History Day Has Gone Virtual—and We Need Judges!

by Elyssa Tardif, Director of Education

True to our 2020 theme “Breaking Barriers,” National History Day in Massachusetts has transitioned for the first time ever to a virtual contest! Looking for something to do at home? Learn some amazing history and support our students from the comfort of home by judging at our new state-wide competition. We have over 840 students competing, so we are looking for 200+ judges who have a love of history. Learn more on our website, or sign up now on our Judge Registration Form!

Judging will take place between 17 and 23 April, on your own schedule. For more information, please e-mail education@masshist.org. No experience or technological expertise required; PDPs provided for teachers.

We look forward to celebrating history and our students’ hard work with you!


“Sic vos non vobis”

by Daniel Hinchen, Reference Librarian

Did you ever wonder where the name for this blog came from? The Beehive does seem an odd name for a platform that is spreading news of an institution like the MHS.  While the source of this name and associated imagery is well-known I invite you to take a look back at an older post called “Behind the Title: Why the Beehive?” to learn how we got here.

MHS Seal
Left: MHS seal as depicted on fireplace in Ellis Hall. Right: MHS seal as depicted on glass door to Ellis Hall.

Now you know all about Virgil and his hexameters and how someone else stole credit for his work. But it is a single line, “Sic vos non vobis malleficatis apes” (Thus do ye, bees, for others make honey) that has stuck with us. Like bees making honey, the staff of the MHS collects, preserves, and makes accessible the materials of our history as a commonwealth and as a nation not for ourselves, but for all those who wish to learn from them. And now more than ever, in this strange time of social isolation, the staff of the MHS is working to find new ways to carry on that mission so that others may continue to take lessons from our shared history.

Even though our beehive (1154 Boylston Street) is currently closed, the Library Reader Services staff is available to help you with the research you want to conduct. Granted, being away from our home means we are limited in the amount of honey we can produce, but we are ready to help how we can. With that in mind, here is a quick list of ways you can connect with us to ask your questions, and some easy ways to find content on our website.

As always, our online catalog, ABIGAIL, is open for searching for materials that might help your research. While much of it will remain inaccessible without being in the building, there are plenty of ways to find digital editions of some of our resources on our website:

All of this information and more is also available on two new web-pages we’ve created to illustrate how we are updating our Reference Services and Reproduction Services during this time when we do not have physical access to our collections.

So, if you have a burning question–or even a casual curiosity–relieve some of that isolation and reach out to our reference team by

  • E-mailing us at library@masshist.org
  • Leaving us a voicemail at 617-646-0532
  • Tweeting us @MHS1791_Ref

Revisiting the Boston Massacre, 250 Years Later

by Laura Williams, Visitor Services Coordinator

When thinking back on the American Revolution, we return to the state of Massachusetts, its capital city of Boston, and the numerous pivotal events that took place there which shaped American history. One such event which comprises this famed coup is the Boston Massacre of 1770. A present-day popular tourist stop along The Freedom Trail, the site of the Boston Massacre is preserved for all to see in a rough recreation outside The Old State House. This momentous confrontation between British soldiers and the citizens of Boston marked a turning point for the American people and the beginning of a series of battles for independence from the British regime. After 250 years, we at the MHS are commemorating this event and highlighting pieces from our collections within the exhibit, Fire! Voices of the Boston Massacre, on display through June 2020.

On the evening of 5 March 1770 on King Street in Boston, a small riot among the civilians led to bloodshed when British soldiers fired into the unruly crowd. With five of those civilians killed and others injured, the event soon became known as the Boston Massacre. This event was preceded by many clashes involving the British soldiers stationed in Boston and the growing tension and unrest surrounding the British tax acts on the American people. Boston citizens were already participating in nonconsumption and nonimportation efforts; the fight between Tories and Patriots was growing; and the British soldiers who were meant to protect the Customs Commissioners had long been wary of their place there.

Witnesses of the Boston Massacre share their experiences of that fateful night in this video from the exhibition:

Notably, only two of the eight British soldiers who were arraigned were found guilty of manslaughter (rather than murder). This verdict sent waves through the community, and yearly commemorations of the occurrence would follow in Boston until 1783 when the celebration of Independence Day would take precedence. Had the events on the evening of 5 March been prevented, many other historic clashes including the Boston Tea Party, Battle of Bunker Hill, etc. may look very different today. This violent culmination of tension between Bostonians and the British played a significant role in the larger sentiment among the entire country.

Included in our collections are artistic renditions of the event itself, letters, diary entries, court documents, and many more pieces which describe and manifest the “Massacre” and its legacy 250 years later. With sources such as these, we are able to recognize the larger impact that this event had on the American population and the road towards the American Revolution. Our additional companion websites which accompany our exhibition are linked below, and explore a detailed history of the various events leading up to the Massacre, the many perspectives of the American citizens, and finally the consequent forging of the nation. The exhibition is on display at the MHS through 30 June 2020, Monday Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM.

Companion websites:

Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre

Perspectives on the Boston Massacre

The Coming of the American Revolution: 1764 to 1776

250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre

by Gavin W. Kleespies, Director of Programs, Exhibitions and Community Partnerships

Paul Revere engraving of the Boston Massacre
The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment, by Paul Revere, 1770.

As many of our readers may know, we are approaching a big anniversary in Boston. The 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre is on 5 March 2020 and there is a lot happening in the city to mark the date. Here is a look at some of the events:

  • Fire! Voices of the Boston Massacre is open to the public at the MHS. In the aftermath of what soon became known as the Boston Massacre, questions about the command to “Fire!” became crucial. Who yelled it? When and why? Because the answers would determine the guilt or innocence of the soldiers, defense counsel John Adams insisted that “Facts are stubborn things.” But what are the facts? The evidence, often contradictory, drew upon testimony from dozens of witnesses. Come learn about the Boston Massacre and “hear” for yourself—through a selection of artifacts, eyewitness accounts, and trial testimony—the voices of ordinary men and women, and discover how this flashpoint changed American history. Learn more about the Massacre on our companion website. The exhibition is on display at the MHS through 30 June 2020, Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM.
  • On Friday, 21 February, at 2:00 PM, the MHS presents FIRE! Voices of the Boston Massacre Gallery Talk with Amanda Norton, MHS. Learn more about why John Adams, a noted Patriot, defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre and how he won acquittals for all but two of them. No registration required.
  • On Wednesday, 4 March, at 6:00 PM, the MHS will host a talk by Serena Zabin on her new book: The Boston Massacre: A Family History. The story of the Boston Massacre is familiar to generations. But from the very beginning, most accounts have obscured a fascinating truth: the Massacre arose from conflicts that were as personal as they were political. Serena Zabin draws on original sources and lively stories to follow British troops as they are dispatched from Ireland to Boston in 1768 to subdue the increasingly rebellious colonists. She reveals a forgotten world hidden in plain sight: the many regimental wives and children who accompanied the armies. We see these families jostling with Bostonians for living space, finding common cause in the search for a lost child, trading barbs, and sharing baptisms. Becoming, in other words, neighbors. When soldiers shot unarmed citizens in the street, it was these intensely human and now broken bonds that fueled what quickly became a bitterly fought American Revolution. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members, EBT or ConnectorCare cardholders). Click HERE for more information or to register.
  • On Thursday, 5 March, at 9:00 AM, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution will host a Wreath-laying ceremony at the Granary Burying Ground. A formal service by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution will take place at the grave of the victims of the Boston Massacre including Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr. For more information, visit: www.dar.org/national-society/national-society-dar-commemorates-250th-anniversary-boston-massacre. 
  • On Thursday, 5 MarchReflecting Attucks opens at the Old State House in Boston. The new temporary exhibit will explore the life and memory of Crispus Attucks, a man of African and Native American descent and the first casualty of the Boston Massacre, and provoke visitors to consider how Attucks has been remembered over the past 250 years. To complement the exhibit, Revolutionary Spaces will offer special tours and facilitated dialogues in the galleries. The exhibit will be on display until March 2021 and is included in museum admission.
  • On Thursday, 5 March, at 12:00 PM, the Boston Athenæum will host a Curator’s Choice talk on Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre. Join Polly Thayer Starr Fellow in American Art & Culture Theo Tyson and Assistant Curator Ginny Badget for an in-depth look at the inception of Revere’s engraving and how it continues to shape American historical memory today. Members are free; non-members are free with admission ($10). Online registration is coming soon. To register, please contact Events at 617-720-7600.
  • On Thursday, 5 March, from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM, a commemoration of the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre will be held at the Old South Meeting House. Gov. Charlie Baker will be joined by other key civic and community leaders to reflect on how our most difficult national memories can inspire us to reach for our highest American ideals. There are 50-100 seats available for the public. Registration is required. For more information, visit: eventbrite.com/e/boston-massacre-250th-anniversary-commemoration-tickets-95405922683.
  • On Thursday, 5 March, at 2:00 PM, there will be a curator talk on the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre at the Concord Museum in Concord, Mass. In a special gallery talk about Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere and His Ride, curator David Wood will discuss the Boston Massacre and its legacy. Using multiple editions and interpretations of Paul Revere’s print of the events on the Boston Common, Wood will unveil how a skirmish between neighbors sparked a city’s unrest that led to a country’s revolution. Members are free; non members can attend with museum admission. 
  • On Saturday, 7 March, beginning at 1:00 PM, the Boston Massacre will be reenacted. Beginning at 1:00 PM there will be numerous historical vignettes taking place between the Old South Meeting House and the Old State House culminating in the Boston Massacre reenactment at 7:00 PM. Join us as tensions between the citizens of the Town of Boston and the British soldiers stationed in town build and eventually boil over resulting in what has become known as the “Boston Massacre.” This daylong event will allow visitors to meet with reenactors portraying a variety of citizens of 1770 Boston who are eager to share their perspective on the events in Boston since the landing of the troops in October of 1768. For more information, visit: https://www.bostonhistory.org/massacre250.

Investigating Abigail Adams: My Time as a John Winthrop Student Fellow

By Kate Melchior, MHS, and Ella Amouyal

Every year, the MHS selects one or more high school students for our John Winthrop Student Fellowship. This award encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the MHS in a research project of their choosing. Students perform historical research and create a project (usually an assignment for class) using materials at the MHS, both in our archives or digitized online. This project can be something assigned in a class, a National History Day project, or something of the student’s invention!  Both student and teacher each receive $350 to support their research. Applications for the 2020 student fellowship are due on 11 February 2020.  Learn more and apply!

In 2019, Ella Amouyal and her teacher Jenna Wolf from the Cambridge School of Weston were awarded one of our student fellowships to research Abigail Adams’ diplomatic mission to France and England in 1784-88. Ella spent several months working in the MHS library with the support of our research librarians and produced an online exhibit. Read Ella’s account of her experience at the MHS, where she describes exploring the collections, speaking with historians, and using a microfilm reader for the first time.

Investigating Abigail Adams: My Time as a John Winthrop Student Fellow
By Ella Amouyal, Cambridge School of Weston

Portrait of Abigail Adams
Abigail Adams (Mrs. John Adams) by Benjamin Blythe, c. 1766

My experience as a John Winthrop Student Fellow in the Spring of 2019 was an incredible learning opportunity. My research focused on Abigail Adams’ time in Europe, and my final project was the creation of an online exhibit, I aimed to produce an engaging, interactive experience that would impact and educate a wider audience.

My exhibit explores Abigail Adams’ time in Europe  through three lenses: patriotism, economics and education. These lenses allowed me to clearly specify the ways Europe influenced Abigail Adams. When I began my research, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of secondary and primary sources; I had so many questions–too many, perhaps. I found that honing in on more concise channels helped me tremendously with scope and organization.

I began the project by reading secondary sources to help frame my research in a broader context. This was first step was key, as it allowed me to understand more about the time and place my topic was grounded in, and exposed me to the questions, ideas and observations of professional researchers. My advice to a future student fellow would be to start by exploring secondary sources already published by the Massachusetts Historical Society. These sources will help you uncover new primary sources during you discovery phase, and they will help you to understand the subject more broadly. The MHS is an institution available to all learners; being a fellow affords you more access to the Society’s incredible collection of materials and helpful experts.

My next step was to attend one of the many lectures the Society offers regularly. You should, too. I had the pleasure of attending a pop-up talk hosted by the head of the Adams’ papers. If you are a fellow, attending a lecture or other event at the MHS is an excellent way to gain access to experts, ask questions, and enhance your knowledge. Talking about your research–and hearing about experts’ research–is one of the most important aspects of conducting research. Historians are tasked with educating, so there is nothing to be scared about. What’s more, they will probably be so excited to see a young scholar interested in the subject. Capitalize on the opportunity and seize it. The process of being a fellow is not just to learn about the past; it is also to learn how to communicate, ask questions, stay organized and do independent research.

As you conduct your own research, remember your work does not have to be limited to primary sources offered by MHS. Your research will become stronger when you explore many routes for learning and balance your evidence–primary sources, secondary sources, their context and analysis. However, finding and analyzing primary sources is the most important part of doing the work. And it’s work.

When you conduct your research using the online catalog Abigail, remember one thing: it has a learning curve. It can be quirky. Some quick tips: I found that looking up specific words and phrases can be confusing and yield thousands of results, which are impossible to navigate. One way to mitigate this potential problem is to search by specific dates; for instance, my research focused on Abigail Adams’ diplomatic missions to Europe from 1784 – 1788, which allowed me to limit the primary sources by the correspondences she wrote during this four-year period.

And while students today have grown up believing the Internet holds the keys to every door, remember that not all of the Society’s holdings are available digitally. This is where the excitement of visiting the MHS came in; I had the opportunity to spend hours pouring over documents in the Reading Room and Library. The Society is a warm, inviting and open environment. I was initially scared to visit because I was unfamiliar with historical archives or larger research libraries. Don’t be nervous. Remember the mission of the Society is to educate, so I immediately felt accepted and invited. In addition, the building itself is a work of art–there is so much to see. Alas, most of my visit was spent with a machine new to me–the microfilm.

This contraption is, quite simply, a film roll that includes photographed versions of historical material. The librarians are extremely nice and helped guide me through the steps of using a microfilm. I previously had no knowledge of microfilm but I think it is an amazing device because it helps preserve the original letters and makes it easier to access the material safely. What’s more, reading the historical handwriting can also be extremely difficult. I asked the librarian if the letters I was looking at had been transcribed, which helped me see them in a more legible, modern font.

Microfilm reader in use at the MHS
A photo of a letter on microfilm taken during my first visit to the MHS library, photo by Ella Amouyal

Conducting research with the MHS was an amazing opportunity and I learned a lot. I learned about the fascinating intellect and ideology of Abigail Adams and about new historical figures like Mercy Otis Warren–Adams’ friend and confidant–someone previously unknown to me. I also learned that research is not always about sitting in the library, spending hours analyzing an original letter. It’s also about organization, retooling a question or avenue to explore, and most importantly, time management. Research is not always about reading books either; sometimes it entails pouring over transcribed documents online in your pajamas while drinking tea, or even awkwardly learning to scroll through microfilm. But it’s in these moments that you learn and grow the most. This is why conducting research is a rewarding opportunity for every student, even those who do not want to be historians or archivists. Research teaches you skills that are important for every subject and job – skills such as empathy and critical thinking. This is why I am going to propose a mini-unit this Spring to the history department at my high school on analyzing primary sources utilizing the free resource of the MHS Abigail catalogue.

I often wondered what Abigail Adams would have thought about a teenage girl 300 years later looking at the intimate letters she wrote to her friends, family and acquaintances and the letters she received. I wondered if she would have been shocked or perhaps happy. Abigail was always a forceful proponent of female education, one of the many reasons why I find her fascinating and inspirational. Her knowing that women would be able to research her words equally to any man would probably have brought her immense pride and joy.

If you have any interest in history and research, I would highly recommend applying to be a fellow. The John Winthrop Student Fellowship gives you access to thousands of letters and material and is truly a unique, enlightening experience for all students interested in delving into American history.

If you are interested in learning more about the John Winthrop Student Fellowship or any of our other programs, please visit the Center for the Teaching of History website or e-mail us at education@masshist.org.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Looking In and Reaching Out

By the MHS Welcome Team

The MHS is the first historical society in America. Our current building (1154 Boylston Street) was dedicated in 1899 and was built to be a temple to history. Designed by renowned Boston architect Edmund March Wheelwright, the building has grand rooms, some with dark wood paneling and others with monumental portraits hanging above white marble mosaic floors. It is the epitome of what you might imagine for the spaces of Boston’s 19th-century Brahmin elite.

1154 Boylston Street entry
Front door of the MHS

This palace of history is available to anyone who wants to do research in our library, attend a program, or visit an exhibition. While the MHS is free and open to the public, we are now in the process of thinking about how accessible we really are. There is certainly beauty in Wheelwright’s design and the monumental portraits on display are of historically important people.  However, from the experiences and reactions of visitors, we know that our building may not be welcoming to all.  After a quick review last year, we found that while there were images of people of color in our temporary exhibitions, there were no such images in other rooms that are open to the public. Since realizing that, we have made some adjustments to our permanent displays.

Now is the time to take a step back, look critically at how the MHS presents itself, and ask ourselves if our institution is truly welcome to anyone who has an interest in history. Following a series of internal discussions, we decided to form a taskforce—internally referred to as the Welcome Committee—to explore these questions.

This group is working to evaluate our spaces and art as they are now and find ways to broaden the depth and diversity of our collections. We are aware that we need different perspectives and critical distance from the institution to have a robust evaluation.  Therefore, as part of this effort, we plan to invite people from other museums, professions, and backgrounds to walk through our spaces and let us know what they see. Listening to their comments and working together, we hope to develop a plan that will respect Wheelwright’s design while also making the space feel comfortable and welcoming to the diverse, complex, and beautiful population that represents the nation today. If you have thoughts or suggestions on this process, we welcome them. Please feel free to reach out to Gavin Kleespies or Carol Knauff with your messages.

Documenting the Revolution: Boston & the War for Independence

by Elyssa Tardif, Director of Education

The MHS was pleased to partner again this year with the Teachers as Scholars program to offer a two-day workshop this fall entitled, “Documenting the Revolution: Boston and the War for Independence.”

Teachers as Scholars (TAS) offers professional development opportunities for teachers that connect them directly with University faculty and other content experts—like the staff at the MHS! TAS offers 70 programs each year hosted by many of our neighboring institutions, including Harvard, Boston University, MIT, Brandeis, Simmons College, Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts (Boston), Berklee School of Music, Boston College, and Wheelock College.

At this year’s workshop, we explored the varied ways that Bostonians experienced the War for Independence, going beyond the typically broad strokes that teachers use to present this important period. Through newspapers, broadsides, and pamphlets, we examined the role of propaganda in recruiting volunteers, encouraging boycotts and rebellion, and forming a new American identity.

Jonathan Lane, Revolution 250 Coordinator, spoke to teachers about the major players in Massachusetts during the period of the Revolution, as well as the growing tensions in the colonies that erupted into protest, and ultimately, war.

Title page and frontispiece of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley
Title page and frontispiece of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Written by Phillis Wheatley. First published in London on September 1, 1773.

Elyssa Tardif, Director of Education, explored accounts written by or about women like Phillis Wheatley, the brilliant writer who published a book of poetry while enslaved by the Wheatley family; Mercy Otis Warren, who wrote a history of the American Revolution; and Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to join the Continental Army.

Deborah Sampson, Frontispiece of The Female Review
The Female Review: or, Memoirs of an American Young Lady. Herman Mann. Dedham, [MA]: printed by Nathaniel and Benjamin Heaton, 1797. Frontispiece consists of an engraved portrait of Deborah Sampson, later Deborah Sampson Gannett. Engraving, circa 1797.
Gwen Fries, Assistant Production Editor at the Adams Papers, led teachers through an activity that parsed four excerpts of a letter written by Abigail Adams—the celebrated “Remember the Ladies” letter of March 1776.

Kate Melchior, Assistant Director of Education, spoke about the experiences of Loyalists like the Robie family, as well as critical court cases like that of Quock Walker and Elizabeth Freeman, who successfully sued for freedom from slavery, which led to the abolishment of slavery in Massachusetts.

Teachers also had the opportunity to explore our newest exhibition, Fire! Voices from the Boston Massacre. The MHS Education team looks forward to continuing our partnership with Teachers as Scholars, as well as exploring new partnerships that will connect us with even more educators across the Commonwealth.

October is American Archives Month

by Rakashi Chand, Senior Library Assistant

Every day the very talented and skilled archivists of the MHS work behind the scenes to ensure that the Society’s collections are well preserved, well organized, and easily accessible for researchers today and tomorrow. To celebrate archives month, we asked a few of our archivists a few fun questions so you could get better acquainted.

Why did you decide to be an archivist?

Alexandra Bush, Digital Productions Assistant (AB): I went into the archives field because I’ve always loved history and wanted to find a way to celebrate that without the need for social skills.

Katherine H Griffin, Nora Saltonstall Preservation Librarian (KG): I decided to be an Archivist when I was studying in graduate school in a public history program. I was originally interested in working in a museum, but I quickly found that I had an affinity for working with historical manuscripts.

Brenda Lawson, Vice President for Collections (BL): I became interested in archives while I was working in the Williams College Archives as an undergraduate.  Instead of pursuing graduate work in psychology (my major), I found myself looking at job announcements and graduate programs in archives.  I chose to go directly to Simmons College to pursue my library science degree with a concentration in archives management.  I later added an M.A. in history when the college began offering the dual degree program.

Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reference Librarian (AC): At the age of 12 I got my public history start as a volunteer docent at a house museum in our town; after earning my B.A. in history I decided to pursue graduate degrees in history and library science so that I could hone my research skills and help make sources for historical storytelling accessible to all.

What is your Archive-story?

AB:  It’s not a very interesting archive story, but I’ll always remember the end of my first internship here. I worked for Collections Services processing a collection of 14 cartons, the Thornton W. Burgess papers. The collection took months of work to process and was one of my first large projects. Maybe a month after my internship ended, I got an email from Laura Lowell, one of our processing archivists, letting me know that a researcher had requested to work with the collection. There’s no better feeling than that!

KG: The Librarian who was here when I started–Mr. John D. Cushing–was an exacting critic and somewhat difficult to please.  He made some very useful suggestions about my writing style that I have never forgotten–for instance, how to use the verb “to comprise,” and how to avoid using the intransitive in writing.  I will always be grateful that I had the benefit of his tutelage, early in my career.

AC: When I first moved to Boston in 2007 one of the first archives I visited was the Schlesinger Library which holds the records of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, creators of groundbreaking 1970s women’s health text Our Bodies, Ourselves. I got to read correspondence and other documents relating to the early editions of the book–and then several years later I was invited to participate in producing new material for the 40th anniversary edition! Once a researcher who accessed the OBOS archive, I then became a project participant whose contributions would in turn become a part of their historical records for future generations of researchers.

What is a fun fact about you?

AB:  As a young child I met one of the members of Metallica. He was close with my friend’s parents so we visited his house and used his Jacuzzi. I didn’t know who he was back then and still can’t remember which band member it was.

KG:  Hmmm. I love interacting with the public even though I’m often buried in the basement. I also love solving manuscript mysteries:  dating undated items, and deciphering difficult handwriting.

BL:  I can polka backwards.

AC:  I got my first tattoo, an illustration from the children’s book Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, as a reward for finishing library school.

What is your favorite collection/item?

AB:  It’s hard to pick one favorite item from the collection, but I do love the Sarah Gooll Putnam diaries. SGP, who eventually became a portrait painter, filled her 27 volume diary with sketches in addition to writing and photographs. Over the years–she began the diary at age 9 and stopped at age 61–her art evolves and becomes more sophisticated.

KG: My favorite item/s in the collection are ships’ logs.  I’m continually amazed at the life of the seamen, the hardships, and their endurance.

AC: This summer I was introduced to I am an American: First Lessons in Citizenship by Sarah Cone Bryant (1920), an example of the nationalist narratives produced to educate U.S. schoolchildren during a period of strong anti-immigration sentiment. The text helps me see how ideologies from the early twentieth century continue to influence our political and cultural crosscurrents today.

Dan Hinchen, Reference Librarian: I think my favorite item is the Porcineograph created for William Emerson Baker, owner of Ridge Hill Farm. It’s a striking image with a lot of fun details to take in if you look closely.

Nancy Heywood, Senior Archivist for Digital Initiatives: One of my favorite items in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society is a 4-page manuscript draft of a letter from Roger Sherman to Françios Marbois written in November of 1782 describing many aspects of Connecticut (the history, geography, natural resources, social customs). In the letter, Sherman replied to questions posed by François Marbois, the secretary to the minister from France, Anne-César, Chevalier de La Luzerne.  In 1780 Marbois, acting on behalf of the French government, sent requests to representatives in presumably all of the thirteen colonies. Although the replies about Virginia are the best known (because Thomas Jefferson was the author of those responses and he published a lengthy book conveying all the research he did), Sherman’s responses about Connecticut are clear and informative.

I like Sherman’s letter because it is an example of an unexpected document a researcher finds during the course of research in an archival collection and also because the it is a draft.  I came across the letter when I was part of a team working on the Society’s digital presentation of Jefferson’s complicated manuscript copy of Notes on the State of Virginia (his lengthy work included numerous additions and changes to his manuscript text). Sherman’s draft letter is a wonderful way to make the reality of Marbois’s questionnaire more apparent.  It is evidence that there were many men in many colonies writing, thinking, and revising their answers to questions from a French official.

Now that you have had the chance to get to know a few of our fabulous staff members, visit the MHS to meet the rest of us! We are here to answer your questions, introduce you to the archive, talk about our favorite collections, and guide you in your research.

Happy American Archives Month!

Legacies of 1619: Recognition & Resilience

By David Krugler, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin–Platteville

MHS images
Legacies of 1619 series

As a historian, I have mixed feelings about historic anniversaries. I welcome the surge of public and press interest in the past that comes with, say, a centennial, but too often, that attention gets compressed into an On this Day in History factoid. Without context and exploration, the meaning and relevance of a historical event can easily be neglected. Another challenge: What if the event being noted isn’t a cause for celebration?

Consider our current year, 2019, which is the 400th anniversary of the landing of the first enslaved Africans in the fledgling colony of Virginia. How should we best commemorate 1619, essentially the birthdate of slavery in English North America? How can 1619, as well as other “nineteens”—1719, 1819, and 1919—be used as lenses to view the history not just of slavery but also that of Africans and African Americans? Last month, I was honored to take part in a four-person panel organized by the Massachusetts Historical Society that explored the legacies of 1619. Appropriately, we convened on Beacon Hill in the chancel of the African Meeting House, the oldest standing African American church in the country. Frederick Douglass once delivered an address from the very spot where we sat, as did abolitionists Sarah Grimke and William Lloyd Garrison. No pressure, right?

We framed our presentations and discussion around the themes of recognition and resilience. To an engaged audience packing the pews of the nave, Peter Wirzbicki, of Princeton University, spoke about the growing awareness in the North by the 1830s of just how much slavery was thriving. Abolitionists in Boston increasingly recognized that slavery wasn’t merely a Southern institution—Massachusetts’s textile industry depended on the price of cotton, which slave labor helped determine. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act legally bound all citizens to slavery by requiring them, under the penalty of law, to help capture or return runaways (better term: self-emancipators). As Peter put it, “The Civil War had to free the North as well as the South.” That recognition was slow to develop, with even Abraham Lincoln forswearing any intention to abolish slavery when he took the oath of the president.

Kerri Greenidge, of Tufts University, profiled Boston’s own William Monroe Trotter, whose father, born a slave, fought for the Union. Trotter, an indefatigable activist, showed resilience through his radicalism. Trotter recognized that business as usual, so to speak, wouldn’t dismantle the ideology and structure of white supremacy. In 1902, he mobilized black Bostonians to protest North Carolina’s attempt to extradite Monroe Rogers, a black man who had fled to Boston out of fear of being lynched after being arrested on trumped-up charges. Rogers had to be protected from a corrupt justice system—and then that system had to be reformed. The nation needed a reconfiguration of its laws, argued Trotter, who also called upon African Americans to defend themselves. As Kerri explained, Trotter exemplified a black radical tradition that took root in 1619. For if slavery was normal, then resisting it was, by definition, radical; and if the laws in 1902 didn’t stop lynching, then resisting those unjust laws was also radical.

For my presentation, I spoke about the New Negro movement of the early twentieth century, of which Trotter was a prominent part. (The New Negroes contrasted themselves with the “old guard” represented by the accommodationist approach of Booker T. Washington.) World War I had a profound effect on New Negroes, who recognized that the reason President Woodrow Wilson gave for U.S. entry into that war should be appropriated. If African Americans were going to France to make the world safe for democracy, shouldn’t America be made safe for the rights and equality of African Americans? In 1919, when white mobs formed in city after city to attack African Americans in the cause of protecting white supremacy, black veterans fought back and provided protection that law enforcement failed to offer. A year of racial violence, the worst in the nation’s history, 1919 was also a year of resilience through armed self-defense against lawless mob attacks.

A discussion moderated by Robert Bellinger, of Suffolk University, gave Peter, Kerri, and myself an opportunity to further explore the connections between our respective topics, thus providing the context and analysis that historic commemorations need. So, too, did the audience’s insightful questions, which further enhanced our consideration of recognition and resilience in African American history.

The best part is that the discussion didn’t end with us. On 19 October, the second panel in the series considered the legacies of 1619, this time through the theme of Afro-Native connections. My disappointment at not being able to attend is tempered by knowing that the MHS will soon post a recording of the panel. I look forward to seeing it!

Learn more about the Legacies of 1619 series and watch the first panel discussion Legacies of 1619: Recognition & Resilience.

Announcing 2020-2021 MHS Research Fellowships!

By Katy Morris, Research Coordinator and Book Review Editor

Have you ever wondered about conducting research at the MHS? If you are a local scholar, you can hop on the T, make your way to 1154 Boylston Street, and browse our unparalleled collections. You might even stay for a Brown-bag Lunch program or seminar session and network with other scholars. The robust MHS community is right in your backyard.

But if you aren’t local, you may know that traveling to an archive can be a financial burden. Research trips often translate to short stints, crammed in between a teaching load, writing, and endless commitments. Does this sound familiar?  This is where research fellowships can be a valuable resource. The precious funds fellowships provide can help you carve a few weeks out of your schedule to focus on research. As a grad student or early-career academic, you likely know the difference it makes to secure funding for these trips. As a scholar at any level, you know how generative that immersive research can be.

At the MHS we are proud to offer more than forty research fellowships for the academic year 2020-2021. These opportunities range from short-term funding (4-8 weeks) to long-term residency (4-12 months). We look for cutting-edge research that makes significant historiographical contributions and that effectively uses our unique collections. To learn more about our fellowship opportunities – including eligibility, application requirements, and past recipients – be sure to visit our website and review the FAQ.

Our new and improved submission portal is now open and accepting applications. We look forward to reviewing your proposals!

MHS Research Fellowships:

The Society will offer at least two MHS-NEH Long-term Fellowships made possible by an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The stipend, governed by an NEH formula, is $5,000 per month (plus an additional stipend for housing and professional expenses) for a minimum of four months and a maximum of twelve months continuous tenure. These fellowships are for scholars conducting research in the Society’s collections who have completed the terminal degree in their field (typically a Ph.D.) by the application deadline. DEADLINE: JANUARY 15, 2020 

MHS Short-term Fellowships carry a stipend of $2,000 to support four or more weeks of research in the Society’s collections. In addition to general awards, short term fellowships include thematic awards, such as those in African American studies, New England history, American religious history, environmental history, military history, women’s history, and the histories of graphic and printed materials. One application automatically puts you into consideration for any applicable short-term fellowships. Graduate students, faculty, and independent researchers are welcome to apply. We will offer more than twenty short-term fellowships in the coming year. DEADLINE: MARCH 1, 2020

For those studying the U.S. Civil War, its causes, or its memory, the Boston Athenaeum and the MHS will offer one Suzanne and Caleb Loring Fellowship on the Civil War, Its Origins, and Consequences. Fellows spend at least four weeks at each institution. This fellowship carries a stipend of $4,000. DEADLINE: FEBRUARY 15, 2020

The Society also participates in the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium. Thirty cultural institutions will offer a minimum of twenty fellowships in 2020-2021. These grants provide a stipend of $5,000 for minimum of eight weeks of research conducted at three or more participating institutions. With an NERFC (or “nerf-c” as it is affectionately known) you will enter the incredible network of New England archives and cultural institutions that will help you make new discoveries. DEADLINE: FEBRUARY 1, 2020