Photographs at the MHS
By Susan Martin, Collections Services
Having spent the last few weeks immersed in a very interesting collection of 19th- and early 20th-century photographs (more on that in a later post), I thought I’d take this opportunity to write about processing photographs here at the MHS and what goes into making these terrific collections available to researchers.
The MHS is primarily a manuscript repository, but most of our manuscript collections come to us with at least a few photographs mixed in. Because of their special storage and preservation needs, the photographs are removed and stored separately. Unfortunately we don’t have the resources to process all of our photograph collections, but we have cataloged many of them in our catalog ABIGAIL, and over fifty are described in more detailed online guides.
Describing a photograph collection is challenging, and not just because of the technical knowledge required. For one thing, unlike manuscript collections, which are arranged into groups of related material (correspondence, diaries, financial papers, etc.), photographs are described at the item level. Every photograph is listed individually, and each listing includes most of the following information: subject, date, photographer, location, type, size, and condition, as well as any label or caption.
Just the subject and date can be tricky! The collection I’m currently processing, for example, contains hundreds of photographs and came to us completely unorganized. Many of the photographs include no identifying information at all. Since the collection encompasses five generations of a very large family, as well as families related by marriage, I had to do a lot of genealogical research. As I sorted through the photographs, I started to recognize familiar faces (“Hey, it’s Frank!”). My colleague Sabina Beauchard described the fun of making these connections in an earlier Beehive post.
Dates of photographs can be determined—or at least estimated—based on various factors. Here it helps to know something about the history of photography, and fortunately for me (not even close to an expert) our library has some great resources on the subject. If I know when a particular photographic process was invented and when it was most popular, I can make an educated guess about a photograph’s date, even if I can’t identify the subject. I often use “circa” dates and date ranges to hedge my bets.
The earliest photographic processes were metal- or glass-based, and the types I’ve seen most are daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. Each has distinctive characteristics. Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes both come in cases or enclosures, but a daguerreotype has a mirrored surface, and you have to hold it at a slight angle to see the image. This isn’t true for ambrotypes. And the tintype is the only one of the three that’s magnetic.
Starting in the 1860s, these types of photographs were gradually replaced by paper-based cartes de visite and, later, cabinet cards. These come in standard sizes: cartes de visite are about the size of baseball cards (2.5” x 4”), and cabinet cards are larger (4.25” x 6.5”).
I may be able to use contextual clues to determine the date of a photograph—clothes, hairstyle, etc. If I have multiple photographs of the same person, I can try to guess their age, but this is more of an art than a science! Biographical details are useful: when did they take that trip to Philadelphia? When did they get married? If a photographer printed his or her name and address on a photograph, I can research when the studio was located there. There may even be something in the manuscript collection to help, like a letter the photograph was enclosed in.
Our digital team sometimes comes along behind us and digitizes part or all of a photograph collection, and we link to that content from the guide. Several of our Civil War photograph collections are accessible this way, as are our Portraits of American Abolitionists. Or to find photographs related to a particular person or subject, you can always just search our website. If you can identify anybody we missed, don’t hesitate to let us know!
| Published: Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 12:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
Here is the round-up of events in the week to come here at the MHS:
- Tuesday, 20 June, 6:00PM : Starting off the week is an author talk with the Society's own Conrad Edick Wright, editor of Pedagogues and Protestors: The Harvard College Student Diary of Stephen Peabody, 1767-1768. Through the lens of of the daily journal entries of Stephen Peabody, Wright guides us through the relationships among students, faculty, and administrators at Harvard College in the lead-up to the largest student strike at any colonial college. The culmination of months of tensions between undergraduates and faculty resulted in over half the student body leaving campus in protest against new rules regarding class preparation. This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members and Fellows). Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM.
- Wednesday, 21 June, 5:00PM : MHS Fellows are invited to the Society's annual business meeting. RSVP by e-mailing email@example.com or calling 617-646-0572. This event is open only to MHS Fellows.
The library closes early on Wednesday at 3:45PM in preparation for the annual meeting.
- Friday, 23 June, 12:00PM : "Bonds Burst Asunder: The Revolutionary Politics of 'Getting By' in Civil War and Emancipation" is a rare Friday Brown Bag talk. In this project, Kathleen Hilliard of Iowa State University examines the transformation of southern political economy during the era of the American Civil War and African American emancipation, exploring how crisis and transition exposed weaknesses in slavery's cruel paternalist bargains. This talk is free and open to the public.
- Saturday, 24 June, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led walk through the public spaces of the Society. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, 24 June, 4:00PM : Come in on Satuday afternoon for "'Impossible Dreamers': The Pennant-Winning 1967 Boston Red Sox." This special program features a temporary exhibition of photographs and artifacts that runs through July 8. However, only on Saturday will you be able to see the 2004, 2007, and 2013 World Series trophies! There is also a panel discussion on Saturday moderated by Red Sox historian Gordon Edes with panelists Herb Crehan (author of The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox: Birth of Red Sox Nation), Bill Nowlin (The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox: Pandemonium on the Field), and Tom Whalen (The Spirit of '67: Cardiac Kids, El Birdos, and the World Series That Captivated America). This program is open to the public and registration is requried with a fee of $20. Please register and pay online using the RSVP link.
The library closes early on Saturday at 3:00PM in preparation for the afternoon program.
| Published: Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 12:00 AM
Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, June 1917
By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services
Today we return to the 1917 diary of Gertrude Codman Carter. You may read the previous entries here:
Introduction | January | February | March | April | May
Unusual for this diary is a long unbroken series of entries from 1 June - 20 June without any missing pages (though we then skip to 26 July with a series of torn-out entries). The beginning of June documents a bustling social schedule punctuated by trips to Ilaro to view or supervise the ongoing construction. In the final June entry, for example, “sever rain” led to two separate trips to Ilaro in order to examine the damage done when gutters “behaved awfully.”
The distant war also enters back into the frame of English colonial life when Gertrude takes her son John to a church service held to send off the troops. “We both loved it!” she reports, with a rare exclamation point, describing the sermon as “splendid” and making note of two particular hymns that were played by the band.
We also see hints of relationship drama in the recurring figure of Harold Austin who is first mentioned on 9 June as the instigator of an outing in search of some wood flooring, presumably for Ilaro. He then turns the shopping excursion into a dinner party and, at some point during the evening “unburdens his soul” to Gertrude about “having a time of it with the fair Kitty.” He confided in her that “[he] has suddenly decided to go to England.” Four days later, Gertrude notes: “Harold Austin left suddenly today.” Whether to retreat from or in pursuit of the fair Kitty, we are left guessing.
Here is Gertrude’s June in her own words.
* * *
Miss Barton to the house.
Paid calls and to the Savannah.
Ilaro with John. We have much fun in the [illegible] house planning & playing together. To the [illegible] & visited his coral caves.
A luncheon party before the races. The Kings, the Clarence Haynes, Captain Hancock (Charlie Haynes could not come) who was so charming to me. I had a delightful afternoon. John and Mickey came too.
Gymkana at the Savannah.
More home carving.
7.30 dined with Mrs. Carpenter.
Subcommittee on Savannah improvements
1. Improvement committee
Miss Burton at 4.30 carving.
Governor House at home.
Another Savannah meeting.
9 June. Saturday.
Harold Austin about some nice wood he has for a floor. Such an amusing afternoon. We drove out to Blackman Plantation to a stone and garden [illegible] there. G. promptly disappeared into the woods with Mrs. H. H. Sealy so tripped off with Harold myself, who had just joined us and was looking so nice in his new uniform. Then had my fortune told! Harold Austin gave a dinner party to whoever he could find -- Mr. Fell & Mrs. Frank [illegible] was coralled first & then Mrs. Carpenter who had a [illegible] & was quite ready to [illegible] ...so Frank Austin & Mr. Carpenter very serious were produced & then Harold Austin sank exhausted next to me & unburdened his soul. He is evidently having a time of it with the fair Kitty & has suddenly decided to go to England. After supper we had a go at the theater. Harold Whyte came too & it was all fine hours later.
10 June. Sunday.
Mrs. Austin had a picnic for the kids only we had it in the house because it rained.
A [illegible] party with Mrs. Sean Evelyn. Laddie. Mrs. DaCosta.
Called Carpenters & Evelyns.
Took Miss Mary & Mrs. Sealy to house.
10. [illegible] meeting
1. Theatre Co. meeting
To C.P. Clarkes at home
Charlie Haynes afterward
Harold Austin left suddenly today
Took John to a farewell to troops.
Service at the Cathedral. We both loved it! They had the band & sang “O God Our Help in Ages Past” and “Fight the Good Fight.” & Fr. Dallin preached a splendid sermon.
Took John to Bazaar.
¼ h8. Dinner party at Mrs. Charlie Sealey’s. Great fun. Talked politics afterward.
Mrs. Austin & kids & we took our [illegible] to Maxwells. Afterward [illegible]. Victrola Magic Lantern.
Tour with John.
[illegible] tour at [illegible] Parks.
Miss Packer re her [illegible].
C Hayden for sunset.
Ilaro. Gutters behaved awfully.
Ilaro again to see the damage.
* * *
As always, if you are interested in viewing the diary or letters yourself, in our library, or have other questions about the collection please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.
| Published: Friday, 16 June, 2017, 12:00 AM
Counting Votes and Campaigning: Aaron Burr’s “Intriguing” in the Election of 1800
By Grace Wagner, Reader Services
A letter addressed to Doctor William Eustis of Boston, MA.
In a box of letters addressed to Doctor William Eustis, a physician and politician who lived in Boston, some of the political and personal musings of Aaron Burr (Aaron Burr letters, 1777-1802) can be found at MHS. The bulk of letters were written between 1794-1802, right in the midst of Burr’s political campaigns (in 1796 and 1800) for the United States presidency and the height of his political ambition.
As might be expected, Burr references his political opponents and the forthcoming elections in his letters, but the focus of his letters is primarily concerned with counting votes. Burr marks the differences between himself, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and (Charles and Thomas) Pinckney through numbers rather than political views:
“If A. [Adams] has all the Eastern votes he has 69 north of Potomac — If Jeffn [Jefferson] has all the Southern votes, he will has 70…” [December 16, 1796]
“It is now probable that N Jersey will not give a vote for A. [Adams]” [July 15, 1800]
“...both Hampton & Alston write positively that Jefferson will have the eight votes of that State — both are however apprehensive that P. [Charles Pinckney] will also have them…” [December 5, 1800]
Burr counts up the votes
In the 1796 election, Burr finished abysmally in comparison to his political opponents: Adams led with 71 votes, Jefferson a close second with 68, Thomas Pinckney in third with 59, and Burr in last place with only 30 votes. Alexander Hamilton wrote “the event will not a little mortify Burr.”[i] While this assessment may have been true, it was not the reaction Burr displayed publically or even in private letters to his friends. Burr’s letters following the election demonstrate that he remained committed to playing a numbers game as before. To Eustis, he writes: “I have no doubt however but he [Adams] will be the Pres’t — and I am very glad that your people had the discretion to throw away some votes rather than give them to P [Thomas Pinckney]” [December 18th, 1796].
As it turns out, Burr had good reason to concern himself with election numbers. In the election of 1800, this tactic, along with some clever political maneuvering, helped Burr come very close to winning the presidency. This was partly due to the way elections were run in the early days of the United States. At this time, presidents and vice presidents did not run on a single ticket. Rather, the man with the most votes became president and the runner-up became vice president. This meant that in addition to Burr running against candidates of the opposing party, Adams and Charles Pinckney (Federalist Party), he was also effectively running against a candidate of his own party, Jefferson (Democratic-Republican Party).
Burr’s campaigning became particularly rampant in the summer of 1800. Hamilton described Burr as “intriguing with all his might in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont,” and warned “there is a possibility of some success in his intrigues.”[ii] Judging by the cagey, secretive nature of Burr’s letters at this time, Hamilton may not have been far off base in his assessment. On July 1, 1800, Burr writes cryptically to Eustis: “The thing is preparing but not yet done — the labor exceeds what I had imagined — It will be finished & forwarded in the course of this week — I have nothing else now to say which I dare say in this way.”
When the votes had been cast, Burr and Jefferson were tied with 73 votes apiece, leading to a contentious run-off vote in the House of Representatives to determine which one would be president. James Cheetham, a newspaper editor of American Citizen, published a long, unfavorable pamphlet about Burr’s actions during the election, which included the following passage:
Cheetham attacks Burr
“It is fearful to reflect upon what our condition would, in all probability be, were Mr. Burr at the head of our government….It cannot be concealed that he is a man of desperate fortune; bold, enterprizing, ambitious, and intriguing; thrifting for military glory and Bonapartian fame. A man of no fixed principle, no consistency of character, of contracted views as a politician, of boundless vanity, and listless of the public good…”[iii]
Although Burr lost to Jefferson in the House vote in February 1801, the way Burr ran his 1800 political campaign helped change the way that political elections were conducted in the future. In one of the last letters written to Eustis in our collection, Burr closes his letter with a typically cryptic remark: “My journey Southward is postponed and will I fear be abandoned for reasons which I cannot now detail — ” [August 1, 1801].
Burr remains secretive
The above transcriptions are preliminary and are not meant to be authoritative. For more information about the election of 1800 and our “intriguing” Founding Fathers, check out the sources below or visit MHS to explore the collections!
| Published: Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 4:34 PM
This Week @ MHS
In the week ahead there are just two events on the calendar here at the Society. Those events are:
- Thursday, 15 June, 6:00PM : "Final Courses" is the last program in the Cooking Boston series and it takes place at Mount Auburn Cemetery. A docent-led tour of the cemetery will visit the graves of notable chefs, inventors, and confectionares, including 19th-century cookbook author Fanny Farmer, chefs Joyce Chen and Gian Franco Romagnoli, chocolate makers Walter Baker and William Schrafft, Harvey Parker of Boston's famed Parker House, and many more. This event is open to the public, though registration is required. Cost is $20 per person (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows) and space is limited.
- Saturday, 17 June, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led tour through the public spaces of the Society's home on Boylston Street. 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 email@example.com.
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.
| Published: Sunday, 11 June, 2017, 12:00 AM