The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Around MHS

Implementing Technology in Current Jefferson Exhibition was a TAG Team Effort

Last fall, as the Massachusetts Historical Society planned its current exhibition, The Private Jefferson, an interdepartmental team of staff members successfully pursued a wonderful opportunity to incorporate technology into the galleries.  Thanks to the efforts of Gavin Kleespies, Director of Programs at MHS, and Ryan Gaspar, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Microsoft, MHS staff members were able to showcase MHS digital content in an interactive content management system for exhibitions, Touch Art Gallery (TAG).  Numerous high resolution digital images, short videos, and interactive features are available on a variety of touchscreen devices within the Jefferson exhibition.

TAG was developed by a team of programmers (mostly undergraduate computer science students) at Brown University led by Professor Andries van Dam, the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Professor of Technology and Education.  Carolyn Gress, Marketing Project Manager, Microsoft, coordinated a meeting in October between some staff from the MHS and Professor van Dam and some of his students.  During the visit to Providence, Rhode Island, MHS staff saw and interacted with the digital museum experience they created using TAG for the Nobel Foundation.

Notable features of the TAG system include: the display and delivery of high resolution images of exhibition items and their associated metadata in various sets ("collections"); management of related material including audio and video clips; and interactive segments on topics ("tours").  Gallery visitors can browse the items, "grab" and zoom in to closely examine the high resolution digital images, select, start (and interrupt) the interactive tours to closely examine the featured images.

Due to several previous grant-funded digitization projects, MHS has many existing high resolution digital images of documents within the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts.  These digital assets and the existing metadata were good starting points for the implementation of TAG within the Jefferson exhibition, but it took intensive work and effort by many staff members to ready the digital features by the opening date of the Jefferson exhibition.

The digital team (Laura Wulf, Peter Steinberg and I) had to work efficiently to assemble over a hundred images and descriptions.  Bill Beck, MHS's web developer, worked with Trent Green (the Brown University student who our main contact for TAG server and software issues) on the batch ingest and overall configuration of the system.  Several staff members (Gavin, Sara Sikes, Sara Georgini, Peter Drummey and I) focused on the content for six interactive features and developed outlines and scripts to tell specific stories about the Jefferson materials.  The production of those interactive tours was truly a team effort with Gavin and Bill taking the lead on many sequencing and editing tasks; the digital team assembling more images; Sara, Sara and Peter providing narration for some tours; and Jim Connolly and Hobson Woodward recording additional audio clips.  Three staff members, Chris Coveney, Carol Knauff and Laura Lowell, provided excellent feedback regarding the multimedia overviews (the "tours").

The digital content and the touch screens of various sizes--ranging from one large (65") screen to two Dell All-in-Ones and one Microsoft Surface tablets--had to be physically incorporated into the exhibition. Gavin worked with exhibition designer Will Twombly and MHS's Chris Coveney to ensure that the screens were accessible and functional in the gallery spaces.

The result of so many people's efforts with the planning meetings, the configurations, the production tasks and deployment steps is an exhibition celebrating MHS's 225th anniversary with significant historical manuscripts (the core of the collections) as well as value-added digital content on current touch-screen devices.  We strived to make the digital content as informative and user-friendly as possible. 

Please visit the Jefferson exhibition to examine both the original manuscripts on display as well as the digital components on the touch screen devices in the galleries.  Professor van Dam and some of his students will be giving a gallery talk about the development of the Touch Art Gallery system on Friday, May 13, at 2PM.

 

Image:  Screenshot of a tweet Liz Loveland sent during the Jefferson exhibition opening with an image of a manuscript page from the Farm Book delivered on a touch screen device.

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 May, 2016, 8:00 AM

Announcing 2016-2017 Research Fellowships

The MHS is thrilled to receive the list of the incoming research fellows for the 2015-2016 cycle.  Each year our various fellowship programs bring a wide variety of researchers working on a full range of topics into the MHS library. The Reader Services Staff enjoys getting to know the fellows, many of whom become career-long friends of the Society, returning to our reading room year after year. 

If any of the research topics are particularly interesting to you, keep an eye on our events calendar over the course of the upcoming year, as all research fellows present their research at brown-bag lunch programs as part of their commitment to the MHS.

For more information about the different fellowship types, click the headings below.

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MHS-NEH Long-term Research Fellowships (With special thanks to the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent agency of the U.S. government):

Manisha Sinha, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, “Men for All Seasons: Sumner, Stevens, and the Making of Radical Reconstruction”

Kara Swanson, Northeastern University, “A Passion for Patents: Inventiveness, Citizenship and American Nationhood”

 

Suzanne and Caleb Loring Research Fellowship On the Civil War, Its Origins, and Consequences (with the Boston Athenaeum):

Kent McConnell, Phillips Exeter Academy, “A Time-Stained God: Spiritual Lives, Civil War Deaths and the Violent Remaking of Religion in America”

 

MHS Short-Term Research Fellowships:

African-American Studies Fellow

James Shinn, Yale University, “Republicans, Reconstruction, and the Origins of U.S. Imperialism in the Caribbean, 1865-1878”

 

Andrew Oliver Fellow

Kimberly Alexander, University of New Hampshire, “Exploring Anglicization Through Pre-1750 Textiles”

 

Andrew W. Mellon Fellows

Abigail Cooper, Brandeis University, ‘“Lord, Until I Reach My Home’: Inside the Refugee Camps of the American Civil War”

Stephen Engle, Florida Atlantic University, “Champion in Our Hour of Need: The Life of John Albion Andrew”

Jessica Farrell, University of Minnesota, “(Re)Capturing Empire: A Reconsideration of Liberia’s Precarious Sovereignty and American Empire as Exception in the 19th Century”

Andrea Gray, Papers of Thomas Jefferson and George Mason University, “’Leaving their callings’: Retirement in the Early Republic”

Ross Nedervelt, Florida International University, “The Border-seas of a New British Empire: The British Atlantic Islands in the Age of the American Revolution”

Luke Nichter, Texas A&M University – Central Texas, “Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and the Decline of the Eastern Establishment”

Franklin Sammons, University of California, Berkeley, “The Long Life of Yazoo: Land Speculation, Finance, and Dispossession in the Southeastern Borderlands, 1789-1840”

Michael Verney, University of New Hampshire, “’Our Field of Fame’: Naval Exploration and Empire in the Early American Republic, 1815-1860”

Stephen West, Catholic University of America, “A Constitutional Lost Cause: The Fifteenth Amendment in American Memory and Political Culture, 1870-1920”

 

Benjamin F. Stevens Fellow

Abram Van Engen, Washington University in Saint Louis, “American Model: The Life of John Winthrop’s City on a Hill”

 

Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni Fellows

Catherine Kelly, University of Oklahoma, “Making Peace: Loyalists in the Early U.S. Republic”

David Montejano, University of California, Berkeley, “From Southern Plantation to Northern Mill: Traveling along the Cotton Trail during the American Civil War”

 

Malcolm and Mildred Freiberg Fellow

Nora Slominsky, Graduate Center, CUNY, “’The Engine of Free Expression’[?]: The Political Development of Copyright in the Colonial British Atlantic and Early National United States”

 

Marc Friedlaender Fellow

Julia Rose Kraut, New York University, “A Fear of Foreigners and of Freedom: Ideological Exclusion and Deportation in America”

 

Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Fellow

Craig Smith, Lesley University, “Redemption: The American Revolution, Ethics, and Abolitionism in Britain and the United States”

 

Ruth R. & Alyson R. Miller Fellows

Evan Haefeli, Texas A&M University, “The Delaware as Women and the Iroquois Great Peace of 1670”

Cathryn Halverson, University of Copenhagen, “Faraway Women and The Atlantic Monthly”

 

W. B. H. Dowse Fellows

Nathan Fell, University of Houston, “The Nature of Colonization: Native Americans, Colonists, and the Environment in New England, 1400-1750”

Michael Hattem, Yale University, “The Past is Prologue: The Origins of American History Culture, 1730-1800”

 

New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC) Awards (* indicates that part of fellowship will be completed at the MHS):

*Cassandra Berman, Brandeis University, “Motherhood and the Court of Public Opinion: Transgressive Maternity in America, 1768-1868”

Amy Breimaier, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, “’I learn my Books well’: Child Readers and the Economics of Cultural Change in New England, 1765-1815”

Jamie Brummitt, Duke University, “Protestant Relics: The Politics of Religion and the Art of Mourning in the Early American Republic”

*Emily Burns, Auburn University, “Innocence Abroad: The Cultural Politics and Paradox of American Artistic Innocence in Fin-de-Siècle France”

Ben Davidson, New York University, “Freedom’s Generation: Coming of Age in the Era of Emancipation”

Mary Draper, University of Virginia, “The Tropical Metropolis: Cities and Society in the Early Modern British Caribbean”

*John Garcia, University of Pennsylvania, “Specimen Pages: Critical Bibliography and Digital Analysis of 19th-Century Subscription Publishing in America”

*Louis Gerdelan, Harvard University, “Calamitous Knowledge: Understanding Disaster in the British, Spanish, and French Atlantic Worlds, 1666-1755”

Matthew Ghazarian, Columbia University, “Famine and the American Protestant Mission: Humanitarianism and Sectarianism in Turkey, 1858-1893”

*Kenyon Gradert, Washington University in St. Louis, “The Second Reformation: Protestant Inheritance in Antislavery New England”

Nalleli Guillen, University of Delaware, “Round the World Every Evening: Panoramic Spectacles, Entertainment Culture, and a Growing Imperial Consciousness in Nineteenth-Century America”

Jane Hooper, George Mason University, “’Let the Girls Come Aboard’: Intimate Contact between America and Madagascar”

Rachel Knecht, Brown University, “Inventing the Mathematical Economy in Nineteenth-Century America”

*Jonathan Lande, Brown University, “Disciplining Freedom: Union Army Slave Rebels and Emancipation in the Civil War Courts-Martial”

*Rachel Miller, University of Michigan, “Capital Entertainment: Creative Labor and the Modern Stage, 1860-1930”

Alexandra Montgomery, University of Pennsylvania, “Projecting Power in the Dawnland: Colonization Schemes, Imperial Failure, and Competing Visions of the Gulf of Maine World, 1710-1800”

Carrie Streeter, University of California, San Diego, “Before Yoga: Self-Expression and Health in the Age of Nervousness”

Andrew Wasserman, Louisiana Tech University, “Bang! We’re All Dead: The Places of Nuclear Fear in 1980s America”

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 29 April, 2016, 12:00 AM

Counting Down to the Quasquibicentennial

In eleven days, the Massachusetts Historical Society will be celebrating its quasquibicentennial, or, if you prefer, its bicenquasquigenary. In other words, on January 24, the MHS will turn 225 years old! We don’t think it looks a day over 200.

The MHS was founded on 24 January 1791, when Rev. Jeremy Belknap and a group of like-minded men met in Boston to form a society that would “collect, preserve and communicate, materials for a complete history of this country.” It was the first historical society in America, so its founders called it simply “The Historical Society.” (The New York Historical Society came along in 1804, then the American Antiquarian Society in 1812.) The MHS lived at six different locations before moving in 1899 to its current building at 1154 Boylston Street, Boston.

 

 

Staff members at the MHS have been working on a web project to commemorate our 225-year history: a gallery highlighting 225 items from our collections, including manuscripts, artwork, artifacts, and printed material representing four centuries of American history. Helping out with this project, I’ve had the chance to see a broad cross-section of material, learn the stories behind individual items, and better understand their significance.

Of course, the MHS is well-known for its iconic collection of Adams family papers, which include the letters and other papers of John, Abigail, John Quincy, and many generations of family members. We’ll be featuring some of these papers in our 225th anniversary gallery, from an early love letter by John to correspondence about Abigail’s death. John Adams’ notes on the Boston Massacre trials and his son’s reflections on the Amistad case document fascinating milestones in this illustrious family’s story.

The MHS also holds the second largest collection of Thomas Jefferson papers after the Library of Congress. Not only will our project feature Jefferson’s original manuscript draft of the Declaration of Independence, but also John Adams’ manuscript copy, the first printing, and the first printing that included signers’ names.

Many of the items in our collections are, in fact, the only known surviving copies of printed works. These include Samuel Sewall’s seminal anti-slavery pamphlet The Selling of Joseph, Benjamin Franklin’s first published work, and an early engraving of Harvard discovered by accident in the MHS collections 85 years after its acquisition!

Other ground-breaking printed works you’ll find here are the first books of poetry by Anne Bradstreet (1650) and Phillis Wheatley (1773), as well as the first Bible (1663) published in North America, a translation into the Massachuset Native American language.

The MHS holdings also include some remarkable Civil War-era material, so these papers figure prominently in our gallery. Particularly heartbreaking is a letter from Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight to his mother, written as he lay dying on the battlefield of Antietam. And this broadside recruiting African American soldiers for Massachusetts’ famous 54th Regiment becomes more poignant when you learn how the U.S. government failed to make good on its promises to the men who answered its call.

As for papers related to slavery and abolition, we highlight an eight-page letter from Abraham Lincoln to his friend Joshua Fry Speed detailing Lincoln’s feelings about slavery and the Union, and one Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote on the day she finished her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I also really like our 1892 photograph of the African Meeting House, the site of many anti-slavery meetings.

Speaking of striking images, here are a few more in MHS collections that you may not know about: a watercolor painting of the Heart Mountain Japanese internment camp, John Noble’s illustrated letter to his children depicting scenes from the South Pacific, and the only known portrait of legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone painted from life.

We hope you’ll enjoy our 225th anniversary celebration and visit us either in person or on-line. Keep an eye on our website, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter, as we count down to this momentous occasion.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 13 January, 2016, 4:18 PM

MHS Staff Meet with Librarians from Uzbekistan

Although there are many miles between Boston, Massachusetts and Tashkent, Uzbekistan (6,148 miles according to Google) and although the English language is quite different from the Uzbek language, librarians from the National Library of Uzbekistan and staff of the Massachusetts Historical Society found much common ground and camaraderie during a recent meeting at MHS. 

The scheduling logistics for the group - comprised of the Director, Deputy Director, Head, Reading Halls Lead Specialist, and Head of IT and Access to Foreign Library Collections - were handled by WorldBoston. The focus of the meeting and tour, which took place on 5 June, was on how the MHS makes special collections materials available to researchers both remotely and on-site.  During the visit, with the aid of two highly skilled interpreters, we were able to convey information about cataloging, archival storage, and collections management issues.

Following Librarian Elaine Heavey's  brief introduction to the MHS's history and collections, Digital Projects Coordinator Nancy Heywood and Web Developer Bill Beck showed some examples of how we make selections of our collections available online. The MHS website features a few different types of digital presentations—some sections of the website present sets of materials comprised of relatively small numbers of items with lots of contextual information and transcriptions, but other sections of the website present large sets of documents and/or fully digitized collection with minimal descriptive information and usually without transcriptions.

Elaine Heavey then conveyed information about how researchers use online catalogs and collection guides to prepare for their research visit and she demonstrated Portal1791, our new researcher request system.  The group toured the building and saw the spaces that researchers use (orientation room, reading room, catalog room) as well as some staff areas including the conservation lab and one of the larger stack floors.  They also saw a few highlights from the collections.

 

 

 

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 9 July, 2015, 1:00 AM

Sneak Peek! The Inaugural GLCA Boston Summer Seminar

Eighteen months ago, I sat down for lunch with former MHS research fellow Dr. Natalie Dykstra (Hope College), author of Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life (Houghton Mifflin, 2012). Over the meal, Natalie mentioned that she had been offered the opportunity to develop a faculty-student collaborative research program here in Boston for the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA). From this seed of an idea, over the past year and a half, we have grown the GLCA Boston Summer Seminar, hosted here at the MHS this June.

Between June 1-18 we have three research teams in residence here in Boston, conducting research at five partner institutions: the MHS, the Center for the History of Medicine at Countway Library, Houghton Library, Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections, and Schlesinger Library. We are also offering behind-the-scenes archives tours and evening seminars with guest speakers who share their own experiences working with a wide range of archival materials. You can follow the Seminar in progress @GLCABOSTON.

Over the past five years, the MHS library has seen a dramatic increase in the number of undergraduate students who come through our doors or contact us remotely looking for sources to complete projects in various disciplines from architecture to English to history and political science. As a historian and librarian, I am excited to both observe and support these young researchers as they learn to navigate special collections material.

Some of these students will go on to careers in academic and public history or library science; hopefully all of them will develop a better appreciation for how historical sources can contribute to contemporary understanding. The six students participating in this inaugural Boston Summer Seminar are engaged in original, thoughtful research and I look forward to seeing where their projects take them!

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 12 June, 2015, 12:00 AM

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