MHS News

MHS Announces New Center for the Teaching of History at the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Center aims to promote the importance of history education, civic literacy, and critical thinking to prepare our children to be informed and engaged citizens as well as contribute to the building of strong history content in the classroom.

Committed to using its unique resources to improve and support the teaching of American history in all K-12 classrooms, the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) announces the formation of the Center for the Teaching of History at the Massachusetts Historical Society (CTH). In the wake of the 2016 presidential election and amidst current events, the importance of civic literacy and history in our everyday lives is more apparent than ever. Through the CTH, the MHS will continue to lead efforts to promote the central role of history in American culture with a variety of high-quality teacher workshops, student programs, and innovative online resources.

"The MHS staff, Trustees, and Overseers see this as a watershed moment," said MHS President Dennis Fiori. "At the close of our 225th anniversary celebration, we look forward to playing a leading role as a respected voice for the importance of understanding our nation’s past with the establishment of the Center for the Teaching of History." He continued, "Under the leadership of Director Kathleen Barker, the new Center will enable us to better serve the public, promote the relevance of history, and improve the understanding of the role of civics in public life." 

The CTH aims to promote the importance of history education, civic literacy, and critical thinking to prepare our children to be informed and engaged citizens as well as contribute to the building of strong history content for the classroom. It will support innovative and best practices in teaching history through programs, web-based resources, fellowships, and its support of National History Day. 

Central to the Society's education program are workshops that immerse educators in the work of historians, provide them with opportunities to engage with scholars, analyze primary sources, and collaborate with colleagues on issues of pedagogy. The Center’s enhanced and newly developed offerings will allow teachers to energize the classroom experience and bring to life history for their students. The primary sources found in the Society’s collections provide the stories—and the evidence—that can help a student to understand that American history is a wonderfully diverse continuum of experiences that we all share. Through its leading role as the state sponsor of Massachusetts History Day, an affiliate program of National History Day, the CTH will increase its interaction with students. It aims to boost student participation from across the Commonwealth in the program and will continue to offer resources and workshops to encourage students to use MHS collections in their projects.

"It is a joy to see years of hard work come to fruition with the formation of the Center," commented Director of the Center for the Teaching of History Kathleen Barker. She continued, "The Center will empower educators to speak knowledgeably about the importance of history and civics education in the classroom, create community-based opportunities for teachers to promote civic literacy, and collaborate with organizations to advocate for robust curriculum frameworks and funding models that promote the teaching of history. I look forward to continuing my work with both teachers and students while we expand our programming, advocate for the importance of history in the classroom, and increase participation in Massachusetts History Day."

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Winthrop Papers Digital Edition Launches

A rich and critical record of colonial settlement in New England and the events that unfolded in the decades that followed, the Winthrop Papers, held by the Massachusetts Historical Society, are central to the study of American history. 

The MHS announced that the Winthrop Papers Digital Edition is now publicly available online. It comprises the digitized content of the previously published volumes from the Winthrop Papers documentary edition, an ongoing publication of the MHS that began in the 1920s. The digitization was made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as editorial support from Harvard University Press and technical assistance from Rotunda, the electronic imprint of the University of Virginia Press. 

John Winthrop portraitWhen the Arbella arrived off the eastern coast of North America in 1630, she carried on board the earliest colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Among their number was John Winthrop, the first governor of the colony and the patriarch of the Winthrop family in New England. The collection of papers produced by the Winthrop and related families constitutes a rich and critical record of colonial settlement in New England and the events that unfolded in the decades that followed. Beginning in the 16th century, the collection encompasses letters and diaries, memoranda and legal documents, and John Winthrop’s journal/history of the colony in Boston. The Winthrop Family Papers, the largest collection of extant Winthrop documents, is held by the MHS.

"The transcriptions in the Winthrop Papers volumes have been prepared by several generations of historians—historians dedicated to representing with the greatest possible accuracy the content of these fragile manuscripts, many more than 400 years old. We are thrilled that the launch of a freely available digital edition makes it possible for anyone with online access to read these words, effectively listening in on the thoughts and conversations of men and women who were experiencing, day by day, the beginnings of momentous historical changes in North America," commented MHS Director of Publications Ondine Le Blanc. 

Publication of the Winthrop Papers began in 1929 and has resulted in the issuance of six volumes of family correspondence through the year 1653. Under the current editorship of Dr. Francis J. Bremer of Millersville University future publication plans include the continuation of volumes of correspondence that will conclude with the period of the American Revolution and a second series of volumes that will feature other documents organized topically. Five of the six published volumes are currently out of print. The new digital edition will enable scholars and history enthusiasts alike to easily browse and search the published material online. The Winthrop Papers Digital Edition can be accessed at

About the NEH
From 2005 to 2008, the MHS undertook the initial digitization of previously published volumes of the Winthrop Papers and the Adams Papers documentary editions, thanks to grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The NEH is an independent federal agency created in 1965. It is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. 

About the Massachusetts Historical Society
The MHS is one of the nation’s preeminent research centers, with collections that provide an unparalleled record of the vibrant course of American history. Since its founding in 1791, the MHS has fostered research, scholarship, and education. With millions of pages of manuscript letters, diaries, and other documents, as well as early newspapers, broadsides, artifacts, works of art, maps, photographs, and prints, the MHS offers a wide-ranging perspective on the United States from the earliest beginnings of the nation to the present day. Exhibition galleries are open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.


Image: John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts-Bay, Portrait by Charles Osgood, after Anthony Vandyke, 1834. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

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Massachusetts Historical Society Receives NHPRC Grant to Complete Publication of Robert Treat Paine Papers

Robert Treat Paine Papers provide valuable insight into 18th- and 19th-century social life as well as the evolution of legal thought in the new republic.

The MHS received a grant for $51,200 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The grant will be used to complete the Society's edition of the papers of Robert Treat Paine, the prominent Revolutionary-era lawyer and political figure. From Paine's notes on a "petit treason" trial to his wife's feisty letters, this documentary edition will give scholars worldwide the opportunity to access and learn from this heretofore little-known signer of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1792 the MHS initiated one of the first series of publications devoted to making accessible the history of the (then new) United States. Under the series title Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, that initiative still continues today, and as of last July, the grant from the NHPRC will make it possible to complete the five-volume Robert Treat Paine Papers as part of the ongoing Collections.

"The MHS is pleased that the NHPRC has recognized the importance of this project. Not only will it create much greater access to this rich collection, but it will also greatly enrich our understanding of 18th-century America," commented MHS President Dennis Fiori.  

Mr. Paine, best known for his part as a prosecuting attorney at the Boston Massacre trials (his Harvard classmate John Adams was on the defense team), also served as a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress (where he signed the Declaration of Independence), a representative at two Provincial Congresses, the Bay State's first attorney general, and a justice on the state's Supreme Judicial Court. His papers, which the Paine family donated to the MHS in several installments beginning in the 1940s, span the spectrum from family letters to compendious legal notes, providing valuable insights into 18th- and 19th-century social life as well as the evolution of legal thought in the new republic. 

The earliest work on the Society's edition of the Paine papers began with cataloging and a project plan when the collection was newly arrived. Three of five projected volumes are already published in print. The grant from the NHPRC, which has allowed the Society to hire an in-house editor dedicated to the project, will culminate in the publication of volumes 4 and 5 as well as the digitization of the complete edition in 2018. The finished work will comprise transcriptions of over 1900 manuscript documents. The lead editor and scholar of the edition is Edward W. Hanson, who worked alongside the edition's first editor, Stephen T. Riley, who also served as MHS librarian and director during his long career.  

While the collection of Paine family papers is available for any researcher to use onsite, access to the raw materials can be challenging for all but the most experienced scholars of the era. A documentary edition such as this, with transcriptions and historical notes by the people who know Paine's network and activities best, will make the content available to a broader swathe of readers of diverse ages and backgrounds. Annotations identify Paine's many correspondents for the users. Although some are historical giants--such as Adams and John Hancock--others are less well known, such as John Allan, a commander in Maine working hard to maintain his outpost and alliance with the native population. As a family collection, the Paine papers give a vivid account of domestic life, as Sally Paine writes to her husband about challenges at home and Eunice Paine asks her brother for help. The editors have also selected exemplary cases from Paine’s legal career, painstakingly puzzling out the often inscrutable script of his trial notes and making available the stories of treason, arson, burglary, and murder--among others--recorded there.

About the NHPRC
The NHPRC is one of the key supporters of documentary editing projects in the United States. It is the funding affiliate of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which was created by Congress in 1934 to protect America’s historical records and make them publicly available. Through grants, the NHPRC promotes the preservation, publication, and digitization of significant documentary sources.

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Massachusetts and the Civil War in August Issue of Choice

Massachusetts Historical Society volume rated “highly recommended” by Choice, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries 

Massachusetts and the Civil WarThe Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) announced today that Choice rated Massachusetts and the Civil War: The Commonwealth and National Disunion “highly recommended” in its August 2016 issue. Published by the University of Massachusetts Press (June 2015) and edited by Matthew Mason, Katheryn P. Viens, and Conrad Edick Wright, the volume, consisting of ten essays, coalesces around the national significance of Massachusetts through the Civil War era. 

Choice is the publishing branch of the Association of College & Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, and the go-to source for librarians seeking worthwhile new titles for their collection. The review states, “Overall, the volume argues for the ‘distinctive or peculiar’ ways in which the experience of Massachusetts influenced ‘the great crisis of national unity.’ One important theme throughout the essays is an exploration of how and why those seeking to end slavery joined forces with those who sought the more robust reform platform of black citizenship and black American equality. The authors point to the securitization of the federal state, violence embedded in the political process, racial prejudice, the flow of information in an age of letter writing, and much more. This rich collection speaks not only to those focused on Massachusetts but also to New England and the nation.”

MHS Worthington C. Ford Editor and Director of Research Conrad Edick Wright commented that he "was thrilled to hear of this recommendation.” He continued, “It will bring this important volume to the attention of libraries and librarians across the United States.”

About the editors

Matthew Mason is associate professor of history at Brigham Young University. Kathryn P. Viens is research coordinator at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Conrad Edick Wright is Worthington C. Ford Editor and director of research at the Massachusetts Historical Society and author of Revolutionary Generation: Harvard Men and the Consequences of Independence (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005).


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First Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize Awarded

Mary Babson Fuhrer recognized for the compelling story of small-town New England transformed between 1815 and 1848 as told in her book A Crisis of Community

At an award ceremony on 29 October 2015, the Massachusetts Historical Society presented the first Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize to Mary Babson Fuhrer for her book A Crisis of Community: The Trials and Transformation of a New England Town, 1815-1848, published in 2014 by the University of North Carolina Press. The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize is given to the best nonfiction work on the history of Massachusetts published during the preceding year.

In A Crisis of Community, Fuhrer brings to life the troublesome creation of a new social, political, and economic order centered on individual striving and voluntary associations in an expansive nation. Blending family records and a rich trove of community archives, she examines the "age of revolutions" through the lens of Boylston, Mass., a rural community that was swept into the networks of an expanding and urbanizing New England region. This finely detailed history lends new depth to our understanding of a key transformative moment in Massachusetts and American history.

The selection committee received 21 submissions that interpret the history of Massachusetts through an exciting range of subjects, from colonial history to biographies of iconic figures, to politics, art, and sport. The submissions came from a dozen academic, trade, and specialty publishers. "It is certainly appropriate that the first annual prize in memory of someone rooted in his hometown as firmly as Rev. Peter Gomes was should go to the author of a town history," commented MHS Worthington C. Ford Editor and Director of Research Conrad E. Wright. He continued, "Beautifully crafted, gracefully written, Mary Fuhrer’s relation of the development of the small town of Boylston, Massachusetts, is a most worthy recipient of the first annual Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize."

Mary Babson Fuhrer is a public historian who specializes in the social history of New England. She has a B.A. in History from Princeton, an M.A. in Public History from George Mason University, and a Ph.D. in American History from the University of New Hampshire. An accomplished scholar, Fuhrer is recognized among historical societies, museums, and school systems throughout eastern Massachusetts for her stellar work in historical interpretation and educational curricula. She is the consulting historian for the Society's Saltonstall-funded educational program "Old Towns/New Country," which engages teachers, librarians, and local history enthusiasts in connecting their community's resources to the history of the new nation. She has also served as a consultant and presenter for MHS programs funded by the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati and the NEH. In 2013, the Society's Short-term Fellowship Committee awarded its Cushing Academy Environmental History Fellowship to Fuhrer, and in 2014, the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium granted her support to visit four additional repositories for her current project, "The Experience and Meaning of Tuberculosis in Rural New England, 1800-1850." In addition to A Crisis of Community, Fuhrer is the author of several articles, including “The Worlds of Lexington and Concord Compared,” which appeared in The New England Quarterly in 2012.

About the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize

The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize, for the best nonfiction work on the history of Massachusetts published during the preceding year, honors the memory of a respected Harvard scholar and beloved Fellow of the MHS. Peter J. Gomes (1942-2011) was elected to the MHS in 1976 and joined the Board of Overseers in 2010. He was the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School and the Pusey Minister of Memorial Church.

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