The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Exhibitions News

A New Way to Look at an Old (and forgotten) Story

We have just opened a new exhibition, The First Seasons of the Federal Street Theatre: 1794-1798, that complements a larger exhibition, Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History, at the Boston Public Library. The controversy over a public theater that raged in Boston in the 1790s, an old and largely forgotten story, now has been brought to life through the efforts of Professor Paul Lewis of the English Department of Boston College and his very able students. Thanks to the audio production services of Boston College, it also is the first time that the Society—and the Boston Public Library—have used QR codes in an exhibition. QR codes, the ubiquitous matrix barcodes that appear everywhere in advertisements, now are used increasingly in museum settings so that smartphone users are able to call up additional audio information about what is on display. 

The First Seasons of the Federal Street Theatre will be on display, Monday-Saturday, 10:00 AM-4:00 PM, through July 30, but more than twenty items from the MHS exhibition also are on “virtual” display at the Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s History website, The online version of the First Seasons section of the Forgotten Chapters exhibition will reach a wider audience than those who are able to visit the MHS and be available for a longer period of time, but it also is an informative and engaging introduction to the original materials on show at the Society.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 4 April, 2012, 1:00 AM

The Joy of Discoveries: Answering a Visitor's Question

It is always fun to make a connections in surprising places.  It is even more fun when those connections are made as a result of a question asked by a visitor to the MHS.

Last week, a visitor to our current exhibition The Purchase by Blood: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862, asked a simple question that I could not answer.  The question, was Stephen Perkins -- a soldier featured in the exhibition -- related to the Perkins that was the namesake of the Perkins School for the Blind

Unable to answer the questions off the cuff, I promised to research the relationship and provide an answer via email. This lead me on a serendipidious mission.

Thomas Handasyd Perkins (1764-1854) -- one of Boston's most successfull China trade merchants -- was an early benefactor of the the school, selling his own home (which had housed the school for a year) and donating the funds so that the school could be moved to a larger location as enrollment grew. The MHS holds a large collection of Perkins' personal and business papers (see a guide to the collection here), which is where I started my search. But I was unable to determine a clear familial connection between Thomas Handasyd Perkins and Stephen Perkins there.  So I changed my search strategy and turned to our online catalog, ABIGAIL, for assistance. 

Through ABIGAIL I discovered that the photograph of Stephen Perkins featured in our exhibtion was the only item we held credited to Perkins himself. So I kept digging through the entries for the various Perkins family members until discovering the generic subject heading "Perkins Family" which brought me to a catalog record for an item that seemed to have promise in terms of revealing a clear answer to the question at hand: a large broadside title The Perkins Family of Boston.  Dashing to the stacks to view the broadside, I was delighted to see that it  was a large genealogical chart which revealed there was a connection between Thomas Handasyd Perkins and Stephen G. Perkins, killed at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in the Civil War. 

Looking at the chart I could see that Thomas had a brother named Samuel, who was born in 1767. Samuel had a son, who he named Stephen, in 1804.  That Stephen also had a son named Stephen, born in 1835.  That Stephen, the grandson of Thomas Handasyd Perkins' brother Samuel, was the Stephen pictured in our exhibition. 

I was happy to be able to reveal the answer to the exhibition visitor as well as to build for myself a little extra knowledge to share with future visitor to the MHS. 



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:09 PM

Web Presentation Launched Today: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862

In connection with the exhibition The Purchase by Blood: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862, the Massachusetts Historical Society has digitized a number of letters, photographs, and broadsides from its collections to present online. Available are small and large high resolution images as well as transcriptions of letters to facilitate reading where the handwriting may be difficult to discern.

Image of web page banner

The pages in the web presentation represent a subset of the documents in the exhibition, narrating micro-stories of some battles which took place in Virginia (Ball's Bluff, Peninsula Campaign, Cedar Mountain) and Maryland (Antietam). Regimental units were formed based on networks of friendships and alliances, and the featured materials convey the close connections between many of the soldiers. Each page highlights at least one of Massachusetts's fallen sons, providing both a photographic image of a soldier and, in most instances, a letter which provides contextual information about a particular battle and/or a soldiers' actions in the war and in death. Among those individuals featured are William Lowell Putnam, James Jackson Lowell, Richard Goodwin, Richard Cary, and Wilder Dwight. 

The launch is particularly timely as today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ball's Bluff, a battle explored in both the exhibition and the accompanying web presentation. 

In addition to this web presentation, please visit the The Massachusetts Historical Society Commemorates the Civil War subject portal to find additional online content, including our monthly presentation of a Civil War document from 150 years that month, a timeline, selected publications, classroom tools, and a list of past and future events held at the MHS.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 21 October, 2011, 10:00 AM

Pardon Our Appearance....

Pardon our appearance while we prepare for our new gallery in the second floor lobby…

We are about to install the first of a series of changing exhibitions in our new MHS “Treasures Gallery,” an intimate space designed to highlight the extraordinary materials in our collection.  The art and sculpture have been cleared from the area and the Saltonstall Gun, our noble War of 1812 cannon, and “Paul and Virginie,” our pair of 18th century polychrome lead garden statues, have been moved across the landing in preparation for painting and the construction of display walls.

How does one move a 1,200-pound cannon and lead sculptures with fragile antique wire armatures?  Very gingerly.  A four-man team from U.S. Art Company, Inc. carefully positioned the cannon on heavy plastic before cinching it with straps and slowly hauling it across the marble floor to position it against the stair rail. Levers, shims, protective foam, and blankets all came into play as each phase of the move was planned and executed.

The MHS staff has moved the garden statues several times in the past: an unnerving experience which convinced us that they are best left to the professionals.  The U.S. Art team shrink-wrapped each sculpture base to its wooden plinth, then eased the heavy plastic sheet under the plinth and secured it to a winch attached to a marble column. 

With guardians to monitor the sculpture for any untoward movement, each statue was slowly pulled across the room, inch by inch, until the crew could position the sculpture by hand and lever out the plastic sheet.

After rehanging the front stair art, the crew was done and our space cleared for the next step to prepare the gallery for the first of our Treasures exhibitions, “’Like a Wolf for the Prey’: The Massachusetts Historical Society Collection Begins,” scheduled to open in the fall. Keep your eye on our website for more details.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 26 July, 2011, 8:00 AM

Photography Fun @ the MHS

This week members of the MHS staff had fun playing in our daguerreotype studio.

Come on in and join the fun by visiting History Drawn with Light: Early Photographs from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, an exhibition currently on view at the MHS.  

The exhibition is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.   Bring your camera and strike your own pose.  




comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 8 April, 2011, 8:00 AM

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