Making History @ MHS

By Kathleen Barker, Education Department

Pop Quiz! Which bloody seventeenth-century skirmish brought English settlers into conflict with local Wampanoags? The answer, of course, is King Philip’s War, a series of attacks that killed many colonists and Native American in 1675 and 1676, destroyed several New England towns, and cost the life of Wampanoag leader Metacom (or King Philip). Over the past few months, thirty-plus students from Boston University have been scouring the Society’s collections to learn more about this intriguing episode from Massachusetts’s past. Under the tutelage of Professor James Johnson, students became historians as they examined artifacts, transcribed documents, and tried to make sense of the relationships forged between colonists and native inhabitants, and where those relationships disintegrated.

Students visited the MHS several times, both as a class and as individual researchers. They had the opportunity to analyze a series of manuscripts and published documents. Pamphlets such as John Eliot’s Strength Out of Weakness (1652), describe Puritan’s attempts to convert Indians to Christianity, while other works, like William Hubbard’s The Present State of New-England: Being a Narrative of theTroubles with the Indians in New-England (1677) suggest that not all native peoples were willing to adopt English customs or religious principles. Class members also transcribed a number of documents from the Winslow family papers, which include the papers of Edward and Josiah Winslow, colonial governors of Plymouth Colony from 1638-1680. Several letters in the collection detail colonists’attempts to negotiate with Metacom and other native inhabitants, even as native groups began forming alliances against the English settlers.

All of this hard work culminated in an exhibition and public program hosted by the MHS on 13 December 2012. More than 100 guests visited the MHS that evening to hear the students talk about their discoveries. The program began with Professor Johnson and his students providing a brief introduction to the principles of the course, as well as colonial-native relations, growing tensions,and the war itself. Students then became docents as program attendees viewed a special exhibition assembled by the class. Small groups of students discussed the particular materials they had studied, while also answering questions about their experiences as budding history detectives.

Ultimately, this program combined many of the things that we love to do here at the MHS: we introduced a new group of people to our collections through our research library; we piqued the interest of young historians; and we provided history enthusiasts with an entertaining and informative program. For more information about visiting our library to conduct your own research, checkout our visiting the library page. You can also visit our web calendar for information about upcoming education & public programs.

Turning Points in History

By Kathleen Barker, Education Dept.

Summer has officially turned to fall, which means it’s time once again for leaf peeping, pumpkin carving, and National History Day! Since the Society became the official co-sponsor of Massachusetts History Day earlier this year, I’ve learned a lot about making websites, judging performances for historical accuracy, and spotting student-created content in exhibitions mounted on replicas of everything from the Taj Mahal to the R.M.S. Titanic.  I have also discovered that National History Day is a fabulous way to engage students in the process of doing history. For example, creating an NHD project requires that students work individually or in a group to select a topic related to the annual theme; conduct primary and secondary research at libraries, archives, and museums; think critically about sources and draw conclusions about the importance of their topic; and present their research through an exhibit, website, performance, documentary, or research paper.  Best of all, students who produce history day projects develop all sorts of reading, writing, thinking, and presentation skills that they can apply to other courses in other disciplines.  History Day is about so much more than history!

I was fortunate enough to attend a four-day NHD training session earlier this month. In addition to meeting competition coordinators from all over the world, I also attended a great session that explored the finer points of this year’s theme: Turning Points in American History. So, you might ask, how should we define a broad idea like “turning point?”  More than an important event from the past, a turning point is an idea, event, or action that led to some sort of cultural, political, social, or economic change. It could be anything from the changes in Secret Service protocol after President Kennedy’s assassination to the creation of state arts patronage that resulted from the Russian Revolution.  Of course, there are plenty of potential turning points in our own backyard. If you’d like to tackle a project that involves Massachusetts or New England history, explore the Society’s collections or contact the library staff (; 617-646-0532) and start to plan a visit to the Library. For more information about participating in Massachusetts History Day, visit the MHD website. Good luck!


Interview: Spotlight on Education at the MHS

By Emilie Haertsch, Publications

On Wednesday Assistant Director of Education and Public Programs Kathleen Barker wrote about the recent teacher workshops held at the MHS. The week-long workshops, titled “At the Crossroads of Revolution: Lexington and Concord in 1775,” engaged 80 teachers from across the country, who will return to their classrooms with exciting material for their students. After the successful workshops, Barker sat down to talk with me about the Society’s ongoing educational work.


  1. Tell me about the history of education efforts at the MHS.

About 12 years ago MHS fellow David McCullough, whose son is a teacher, expressed an interest in developing educational efforts for teachers at the MHS. That led to the Society offering the Swensrud Fellowships for teachers beginning in 2001. That program continues today, in addition to other efforts. We have curriculum ideas available for teachers based on the materials in our collections. We also offer seminars where teachers have the opportunity to examine primary sources from our collections and take their discoveries back to their students. And we offer workshops for students and parents.

 2. You recently completed two week-long summer workshops for teachers. What were the goals of these workshops?

The workshops were part of the Landmarks of American History and Culture project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the idea was to get teachers out into the landscapes where historical events happened. Our workshop was about Lexington and Concord during the Revolutionary War, so we took the teachers to those places. They were not in classrooms, but in barns, historic houses, and in Minute Man National Historic Park. We also spent time at the MHS and gave context to these places.

3. How have teachers been impacted by coming to educational events at the MHS?

Teachers from these recent workshops told us that they see history differently after being in the places where events took place, and they bring that to the classroom. Many teachers have told us they use our website in their classrooms, and they encourage their students to learn from documents from our online collections.

4. Why is it important that the rich materials in the Society’s collections reach young students?

The historical evidence in our collections helps students to develop critical thinking skills. Instead of taking the interpretation of their teacher or textbook at face value, they are able to examine original documents and form their own ideas. It’s also important to develop students’ interest in history, because they are the preservationists of tomorrow. If we want people to continue supporting historical work we need to foster a passion for history in today’s young people.

5. What are your plans for upcoming educational events at the MHS?

In the spring the Society will be cosponsoring National History Day. We’ll be holding workshops for both teachers and students for this event. Coming up on November 17th we have our Family Day, when the Society will be hosting a program for students and parents about the Revolutionary War. The Society also is planning the launch of a new website, so keep an eye out for updated curriculum help and program announcements in the Education section.

Teachers at the Crossroads

By Kathleen Barker, Education Department

In the spring of 1775, the towns of Lexington and Concord became targets, scenes, and symbols of actions that would ignite a war culminating in the birth of a new country. What happened to inhabitants of towns like these that were literally and figuratively “on the road to revolution” where local concerns and larger outside forces intersected? This July and August the Society offered two week-long workshops designed to help K-12 educators answer this question. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, our workshop, “At the Crossroads of Revolution: Lexington and Concord in 1775,” brought 80 teachers from 33 states (and the United Kingdom) to Massachusetts for an in-depth exploration of documents, artifacts, and landscapes associated with the beginning of the American Revolution.  

Group of 40 teachers in front of memorial at Lexington Green

Each week’s program began on Sunday evening at the historic Hartwell Tavern, where participants experienced Battle Road Heroes, a living history program that introduced the dramatic stories of people who lived along the crossroads of the Battle Road in April of 1775. The following day, Robert Gross, Draper Professor of Early American History at the University of Connecticut, led participants in an examination of life on the eve of the Revolution. He discussed what people were talking about; what they worried about; who the leaders were in the communities of Concord and Lexington and how they shaped public opinion; the sources of news and the places where people gathered to share it. Participants then had the opportunity to explore the Concord Museum, which holds an outstanding collection of artifacts related to life in Concord at the beginning of the American Revolution.

On Tuesdays we took to the streets of Boston with Bill Fowler, Distinguished Professor of History at Northeastern University and former director of the MHS. Building on the local concerns identified the previous day, participants considered how events in Boston were intertwined with those in Lexington and Concord. Our tour of the landscapes of revolutionary Boston included the Old State House, Boston Common, Old South Meeting House, Faneuil Hall, and Old North Church, where lanterns signaled British troop movements on the night of April 18, 1775. Our day concluded with a visit to the MHS where participants had the opportunity to meet and mingle with staff members while viewing original documents from the Society’s amazing collections.  

Mile Marker indicated 13.5 miles to Boston from ConcordBy Wednesday participants were ready to take a closer look at the first day of the revolution. We toured many different sites, including Lexington Green, Paul Revere’s capture site, and the North Bridge in Concord, as we focused on the actual events of April 19, 1775. Participants walked parts of the original Battle Road, now part of Minute Man National Historical Park, exploring eyewitness accounts recorded by minutemen British soldiers, and local inhabitants at various locales in order to uncover how the first few hours of the revolution unfolded. We also considered multiple perspectives through a visit to Munroe Tavern, part of the Lexington Historical Society. On the afternoon of April 19, 1775, the tavern served as the headquarters for Brigadier General Earl Percy and his one thousand reinforcements, as well as a field hospital for wounded British regulars, and interpreters within the tavern tell the story of the British retreat to Boston.

Activities on Thursday highlighted in the roles that ordinary people played in shaping extraordinary events, and the power that people had to effect change through the choices that they made. Historians Mary Fuhrer and Joanne Myers introduced the participants to documentary sources – local records – than can be used to research the lives of people living in Lexington in 1775. Through a series of hands-on research activities and a short writing workshop, participants chose a historical character from Lexington and examined their “choices at the crossroads.” Meanwhile, environmental historian Brian Donahue, author of The Great Meadow: Farmers and the Land in Colonial Concord, immersed the teachers in the colonial landscape guiding them through a section of the farming fields and providing them with tools for “reading” and understanding the “land of the embattled farmers”. Our examination of the mixed husbandry land use of Concord’s small farms provided a way of understanding interrelated strands of environmental, economic and social history, and offered a unique perspective on the daily concerns and choices, and the long-term plans and patterns that were a crucial part of family and community life in Lexington and Concord.

Our setting for the final day of the workshop was the grounds of the Old Manse, a National Historic Landmark overlooking the Concord River. Here, MHS Director of Education Jayne Gordon led the teachers in a discussion the ways in which nineteenth- century Concord authors used Concord’s revolutionary legacy in their own efforts to end intellectual and cultural dependence on the Old World. After an intense week, the program officially ended with a leisurely stroll through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and the Alcotts are buried. We completed our workshop with a quiet, casual contemplation of the different kinds of independence that each author pursued at his/her own “crossroads.”

Here at the MHS, we are grateful to our wonderful partners for making this a fantastic experience for all who participated. We are also delighted to know that participants enjoyed their time in Massachusetts. As one teacher explained in her final evaluation, this was an “absolutely fabulous workshop of great value to me and my students. In the words of my students it was: ‘freakin’ awesome!’”.


Massachusetts Goes to Nationals

By Kathleen Barker, Education Department

Early on the morning of June 10, 2012, I found myself standing in a parking lot in Woburn, Mass., with dozens of bleary-eyed middle- and high-school students. Despite the early hour there was a touch of excitement in the air, for these talented young ladies and gentlemen were waiting for the buses that would take them to the National History Day (NHD) finals at the University of Maryland in College Park. The 2012 contest was the largest ever in NHD history, and while 2,794 students participated in this year’s national competition, that number represents only a fraction of the students who participated in National History Day during the 2011-2012 school year.

For the students gathered in College Park, the national competition represented the zenith of a process that began nearly nine months earlier. Soon after the 2012 theme, “Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History,” was announced, students began investigating potential topics, exploring local (and not-so-local) libraries and archives, and creating exhibits, performances, documentaries, websites, or papers. Students from across the United States consulted collections at the Massachusetts Historical Society for this year’s competition. The Library Reader Services staff fielded reference calls and emails on topics such as the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill, Horace Mann and nineteenth-century school reform, Dorthea Dix, and the abolition of slavery.

Panaromic shot of opening ceremony at National History Day in  College Park MarylandI was fortunate enough to travel with the Massachusetts delegation to this year’s national competition. The festivities began on the evening of Sunday, June 10, with a rousing opening ceremony on the lawn at McKeldin Library. Imagine thousands of students, parents, and teachers cheering, chattering, and trading pins and you’ll have a good sense of what the opening ceremony was like. The competition got down to business on Monday morning, and while in College Park I had the opportunity to serve as a judge along with more than 300 other historians and other education professionals. Anyone who has ever judged at a history day competition can tell you what an amazing experience this is. I met with many talented and enthusiastic students over the course of the three-day competition. They taught me a great deal about topics as diverse as Levittown, the use of helicopters in the Vietnam War, and Nicola Tesla. Thanks to a very well illustrated project on Civil War hospitals, I also have new appreciation for modern medicine.

Alas, the contest did eventually come to end. After three days of intense but rewarding competition, winners were announced at a ceremony at the University’s Comcast Center on June 14, 2012. The event Massachusetts students entering auditorium for awards ceremonybegan with the best parade I’ve ever seen: a parade of participating students across the floor of the arena. I watched over 2,000 students circle the arena with everything from state flags to inflatable lobsters! Throughout the morning, dozens of students were singled out for awards and special prizes, and the boisterous crowd made sure that each winner was duly appreciated. Prizes were sponsored not only by NHD but by friends of history like the National Endowment for the Humanities, the History Channel, and the National World War II Museum. Several students from Massachusetts took home special prizes, but a special congratulations goes to our lone award winner, Chad Nowlan of Holyoke Catholic High School, who placed second in the Individual Performance category for his project, “From Revolution to Constitution, Shays’ Rebellion.” (You can find a complete list of winners on the NHD website.)

It takes a cast thousands to make History Day happen every year. Kudos to the national staff for making NHD a successful enterprise for more than 30 years! A special thanks to the Massachusetts History Day co-coordinators, Bill Szachowicz and Bob Jones, as well as all the members of the Massachusetts History Day board, who volunteer many hours to make History Day happen in Massachusetts. Thank you to all of the teachers, librarians, archivists, parents, and other mentors who shepherded students through the historical research process. Last, but certainly not least, a hearty congratulations to all of the students who participated in National History Day this year. These dedicated students gave up their evenings, weekends, and even school vacations to engage with the past. In the end, they are ALL winners!  

If History Day sounds like tons of fun (and it is), learn more about the 2012-2013 contest theme, “Turning Points in History” at the NHD website. Visit the Massachusetts History Day website for information about participating in contests in the Commonwealth. Finally, come back to the MHS website in September 2012 to find out how the Society can help you with your History Day research.

A Classroom with an Ocean View

By Kathleen Barker, Education Department

Summer is an exciting season for the MHS education department. Over the next three months, hundreds of teachers from nearly 40 states and the United Kingdom will visit the Society to take part in workshops on topics including the American Revolution, anti-slavery and abolition efforts, 19th-century immigration, and American imperialism. Many of these programs also include excursions to local landmarks like Faneuil Hall in the heart of Boston or the Old North Bridge in Concord. One particular workshop, however, will take participants to a stunning seaside setting: the new Thomas Jefferson Memorial Center at Coolidge Point in Manchester, Massachusetts.

In this workshop, participants will explore the challenges faced by the new nation in the years after the American Revolution. They will examine five sets of documents selected from the Society’s collections that shed light on key issues, including the rights and responsibilities of a new government, the needs of a diverse citizenry, slavery, women’s roles, and America’s relationship with the world. For example, using sources such as Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence and the correspondence generated by St. George Tucker’s Queries on Slavery in Massachusetts, teachers can analyze the ways in which America’s founding mothers and fathers attempted to negotiate the complex issue of slavery and its place in the new republic.

A $50 registration fee covers three lunches, one dinner, and all snacks. All materials, instruction, and admissions are included. Participants will receive 30 Professional Development Points, as well as the opportunity to earn graduate credit at Framingham State University. For more information, please contact the education department at or (617) 646-0557.

An Educational Summer @ MHS

By Kathleen Barker

More than 500 teachers from across the United States (and Dubai!) will return to school this fall equipped with classroom resources obtained through various workshops at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Educators, as well as a few curious adults, took part in fourteen different workshops offered at the MHS this summer. These lucky participants investigated documents related to a vast array of intriguing characters, events, and issues. Topics on offer included the dilemmas of colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson, daily life during the Siege of Boston, the ratification of the United States Constitution in Massachusetts, women in colonial Boston, and Irish American and African American participation in the Union Army during the Civil War. 

Photograph of educators participating in an MHS workshop at the Forbes House MuseumWhenever possible, education programs at MHS provide educators with opportunities to explore landscapes related to the Society’s documents and artifacts. We were fortunate to take several field trips this summer to locales in Boston and beyond. Participants in our Thomas Hutchinson workshop spent a beautiful summer day exploring the Forbes House Museum and other Hutchinson memorabilia in Milton. (Pictured on left.) While learning about the Siege of Boston, other educators took a tour of Loyalist Cambridge with J.L. Bell that included a stop at Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters. Where better to see the Constitution in action than at a courthouse? Photograph of educators participating in an MHS workshop at  the John Adams Courthouse in Boston MAOur Constitution workshop participants were able to discuss the ratification process in the elegant surroundings of Boston’s John Adams Courthouse, home of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. (Pictured on right.) Of course, not all of our excursions were land-based. In early August, twenty teachers from the Boston area participated in a workshop at Fort Warren on Georges Island, part of Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

Although the majority of our teacher workshops take place in the summer months, the MHS offers occasional workshops throughout the academic year. For a list of upcoming programs specifically for teachers, visit our events calendar or contact the Education Department.

The Civil War and Citizenship @ Fort Warren

By Kathleen Barker

On 13 August 2011, members of the Education Department spent a beautiful day on Georges Island, part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

Our day began with an exploration of Fort Warren, a National Historic Landmark built between 1834 and 1860.  Thanks to its strategic location overlooking the shipping channel into Boston’s inner harbor, the fort became a crucial part of Boston’s coastal defense plan during the Civil War. Fort Warren also served as a recruiting and training camp for Massachusetts regiments of the Union Army, as well as a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp. The first prisoners of war, including 155 political prisoners and over 600 military prisoners, arrived in October 1861. Perhaps the most famous Civil War prisoner held at Fort Warren was Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, who was held there from 25 May – 13 October 1865. Enthusiastic visitors can still take a peek into the cell occupied by Stephens during his stay on the island.  Other interesting nooks and crannies to explore include the fort’s bakery, the old hospital, and a powder magazine. Brave souls can also explore the dark arch (Bastion A), a former storage area and recreation hall full of mysterious rooms and dim corners best explored by flashlight!

In addition to roaming the fort, we also enjoyed a fantastic talk by Dr. Christian Samito, a practicing lawyer and a faculty member at Boston University School of Law, where he teaches courses on the legal history of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Education staff members have been working with Chris throughout the summer on a series of public programs and teacher workshops related to issues of citizenship and Civil War military service. During this particular talk, which was co-sponsored by the MHS, Chris discussed how African American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By serving in the Union Army, African Americans and Irish Americans demonstrated their loyalty to the United States and strengthened their American identity. While their experiences differed greatly, both groups cited their participation in Union efforts as they advocated for the expansion of citizenship rights after 1865. In the years following the war’s end, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded on the basis of race, and Irish Americans helped to cement recognition of their full citizenship through naturalization. For more information about this topic, pick up a copy of Chris’s recent book, Becoming American under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship during the Civil War Era, published by Cornell University Press.

To learn more about Boston and Fort Warren’s role as a site of diplomatic intrigue, join MHS staff members on Georges Island at 1:45 P.M. on Saturday, September 17th, when we present “The Trent Affair.” In the fall of 1861, Jefferson Davis sent diplomats James Mason of Virginia and John Slidell of Louisiana to Europe seeking support and recognition for the Confederacy. Eluding the Union blockade, the Southerners reached Cuba, where they boarded a British mail steamer, the Trent, for passage across the Atlantic Ocean. On 8 November 1861, the ship was seized and its Confederate diplomats imprisoned at Fort Warren.  MHS Education and Library staff members will discuss the details of the event; Mason, Slidell and prisoner life at Fort Warren; and the important role the Trent Affair played in Anglo-American relations. We hope to see you there!

This event will take place on Georges Island. For information about ferry tickets and schedules, please visit the Boston Harbor Islands Partnership website.

Summer Fellowship Opportunities for K-12 Educators

By Kathleen Barker

Are you (or do you know) a K-12 educator in search of a fun and rewarding summer opportunity? The MHS is offering at least three fellowships to public and/or parochial schoolteachers and library media specialists during the summer of 2011. The fellowships carry a stipend of $4,000 for four weeks of on-site research at the MHS. Applications are welcome from any K-12 teacher or library media specialist who has a serious interest in using the collections at the MHS to prepare primary-source-based curricula, supported by documents and visual aids, in the fields of American history, world history, or English/language arts. For more information about teacher fellowship, including application guidelines, visit our Swensrud Teacher Fellowship webpage, or contact Kathleen Barker, Education Coordinator, at or 617-646-0557.

Since 2001, the MHS has offered more than 50 fellowships to teachers representing school districts throughout Massachusetts and New England. These talented men and women have created projects on dozens of fascinating topics, including “Eighteenth-Century Broadsides,” “Massachusetts Soldiers and the Civil War Experience,” and “The Good Government Association and Political Reform in Early-Twentieth-Century Boston.” Look here to view examples of curriculum projects created by former teacher fellows.


Poetry with a Purpose: A Workshop for History and English Language Arts Teachers

By Kathleen Barker

What can poems tell us about Bostonians and their ideas about liberty, responsibility, and rebellion, prior to the American Revolution? How was the American Revolution invoked in poems to critique the Civil War? Join us on August 10 and 11, 2010, as we explore these (and many other) fascinating questions related to the persuasive power of poetry! This workshop, designed for 5th-8th grade teachers, will examine the work of local eighteenth- and nineteenth-century poets while offering tools for using poems in the classroom.

Workshop sessions will take place across Boston and Cambridge at the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Paul Revere House, Old North Church, Old South Meeting House, and Longfellow National Historic Site. Registration for this two-day workshop is $60, which includes course readings and lunches (both days). Participants can earn 12 professional development points by attending the course and creating a singe lesson plan. One graduate credit is available for an additional fee. Registration forms are due by June 30, 2010.

For more information, including a schedule of the workshop events, or to download the registration form, please visit our online calendar: