presenting the documentaries, website, exhibits, performances, and papers they’ve worked on all year; traded state pins and stories with students from around the world; and shared in the incredible experience that is National History Day.

During their four-day stay in College Park, students experienced life on a college campus, staying in dorms and eating in the school dining halls with students from around the world. They viewed the exhibits and performances of other students and explained their own topics of research to new friends. They also participated in a variety of activities just for fun with their Massachusetts cohort, including a monument tour of D.C., a New England board game night, and an ice cream party. Finally, on the last day they participated in a massive parade and award ceremony in the UMD Stadium.

Image shows hundreds of students wearing different colored t-shirts and holding a variety of props to represent their state, marching in a circle around a large auditorium.
NHD parade in the UMD Stadium

We are incredibly proud to highlight the following achievements from our National History Day Massachusetts team:  

Gold Medal and National Endowment for the Humanities Scholars

Winner(s): Harry Liu, Alexander Lay, and Spencer Carman
School: Ottoson Middle School, Arlington
Teacher: Jason Levy
Junior Group Website: “PARC v. Pennsylvania: Pioneering the Right to Education for Children with Cognitive Impairments”

Special Prize: Outstanding Project in Discovery or Exploration in History

Sponsored by the Library of Congress, this prize is awarded in the junior and senior divisions for an outstanding project in any category on American or international discovery or exploration. 

Winner(s): Ruthanna Kern
School: Somerville High School, Somerville
Teacher: Adda Santos
Senior Individual Performance: “Broken: The Treaties of Fort Laramie and the Myth of the Frontier”

Outstanding Affiliate Awards: Massachusetts

Junior Division Winner(s): Cora Dutton, Nadia Hackbarth-Davis, Jiwan Ryu, and Elena Zaganjori
School: Ottoson Middle School, Arlington
Teacher: Jason Levy
Junior Group Documentary: “Now I’ve Got The Pill: Oral Contraceptives and How They Changed The Lives of American Women”

Senior Division Winner(s): Jake Bassinger and Sofia Brown
School: Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School, Wenham
Teacher: Anne Page
Senior Group Performance: “CURIE: a radioactive frontier in science”

We’d also like to extend a special shoutout to our Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Nominees Gail Buckley of Willow Hill School in Sudbury and Barbara Sturtevant of Marshall Simonds Middle School in Burlington. Congratulations to them and to all of our student historians and the teachers, families, friends, and communities who supported them.

If you are interested in learning more about NHD or joining us as a teacher, student, or judge for National History Day in Massachusetts 2024, please visit our website at www.masshist.org/masshistoryday

Celebrating “Freedom Day” 2023: A Virtual Juneteenth Exhibit with NHD Massachusetts

By Simbrit Paskins and Kate Melchior

Image of website header with 4 portraits.

There’s something quite special about the month of June, is there not? The month invites us to officially welcome in the Summer season, get excited about vacations and beach days, and everything feels inevitably brighter! June also makes way for cultural and historical celebrations across the nation, namely, LGBTQIA+ Pride month and Juneteenth, both of which honor the voices, legacies, and stories of community members far and wide. 

In the past few weeks, the MHS and our greater Massachusetts community have celebrated our National History Day students in a number of ways! While students from across the Commonwealth traveled to participate in the first in-person National competition since 2019, seventeen of our students said “yes!” to having their NHD projects featured in a virtual exhibit at the Massachusetts Historical Society to commemorate the history and legacy of Juneteenth.

Though it has long been celebrated among African American and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, Juneteenth is a major part of American history that still remains largely unknown to the wider public. Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) celebrates the date in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state, and enforce the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which legally freed all enslaved people, including those in Texas who had still been in bondage until union troops arrived. Since then, Juneteenth celebrations have annually created spaces for the storytelling of our country’s second independence day and recognized the ongoing fight for human rights and equality.

In 2020, Juneteenth was declared a state holiday in Massachusetts, and the following year was recognized as a federal holiday. 

The Massachusetts Historical Society began an annual NHD Massachusetts Juneteenth exhibition in 2020 with three goals in mind: 

  1. to promote an understanding of and engagement with the Juneteenth holiday; 
  2. to highlight select NHD student projects whose work explores topics related to Black/ African American history, culture, achievement, and freedom; 
  3. and to spread awareness of these often marginalized historical narratives. 

This year’s NHD projects approached history through the theme of “Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas.” Our virtual exhibit features students who researched leaders in history such as Dr. Anna Cooper, Marsha P. Johnson, and Katherine Johnson; and explored topics including the history of Hip-Hop, the Children’s March of 1963, and Black Wall Street. 

We invite you to explore this original and extraordinary student work from the 2023 NHD Massachusetts competition season. We invite you to think deeply and critically about the stories that our NHD youth chose to tell this year about Black and African American history, and we encourage you to share what you’ve learned with your friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors, joining us in our celebration of this invaluable and critical history. 

Congratulations to the Student Winners of our 2023 National History Day Contest in Massachusetts!

by Simbrit Paskins, Student Programs Coordinator

The 2023 National History Day season has been a whirlwind of epic proportions! Folks from across the Commonwealth came together energized for our first fully in-person contest season since the onset of COVID, and they came back with a bang! 

With 4,000 NHD participants across the state this year, over 600 middle and high school students competed in the Regional and State contests hosted by the MHS. It was impressive to witness student work come to life over the course of this program year: Guided by over 90 dedicated educators, students presented almost 350 projects to over 90 judges, all history lovers who enthusiastically volunteered their time to carefully assess the students’ work. While judges reviewed rubrics for each project category and prepared to interview the students on their topics, teachers tirelessly supported student work and helped move students’ projects from concept to reality, making this year’s local contests a collective community achievement!

Navigating after-school clubs, extra-curriculars, and even holiday breaks, students showed up this year with their historian hats on to teach us all about a wide range of topics that speak to this year’s NHD theme, “Frontiers in History.” Students developed papers, websites, performances, exhibits and documentaries to share about people, places, things, and ideas that demonstrate a frontier being crossed in history. What a sight! And we, their very impressed pupils, listened in awe! Projects covered a wide range of subjects such as: women’s roles in war, frontiers through race and gender, LGBTQ representation in literature, advancements in technology such as music and video games, frontiers in fashion, American furniture, entertainment, and even space exploration! 

2 smiling student presenters and 1 adult judge stand in front of a tri fold poster board sitting on top of a table
Students present their Exhibit to a Judge at the 2023 State Contest. Photography by Laura Wulf.
1 student in a classroom, sitting in a chair at a small desk with a pen in hand, leaning forward, enacting a performance
Student enacting an original performance at the 2023 State Contest. Photography by Laura Wulf.

On Saturday, April 1, we hosted an exciting awards ceremony at Winchester High School where NHD Winners from Massachusetts were announced at the closing of a very rich state contest. Among the many special History Day guests was Sen. Paul Feeney, who spent the morning observing project presentations and interviews and meeting NHD constituents! This visit helped all of us shine an even brighter light on the incredible experience that is National History Day.

Man in suit with soft smile facing the camera speaking to two students with backs to the camera and one students behind a piano, back also facing the camera.
Senator Feeney chats with NHD Students at the 2023 State Contest. Photograph by Laura Wulf.

This year, 50 projects received gold, silver and honorable mention awards, and local institutions sponsored 30 special prizes, including: Best Project in: Massachusetts History, LGBTQ+ History, and African American History. Our 62 Gold and Silver medalists will be moving on to the National Contest this June at the University of Maryland.

When I first began working here at the MHS, I was told that “National History Day is more than just a day, it is an experience!”, and after my first year of coordinating this program, I can see that nothing is more true. NHD builds strong community ties between folks from all different walks of life, connecting us under one common goal of supporting young people in their exploration of and relationship to history and to themselves. Teacher mentors connect their youth with the program on an individual basis, as a whole class, and even as an after-school program, opening the door for students from all backgrounds to explore history with both a critical and curious lens! Parents & guardians help students glue the pieces of their exhibits together, practice performance lines when no one is watching, equip and encourage students to advocate for themselves when in need, & usher their young people to our local contests on early weekend mornings. 

Thank you again to all of the students, teachers, parents, schools, and judges who supported the 2023 contests. Thank you as well to all of our sponsors at the Mass Cultural Council and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who help us grow the program and make it accessible to all students.

We invite members of the public to learn more about the NHD program and to contact us at nhd@masshist.org for more information. There are so many ways to engage with this program and support its growth! 

Year in Review: The Most Popular MHS Social Media Posts of 2022

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

What do a circus tent, a snowstorm, players from the 1967 Red Sox players, and a submarine have in common? They were all featured in some of our most popular social media posts of 2022. Let’s look back at these and other 2022 social media posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

On Twitter, our most popular post of the year was a video featuring Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman, MHS’s award winners for excellence in historical writing. The event is also available as a podcast.

Screenshot of a Twitter post. It reads “Massachusetts Historical Society @MHS1791 Nov 22 New video available online! @HC_Richardson in conversation with @jbf1755 on items from MHS collections youtu.be/cj7H86USZR4 #MHS1791 #Award #History” At the left is an image of two white women in front of computer screens smiling.
Twitter post featuring a video of Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman.

Our second most popular post of the year on Twitter was an “On this day in history” post—#OTDH—about the 1776 Liberty Bell and the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.

A screenshot of a Twitter post. There is text at the top and an image of a large metal bell with a crack going halfway up the bell. It is suspended between two metal poles holding a wooden board. In the background is a two-story federal style brick building with a statue to the left and a grassy area closer to the bell.
Twitter post featuring an image of the cracked Liberty Bell.

The third most popular MHS Twitter post of the year was an image featuring a circus tent. A painting of a P.T. Barnum circus tent on the very spot where the MHS building now stands.

A screenshot of a Twitter post. There is text at the top and an image of a color painting at the bottom. The painting is of a large white circus tent with many flags flying from the top. It is set up in a grassy area between two dirt roads and there are wagons and people around the tent. There is another white tent in the background, and further in the distance are buildings. To the right is a large brown rectangle and a smaller black rectangle.
Twitter post featuring a painted image of a circus tent.

On Facebook, our most popular post of the year went viral, reaching 2 million people! It told of a snowstorm that day, along with a photograph from the MHS collection of a snowstorm in New York City in 1888. Many people reminisced in the comments about the famous Blizzard of 1978 that resembled the image, with its blanketing of snow. And they equated it to the Children’s Blizzard, which happened in 1888 in Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, and eastern Dakota Territory.

Screenshot of a Facebook post. There is text at the top and an image at the bottom of an unidentified boy leaning against a tall wall of snow. On the opposite side of him are buildings. The area has been dug out around the building.

Facebook post featuring an image of a boy leaning against a dug-out wall of snow next to some buildings in New York City.

Our second most popular Facebook post from 2022 featured a blog post about a very sick John Quincy Adams traveling by coach, boat, and private carriage to give the keynote address at the opening of the Cincinnati Observatory in 1843.

Screenshot of a Facebook post. There is text at the top with a color photograph of a brick and white stone building with a rounded top or cupola at the bottom. There is manicured grass and many trees around the building.
Facebook post with an image of the Cincinnati Observatory on Mount Adams, named after John Quincy Adams.

The third most popular post on Facebook announced a new temporary exhibition at the MHS, “Impossible Dreamers: The Pennant-Winning 1967 Boston Red Sox.” It was on display August-September 2022.

A screenshot of a Facebook post. There is text at the top and an image on the bottom. The image is a black and white photograph of three baseball players from a view around their waists looking up at them. The three men are smiling and looking forward and not at the camera. Two are wearing Red Sox jersey’s, one is bare-chested. They each hold up their index and middle fingers, showing the back of their hands to the camera, the one on the very right is holding a baseball in the same hand. There is a microphone held up below them, close to the camera, and the background has a ceiling and pipes.
Facebook post with an image of three baseball players holding up two fingers each.

On Instagram the most popular MHS post of the year was a video of a temporary exhibition of love letters between John and Abigail (Smith) Adams before their marriage. These letters featured John Adams’s famous “Miss Adorable” letter to Abigail.

Black bars at the top and bottom of the image surround the beginning of a video–on this still is an orange background with a painting of a young man wearing a gray powdered wig, black vest and jacket with a white shirt and cravat. In red, words read “The Love Letters of John and Abigail Adams, Now on Exhibition! Visit the MHS to see them.”
A still of the Instagram Reel of a video panning across John and Abigail Adams portraits and a display case with several of their love letters.

The MHS’s second most popular Instagram post of the year was another “On this day in history” (#OTHD) featuring a 1789-1790 map of the Northwest Territory—part of present-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota—and related to Congress’s enacting the Northwest Ordinance, which allowed states to be formed free of enslavement in that designated area.

A color drawn map of the United States on a white background. The states and territories are different colors. The states are pink, territories are yellow, other countries are gray, and disputed areas are dark pink.
Map of the middle and eastern portion of the United States in 1789–1790, with the Northwest Territory featured.

The last post we’ll share today—MHS’s third most popular Instagram post of 2022—is both an “On this day in history” (#OTDH) and a blog post. It features the story of the first submarine used for warfare during the American Revolution in 1776.

A drawing of a man inside of a round mechanical device. There are many levers and pipes around him. Two propellers are on the left side and top of the device and a rudder is on the right side.
Instagram post of a diagram of the first submarine used in warfare during the American Revolution in 1776.

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MHS Conference on Underrepresented Voices of the American Revolution

By Kristina Benham, Ph.D. Candidate at Baylor University

With the 250th celebration of American Independence coming up in just a couple of years, scholars and teachers are thinking about how to contribute to reflection on the U.S. national origin story. In this spirit, the Massachusetts Historical Society hosted a joint conference in July 2022 on underrepresented voices in the American Revolution.

The Revolution is no small topic in historical scholarship past and present, nor in the collections of archives, especially in New England. This conference, however, revisited what historians started at the 200th Independence celebration: examining the American origin story as a multitude of stories. The specific focus on continuing to uncover underrepresented voices from the era also lent a timely conviction on current American society. As a junior scholar in the field, seeing a range from graduate students to long-established historians discussing these topics was truly a delight and inspiration. The K-12 Teachers Workshop in connection with the conference was equally rewarding, as all levels of education contribute to our understanding of this celebration.

The first day of the conference took place in the MHS building. The opening panel demonstrated how archives are involved in obscuring underrepresented voices from the past. Then, the keynote panel—featuring Colin Calloway, Kathleen DuVal, and Chernoh Sesay—set the tone for the conference, reflecting on the state of the field of the American Revolution and its implications for teaching, public history, and American society.

The second full day of panels, held on the campus of Suffolk University, presented an array of topics: loyalists in a new light, animals, gendered dynamics, borderlands, southern Black involvement in the Revolution, religion in the era for Jews and African Americans, Native American perspectives, and untold stories in the much-studied New England. Of course, I could only attend some of these opportunities.

The panel on loyalists was of particular interest to me, and I was not disappointed. This is a topic within the American Revolution that my students at Baylor University find surprising and intriguing. Panelists Alexi Garrett, Patrick O’Brien, and MaryKate Smolenski made compelling arguments for continued need for this research. Whether it was the fate of enslaved people and white, loyalist women making property claims (Garrett), the obscured life story of a slave returned to free Massachusetts through a loyalist family (O’Brien), or the hints of a loyalist woman’s life left behind in material culture and merchants’ papers (Smolenski), these presentations showed how complex the terms Loyalism and slavery could be.

The panel on British Imperial borderlands also led to discussion on defining or redefining the edges of the Revolution. Panelists Kristin Lee, Darcy Stevens, and Jaqueline Reynoso challenged assumptions about what is important to history of the Revolution. Lee’s presentation on Captain James Willing’s raid on western British forts with the cooperation of Spanish authorities and his seizure of enslaved people challenged assumptions about the story of the American Revolution as being Anglo-American and always involving full agency. Stevens’s presentation on the fluidity of allegiances in the far northeast raised questions about the binary assumptions of Loyalist vs. Patriot. And Reynoso’s presentation on resistance to local martial law in Quebec demonstrated that parallels to the center of the Revolution, so to speak, are important to the story as well.

I was glad and honored to also attend the workshop for K-12 teachers held in conjunction with the scholarly conference. A couple of scholars remained for this portion, including a presentation by Churnoh Sesay on Prince Hall in Boston. The MHS planned this conjunction of events in order to bring together scholars and teachers on how to engage students of various ages with primary sources from the MHS holdings. Since I have had the great opportunity to teach for the last few years at the college level while finishing my PhD, I found it refreshing to hear about the challenges and creative approaches of teachers at work in regional school systems. Small group discussion over lesson planning brought a much-needed practicality to the examination of underrepresented voices at the conference.

This event was a great personal and professional experience for me. I could not list all the names of the contacts I met who each showed professional generosity and shared enthusiasm for the era of the Revolution. I made my own foray into a topic related to my overall project: Protestantism and the English-speaking Black Atlantic. And the advice and feedback I received was invaluable and representative of the general, kind encouragement at the conference to pursue these topics further. I am grateful the MHS hosted this conference and workshop together, and I look forward to the continued discussion and teaching to come as we approach the celebrations in 2025 and 2026.

“My life has been spent in the public service”: John Quincy Adams’s Final Years, 1843–1848

By Neal Millikan, Series Editor for Digital Editions, The Adams Papers

Transcriptions of more than 1,700 pages of John Quincy Adams’s diary have just been added to the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary, a born-digital edition of the Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The new material spans the period January 1843 through February 1848 and chronicles the final years of Adams’s life, including his continued service in the United States House of Representatives.

Slavery was the political issue that continued to vex John Quincy Adams. He reflected on the subject in his diary in August 1843: “Before my lamp is burnt out, I am desirous that my opinions concerning the great movement throughout the civilized world for the abolition of Slavery should be explicitly avowed and declared— God grant that they may contribute to the final consummation of that event.” One of his major contributions to this cause was his work to defeat the House’s Gag Rule, which prevented petitions regarding slavery from being discussed in that legislative body. On 3 December 1844 Adams introduced a resolution to repeal the Gag Rule, thereby restoring the freedom of petition and debate in the House. After an eight-year battle, he triumphed; the House finally adopted the resolution that same day.

For years, Adams had also opposed the annexation of Texas, rightly believing that its admission to the union would tip the balance of power between slave and free states. He watched morosely in February 1845 as a joint resolution on annexation passed in Congress. Texas subsequently joined the Union as a slave state. The following year, when fighting broke out along the contested U.S.-Mexico border, Adams voted against the declaration of war in the House, describing the conflict as “this most unrighteous War” and asserting that the “lying preamble” to the bill that claimed Mexico initiated the conflict was “base, fraudulent and false.”

painting, portrait, man
Portrait of John Quincy Adams, painted by Nahum Bell Onthank (1823-1888)

More satisfying, Adams’s life-long pursuit of knowledge received just reward during this period. His “aspirations of Science, limited only by the scanty spark of ethereal fire” in his soul were realized in 1843 when he traveled to Ohio to support of one of his long-standing passions—astronomy. He spent months preparing the speech he was invited to give at the laying of the cornerstone for the Cincinnati astronomical observatory. “My task is to turn this transient gust of enthusiasm for” astronomy “into a permanent and persevering national pursuit which may extend the bounds of human knowledge.”

Since 1836 John Quincy Adams had championed the preservation and protection of the bequest James Smithson left to the United States, having either chaired or been a member of the select congressional committee on the Smithsonian fund. He ultimately hoped those funds would be utilized for a national research institution. In August 1846 he elatedly noted the signing of the Smithsonian Bequest Act “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men” by President James K. Polk.

Old photograph, man
Carte de visite of daguerreotype of John Quincy Adams by Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries

Adams easily won re-election as the representative of the 8th Massachusetts congressional district in November 1846. On the 20th he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while walking in Boston. For the rest of the year, he convalesced at his son Charles Francis Adams’s home. He returned to Washington, D.C., on 12 February 1847 and was greeted by a standing ovation when he resumed his seat in Congress the following day. A year later, on 21 February 1848, John Quincy Adams collapsed on the floor of the House. He was moved to the office of the speaker, where he died two days later. Adams aptly described the trajectory of his life when he wrote in July 1845 that it had “been spent in the public service.”

By the time of his death, Adams’s diary encompassed 68 years of entries and contained over 15,000 manuscript pages in 51 diary volumes. Adams himself best explained the importance of his diary in the following entry: “There has perhaps not been another individual of the human race of whose daily existence from early childhood to four score years has been noted down with his own hand so minutely as mine.”

For more on John Quincy Adams’s life, read the headnote for the 1843–1848 period, or, navigate the entries to begin reading his diary. The addition of material for the 1843–1848 period joins existing transcriptions of Adams’s diary for his legal, political, and diplomatic careers (1789–1817), his time as secretary of state (1817–1825), his presidency (1825–1829), and his previous service in the House of Representatives (1830–1842). It brings the total number of transcriptions freely available on the MHS website to 11,600 pages. The Adams Papers editorial project continues to work toward making more of the diary accessible online.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding for the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary was provided by the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund, with additional contributions by Harvard University Press and a number of private donors. The Mellon Foundation in partnership with the National Historical Publications and Records Commission also supports the project through funding for the Society’s Primary Source Cooperative.

Looking for Digital Volunteers to Help with Transcriptions!

By Nancy Heywood, Senior Archivist for Digital Initiatives

Can you read cursive? Do you want to time travel to Massachusetts in 1855?

Are you interested in learning more about the Boston area and learning about the lives of past residents?

Maybe you’re curious about the day-to-day activities of an urban missionary in a busy 19th-century city environment?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you might be just the person we’re looking for. We need volunteers to help the MHS test a pilot transcription project running now through 30 June 2022 featuring the journals of Luman Boyden, a Methodist missionary who worked in East Boston in the 1850s.

The collection is significant because it includes names of and details about impoverished, marginalized, and immigrant populations. Boyden’s perspective is the lens into people’s lives and some of his comments are judgmental and harsh. He is zealous, very sure of his own perspective, but does seem to want to help (in the way he thinks is appropriate).  You will have the chance to decide for yourself how empathetic he is as he ministers to people in the East Boston neighborhood.

Many organizations offer this type of transcription crowdsourcing activity. We hope you find it interesting to look closely at some of our manuscript collections and contribute to a long-term goal of improving discoverability–eventually the transcribed manuscript pages will be searchable and more accessible.

MHS’s transcription tool is integrated into the web presentations of selected digitized collections. It’s easy to get started. Visit www.masshist.org/mymhs, create an account, and try your hand at transcribing a document from our collection. The project page for the “Luman Boyden Missionary Journals” includes a dropdown menu that helps you find a page to work on. [See screenshot below.]

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The project page for the “Luman Boyden Missionary Journals”

The workspace for volunteer transcribers includes a text box and a zoomable image of the manuscript page.  [See screenshot below.]

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The workspace for volunteer transcribers.

The FAQ page has lots of tips and suggestions.  Questions? You also have the option to send an e-mail to: crowdsourcing@masshist.org.

We would appreciate your help and your feedback!

Quick links:

Digital Volunteers page:  www.masshist.org/mymhs

Projects page: www.masshist.org/mymhs/index.php/projecthub/projects

FAQ page:  www.masshist.org/mymhs/index.php/learn-more

Read a blog post by Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist, about the Luman Boyden journals.