The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

Returning from a long weekend, this week's schedule is heavy at the tail-end. Here is what's coming up in the week ahead:

The MHS is CLOSED on Monday, 29 May, in observance of Memorial Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 30 May. 

- Thursday, 1 June, 6:00PM : The seventh annual Cocktails with Clio takes place at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum at Columbia Point. We invite you to join us for a festive evening in support of the Center for the Teaching of History at the MHS featuring Jill Lepore in conversation with Robin Young. The evening will begin with cocktails in the pavilion space overlooking the harbor. A seated dinner will follow. Registration is required for this event. 

- Friday, 2 June, 2:00PM : A Description of the New York Central Park by Clarence C. Cook, published in 1869, is recognized as the most important book about the park to apper during its early years. Stop by on Friday for a talk with Maureen Meister, who recently penned the introduction to a re-publication of the work. This talk is free and open to the public. 

The Library closes early on Friday at 2:30PM.

- Saturday, 3 June, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: The Irish Atlantic: A Story of Famine Migration and Opportunity.

- Saturday, 3 June, 1:00PM : Begin at the Beginning - "'They being stolne': Conflicting Views of Slavery and Governance in Early Massachusetts." Holly Brewer of the University of Maryland leads a discussion of primary documents revealing Massachusetts’s contradictory views and practice on slavery.  Compared to other British colonies, where elements of slavery were justified with broad and near-feudal rationales, she argues, Puritan Massachusetts resisted the right of kings and broadened the idea of consent. These ideas helped restrict slavery, even in the face of royal approval and promotion of slavery during the later 17th century and into the eighteenth century. This event is open to the public and registration is required at no cost. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 28 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

Origins of Memorial Day, In Brief

The Massachusetts Historical Society will be closed on Saturday and Monday this weekend in observance of Memorial Day. The origins of Memorial Day are rooted in the Civil War, and the rituals of commemoration that sprung up extemporaneously and then in a more collective, organized fashion in the postwar period and during Reconstruction. Decoration Day, later Memorial Day, celebrations honored the dead, celebrated emancipation, and in the white South kept the memory of the Confederacy alive. It was not until the First World War, in the early twentieth century, that Memorial Day became a national day to remember those who had fallen in all violent conflicts in which the United States had been militarily involved. 



The ribbon above [], from 1908, was worn by a participant in the Grand Army of the Republic ceremonies in Washington, D.C. It is one of two ribbons from the day's celebrations held in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. 

We at the MHS wish you the best on this holiday weekend, and look forward to reopening the library on Tuesday for our summer research season.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 26 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

Crafting Stories: Families Investigating Family Papers

What is evidence? What can historians do with the evidence they collect and interpret? On May 13, 2017, a dedicated group of middle-school students tackled these very questions as they immersed themselves in the lives of men, women, and children whose papers reside in MHS collections. The Society’s Center for the Teaching of History collaborated with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth to host 25 students, parents, and grandparents from across the Northeast for a day of family inquiry. In just a few hours, families experienced the thrill of collecting sources, the challenges of interpreting their findings, and the rewards of sharing their discoveries with classmates.   

Adams Papers Editor Sara Georgini and participants discuss the evidence.

The morning began with an exploration of the kinds of sources historians use to tell stories about the past. Families toured our new exhibition “The Irish Atlantic,” analyzing everything from portraits and poems to statistics and a ship’s wheel. While they were asked to look for answers in specific objects, students were also encouraged to ask questions about what they were finding—and not finding—in their sources. This process of questioning sources continued in our next sessions, which focused more specifically on documents and artifacts from the American Revolution and the Civil War. Sara Georgini, Series Editor of the Papers of John Adams, used five items from each period to demonstrate how historians connect diverse types of evidence, created at multiple times by many different makers, to tell a more complex story about a particular event. Librarian Peter Drummey then modeled a different kind of storytelling, using artifacts, photographs, and documents related to John Brown to help students imagine the life of the infamous abolitionist.

By the end of the day participants were ready to use their accumulated discoveries to draft their own piece of historical fiction. CTH director Kathleen Barker led families in a step-by-step writing exercise that led to the creation of several imaginative and evocative stories starring MHS “characters” and collection items. Students shared stories of Massachusetts soldiers caught in slaughter of Antietam and nurses attempting to care for wounded men during the chaos of battle. Other families reimagined the American Revolution from the perspectives of Abigail Adams, John Hancock, and even Paul Revere’s horse! We look forward to adding more of these inter-generation events to the Center’s expanding calendar of events. Do you have suggestions for family activities? Share them with us at

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, 9:36 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is a very quiet week ahead as we approach a long holiday weekend, with only one event on the calendar. It is:

- Tuesday, 23 May, 6:00PM : The House of Truth: A Washington Political Salon and the Foundations of American Liberalism is the title of a new book, and this talk, by Brad Snyder of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Through the lens of a group of ambitious young men disillusioned with the slow pace of change in the Taft Administration, Snyder looks at how ideas shifted from progressivism into what today we refer to as liberalism. This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

Remember that our current exhibit, The Irish Atlantic, is open to the public free of charge, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM. 

The MHS is CLOSED, Saturday, 27 May-Monday, 29 May, in observance of Memorial Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 30 May. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 21 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

Crooked and Narrow Streets: Annie Haven Thwing’s “Old Boston” Scrapbook

I recently received a scrapbook from a friend moving away from Boston who needed to weed out her hefty book collection. She texted me a series of pictures of the books she was giving away, which included a Victorian volume with one word, “Scrapbook,” emblazoned in gold on the cover. The book was large (usually a deterrent for me, since I don’t have much room for books in my apartment either) and I didn’t entirely know what I would find inside, but of course I wanted it. I was happy to add this mysterious book to my collection and excited about flipping through its pages to find out what was tucked away between its covers.

I was similarly excited about looking through the Annie Haven Thwing Scrapbooks. It was the printed collection guide that first piqued my interest, the title list of the scrapbooks indicating volumes on ‘Old Boston,’ ‘Portraits,’ and ‘Friendly letters to A.H.T.’ I decided to pull the volume for ‘Old Boston’ and see what treasures it contained. Inside I found maps of Boston, reviews of Thwing’s book The Crooked and Narrow Streets of the Town of Boston, and a number of cut-out sketches and photographs of Boston.

What I found most interesting about these images, seemingly clipped from her own book as well as other publications, was the view they provide not just of Old Boston, but of lost Boston. A compilation of images depicting areas and buildings later demolished or destroyed, as well as maps of the city’s shifting boundaries satisfied some curiosities I had intended to research (What did Louisburg Square look like in the past?), some I didn’t realize I had (Who owned the pasture the State House was built on?), and raised others I have yet to thoroughly investigate: What’s the story behind Smokers’ Circle on Boston Common? The Water Celebration of 1848? The building replaced by the Boston Public Library? Thwing devotes several scrapbook pages to buildings and locations severely impacted by the Great Fire of 1872, highlighting the extent of destruction, damage, and change that such an event can precipitate. I certainly have enjoyed looking into these topics so far and will continue to do so. 


Map of Beacon Hill with preceding land ownership divisions.



Smoker’s Circle on Boston Common.


The Water Celebration of 1848 on Boston Common, commemorating the introduction of water from Lake Cochituate to Boston. 


The Samuel N. Brown House on the corner of Dartmouth and Blagden Streets, where the Boston Public Library now stands.


Artist’s rendering of Boston after the Great Fire of 1872.


 Annie Haven Thwing’s interest in Old Boston, every crooked and narrow street, is captured in her scrapbooks and writings. Other volumes in the scrapbook collection include personal correspondence, letters regarding the publication of her book, obituaries, and portraits of notable American figures, British political figures, Civil War regiments from New England, and newspaper clippings regarding the activities of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Visit the library to view the Annie Haven Thwing Scrapbooks and other collections to see what answers you can find to the questions and curiosities her clippings inspire. For a more detailed history of Old Boston from Thwing herself, read The Crooked and Narrow Streets of the Town of Boston online via the Internet Archive.




comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 19 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

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