Paul Revere’s Ride

By Elaine Grublin

A recent news story has resulted in renewed interest in Paul Revere’s famous ride to Lexington, Massachusetts on the night of 18 April 1775.  Within our collections the MHS holds three accounts of the evening’s events, all written by Revere.  Two of the accounts are a draft and fair copy of a deposition likely prepared for the Provisional Congress in 1775, shortly after the events occurred. The third document is a letter written by Revere to Jeremy Belknap, founder of the MHS, circa 1798, in which Revere offers a detailed description and some reflection on the evening’s events. 

Paul Revere’s deposition, draft, circa 1775

Paul Revere’s deposition, fair copy, circa 1775

Letter from Paul Revere to Jeremy Belknap, circa 1798 

In addition to the documents listed above the MHS holds a large collection of Revere family papers – spanning several generations – which is available to researchers in our reading room.  A guide to the collection is available here.

2010 National Humanities Medals Awarded

By Carol Knauff

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama presented the 2010 National Humanities Medals to ten individuals honored for their outstanding achievements in history, literature, education, and cultural policy. We offer our congratulations to the five MHS Fellows to be honored:

  • – MHS Trustee Bernard Bailyn for illuminating the nation’s early history and pioneering the field of Atlantic history;
  • Daniel Aaron for his contributions to American literature and culture;
  • Jacques Barzun for his distinguished career as a scholar, educator, and public intellectual;
  • Stanley Nider Katz for a career devoted to fostering public support for the humanities; and
  • Gordon S. Wood for scholarship that provides insight into the founding of the nation and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

Digital Collections Highlighted

By Jeremy Dibbell

The MHS was among several Boston-area repositories featured in Sam Allis’ Saturday Boston Globe article “Historic collections meet the 21st century.” Allis highlights HIstoric New England’s new online collections database, and also reports on digitization efforts at the Boston Public Library, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Boston Athenaeum.

Among our digital projects mentioned by Allis are our presentations of Thomas Jefferson’s manuscript of “Notes on the State of Virginia” (you can also view Jefferson’s book catalogues, farm and garden books, a copy of the Declaration of Independence in his hand, and many of his architectural drawings on our Thomas Jefferson Papers website) and our forthcoming digital collection of materials relating to the Siege of Boston during the Revolutionary War.

For the Adams Family Papers (which amount to some 300,000 manuscript pages in all) we host several different types of digital collection. The diaries and autobiography of John Adams, plus the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams (nearly 1,200 letters) are available in digital facsimile with transcriptions through the Adams Family Papers Electronic Archive. The diaries of John Quincy Adams (some 14,000 pages) are presented in digital facsimile, searchable or browsable by date (and JQA’s line-a-day diaries are currently being broadcast via Twitter, after which the transcriptions are added to the digital facsimile pages). And thirty-two volumes of the published Adams Papers are freely available as annotated transcriptions as part of the Adams Papers Digital Editions.

But our digital collections go far beyond the Adamses and Jefferson. You can browse the full list of our digital offerings here, but among the collections launched (fairly) recently are our Coming of the Revolution site, which features an interactive timeline of documents covering the period 1764-1776; African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts, a collection of 117 manuscript and printed documents from our collections including letters and poems by Phillis Wheatley and our (unique) copy of Samuel Sewall’s anti-slavery pamphlet The Selling of Joseph. If maps are more your style, check out Massachusetts Maps, a selection of 104 maps (mostly unique manuscripts) from our collections. Or there’s the ever-popular MHS Highlights Gallery, where you can see many of the most popular and striking visual items housed at the Society.

We hope you enjoy our digital collections, and always welcome feedback about them. Just email, and I’ll pass them along.

Bentley Receives ANA Presidential Award

By Jeremy Dibbell

Anne Bentley, our Curator of Art, was presented with a Presidential Award by the American Numismatic Association, meeting in Boston this week.

The plaque below the medal (pictured at left) reads: “Thank you for your outstanding contributions to our hobby community.”

With John W. Adams, Anne is the curator of our current exhibit, “Precious Metals: From Au to Zn,” which you can view Monday-Saturday, 1-4 p.m. here at the Society through 2 October.

Anne was feeling far too modest this morning to comment on her award, but she said “Come see the show. We’ve got some great items on display, and you’ll have a chance to learn some interesting things about your history.”

We’re so proud of you, Anne – congratulations on this well-deserved honor!

It’s Pronounced HOW?

By Jeremy Dibbell

MHS Librarian Peter Drummey put his Boston pronunciation skills on the line in a recent column by Billy Palumbo over the “right” way to say “Tremont” (as in the name of the street). It’s an amusing look at some of Boston’s linguistic shibboleths, what they mean, and what they say about us.

Tremont is one of the more interesting Boston words, but there are so many others to choose from. My personal favorite is Faneuil, which I think I’ve heard said at least ten different ways.

Do you have a favorite Boston pronunciation? Or is there one that just drives you up the wall whenever you hear it? Is there one so egregiously wrong that you would stop someone on the street and correct them? Feel free to chime in in the Comments section!

Ulrich on Preservation

By Jeremy Dibbell

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, professor of history at Harvard and the most recent recipient of the MHS’ John F. Kennedy Medal, mentioned the Historical Society in a recent lecture about the importance of preserving historical artifacts, delivered at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City. You can read an account of Ulrich’s talk here, via the Deseret News.

One quote that I particularly like: “History is not what happened, it is an account of the past, based on surviving sources. If there are no sources, there is no history.”

Holton Wins Bancroft for “Abigail Adams”

By Jeremy Dibbell

We’re thrilled and excited here at MHS today to report that our friend Woody Holton has been awarded one of the three 2010 Bancroft Prizes for his book Abigail Adams. One of the most prestigious prizes for books of history, the Bancroft is awarded by the trustees of Columbia University “to the authors of books of exceptional merit in the fields of American history, biography, and diplomacy.”

Congratulations, Woody, on this well-deserved honor!

MHS Videos on C-SPAN

By Jeremy Dibbell

C-SPAN has just announced that a whopping 160,000 hours of video from 1987 to the present is now available free through the C-SPAN Video Library website. These include many MHS-related events from 1999 through 2009, among them:

– Woody Holton’s 9 November 2009 talk on his recent biography, Abigail Adams. Video.

– Two panels from the Charlottesville portion of last summer’s Adams/Jefferson libraries conference: Jefferson, Adams and Religion (Video) and Jefferson, Adams and Their Legacy (Video).

– A 1999 vignette on the Thomas Jefferson collections at MHS with our librarian, Peter Drummey. Video.

– Joseph Ellis’s 16 December 2004 talk on his biography of George Washington, His Excellency. Video.

– A 29 January 2009 lunch talk by Ken Burns on his documentary series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” Video.

– The dramatic reading of letters between John and Abigail Adams, held at Faneuil Hall on 19 November 2007, featuring Gov. Deval and Diane Patrick, Gov. Mike and Kitty Dukakis, and Sen. Edward and Victoria Kennedy. Video.

To find other MHS-related events (there are many more), just search for “Massachusetts HIstorical Society” in the search bar at the top of the C-SPAN Video Library homepage.

In Case You Missed It …

By Jeremy Dibbell

If you missed the premiere of “Who Do You Think You Are?” on Friday night, which featured Sarah Jessica Parker researching at the MHS, you can watch the entire show online at here.

Oh, and by the way, we should note that in the scene where Ms. Parker is holding a pen, she is not using an original document (even though the editing sort of makes it look that way).

MHS in Primetime!

By Elaine Grublin

On 27 January 27 2009 there was a celebrity sighting at the MHS library.  Sarah Jessica Parker, of Sex & the City fame, visited our reading room and worked with material from our manuscript collections. We’ve kept it under wraps for more than a year waiting for the right moment to tell the world, but now we want everyone to know so that they can share in our celebrity experience!

Sarah Jessica visited as part of filming for the inaugural episode of NBC’s new series “Who Do You Think You Are?” This program, an American adaptation of the hit British documentary series by the same title, follows well-known celebrities as they work to discover their proverbial roots, researching their ancestors in an attempt to learn more about their families and themselves. 

During her visit Sarah Jessica registered as a researcher and followed all the rules of the reading room – although we did allow the film crew to follow her in, which is way beyond our norm. I spent some time working with SJP in the catalog room, helping her identify and call for the material she wanted to see and then brought the material to her in the reading room. We can’t tell you which documents she looked at, though – you’ll need to tune in to the show in order to find out!

Sarah Jessica was an eager and interested researcher as well as a gracious celebrity guest. Naturally she was interested in seeing the material we held that was connected to her ancestor, but she also asked questions about the size and scope of our collections and how we preserve our documents. After filming wrapped, she stopped in our lobby to chat with a couple of students from Emerson College that had also been conducting research here and posed for photographs with them. She then stayed on into the evening for a tour of the MHS building and a chance to see some of our treasures. While looking at selected materials from the Adams Family Papers we discovered that March 25, the date Thomas Jefferson wrote his last letter to John Adams, is SJP’s birthday (only off by about 140 years). And she enthusiastically agreed when a staff member pointed out that our portrait of Lieutenant Frederick Hedge Webster, who was killed in action while serving in the Massachusetts 54th Regiment in 1864, bore an uncanny resemblance to her husband Matthew Broderick, who played Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, also of the 54th, in the film “Glory.”

“Who Do You Think You Are?” debuts on NBC on Friday, 5 March 2010 at 8:00 p.m. with the Sara Jessica Parker episode. The MHS is just one of the many stops Parker makes on her journey of genealogical discovery, so be sure to tune in to learn her story and to catch the MHS library and reading room staff during their 15 minutes of fame. 

 You can watch some “preview clips” from the show here.