The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

At last it is time to leave February behind. As the snow starts to melt, why not come in to the MHS for some history?

On Tuesday, 3 March, there is an Early American History Seminar taking place at 5:15PM. Join us as Elizabeth Cover of Boston presents "Degrees of Britishness: The People of Albany, New York, and Questions of Cultural Community Membership," with Lisa Wilson of Connecticut College providing comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

On Wednesday, 4 March, at noon is a Brown Bag lunch talk given by Robert Shimp of Boston University. The talk is titled "John Quincy Adams and the Paradox of Anglo-American Relations in the Early Republic: The London Years, 1815-1817." Brown Bags are free and open to the public. Pack a lunch and stop on by!

Also on Wednesday, join us at 6:00PM for "Charles Eliot and the Modernization of Boston's Landscape," part of the Landscape Architect Series. This talk is given by Anita Berrizbeitia, Professor of Landscape Architecture - Harvard Gradute School of Design. The event is open to the public with a $10 fee, registration required (no charge for Fellows and Members of the MHS, Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Nichols House Museum). Please RSVP. Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM. 

Finally, on Saturday, 7 March, come by at 10:00AM for a free tour. The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led tour of the public spaces at the Society, touching on the art, collections, architecture, and history of the MHS. No reservations required for individuals or small groups. However, parties of 8 or more should please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition, "God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill," open to the public Monday-Friday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, free of charge. 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 28 February, 2015, 12:42 PM

Attention All Cartophiles

Back in Novermber I posted on the Beehive about the MHS library staff field trip to Worcester's American Antiquarian Society. The motivation behind the trip was to learn more about the AAS collections, policies, and how their services can benefit our researchers. We, the staff, also selected many other local institutions to visit to gain better understanding of the resources available to our researchers when they need to get beyond our holdings. 

Yesterday, my colleague Kittle and I had the pleasure of visiting the Norman Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. While there, we learned about their collections (over 200,000 maps), their accessibility (open to the public), and their short history.

The Map Center's holdings range from the late 15th century all the way up to the present day, from some of the earliest printed maps to modern metropolitan planning maps. The materials are all cataloged online via the BPL Bibliocommons. In addition, the Leventhal Center has over 7,000 items digitized and viewable on their website. And for those that enjoy a more whimsical view of things, they also hold a collection of maps from fiction. These chart the geographies of places like Middle Earth and Narnia, detail the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, and map out the course of Captain Ahab and the Pequod. These fictional maps are the focus of the Center's current exhibition. 

After we learned about the public side of the Map Center, the gracious staff also toured us through the background, showing us the secured storage spaces where these important collections are housed and preserved. 

Learning more about the Leventhal Map Center allows now to better direct our own researchers who need cartographic resources that the MHS does not hold. And not only did we get to learn about the wonderful collections but we got to introduce ourselves and meet some of our neighbors. Stay tuned for more installments from our staff site visits to see who we meet and what we find!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 28 February, 2015, 12:00 AM

Giving a Photograph a Name: Identifying Mary Swift Lamson in the MHS Photo Archive

The photograph collections in the MHS library never fail to excite me. Dabbling in photography as a hobby has allowed me to better appreciate the laborious processes of early photography, and how beautiful the resulting images turn out.

Recently, two unidentified photographs caught my interest while searching for images on behalf of a remote researcher. The initial search for images of Mary Swift Lamson in our online catalog ABIGAIL only turned up one result; a companion portrait of Mary accompanying portraits of her husband Edwin and her young son Gardner drawn by Matthew Wilson in the 1850s. However, I knew our library holds the Lamson family papers, and with them the Lamson family photographs. This collection is comprised of three carte de visite albums, one box of loose portraits, and ambrotypes and daguerreotypes stored separately.

Many of the ambrotypes and daguerreotypes from the Lamson family are unidentified, primarily of children, taken in the mid-19th century. I looked through several of these unidentified photographs in my search for Mary. Two of these photographs were reminiscent of the 3 companion portraits; photographs of a young couple and a mother with her child. With the help of our Senior Cataloger Mary Yacovone, these two photographs have now been identified and cataloged with additional information in our online catalog ABIGAIL.

         

Mary Swift Lamson, son Gardner Swift Lamson, and husband Edwin Lamson. Each by Matthew Wilson ca. 1855-1858. Currently on loan to the Parkman House, Boston. Images taken from the catalog Portraits in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Oliver, Hanson, and Huff, eds. (Boston: MHS, 1988.)

 

The portrait of the young couple was the most striking to me. The young woman’s direct gaze and the hint of a smile playing at her lips stands out from the many portraits with eyes averted. Mary’s pursed lips and Edwin’s pronounced brow crease stood out to me immediately as part of their defining features in their painted portraits. With this photograph identified, it was easy to notice the young mother in the other photograph was Mary. While infants are more difficult to pin down, the child has a similar appearance to Gardner in his painted portrait (although perhaps Matthew Wilson took liberties with painting him in a more flattering light, his hair is perfectly groomed).

   

The photographs, previously labeled as “Unidentified man and woman” and “Unidentified woman with child” can now be found in our library catalog as Mr. and Mrs. Edwin and Mary Swift Lamson, ca 1846 and Mary Swift Lamson with child, ca. 1855-1856. The child is tenuously identified as Gardner in the catalog description. Now that the photographs are better described and thus more easily accessible, I hope this will aid researchers in their research into this winsome family.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 24 February, 2015, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

On Tuesday, 24 February, joing us at 5:15PM for an Immigration and Urban History Seminar. "'I Had Ample Opportunity to Notice the City as It then Was': Social and Economic Geographies in New York City, 1783-1830," is presented by Carl Smith of Providence College. Joshua Greenberg of Bridgewater State College provides comment. This event is free and open to the public, RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

On Thursday, 26 February, MHS Fellows and Members are invited to a special preview of and reception for "God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill." This exhibition tells the story of the coming of the American Revolution in Boston, using letters and diaries, political cartoons, newspapers, maps, artifacts, and portraits. The reception begins at 6:00PM. Registration required at no cost.

The exhibition opens to the public on Friday, 27 February, and is on view Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, until 4 September 2015. 

With the opening of the new exhibition we will also return to hosting our free Saturday tours! Come by on Saturday, 28 February for the History and Collections of the MHS, a 90-minute docent-led walk throught the public spaces at the Society's home on Boylston St. The tours are open to the public free of charge. No reservation required for individual or small groups. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 21 February, 2015, 3:16 PM

From Russia with Love: LCA’s Journey from Russia to France

This month marks the 200th Anniversary of Louisa Catherine Adams’s six-week and nearly 2,000-mile trip from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Paris, France. Travelling by carriage across a war-torn Europe and in the midst of Napoleon’s Hundred Days after his escape from his exile on Elba, trying to reach her husband, John Quincy, who, negotiating an end to the War of 1812 in Ghent, she had not seen for a year, Louisa’s story is an amazing one.

Louisa’s journey began on Sunday, February 12, 1815—her fortieth birthday—setting out with her seven-year-old son, Charles Francis, and a few servants she didn’t know if she could entirely trust. Despite what she knew would be an arduous and dangerous journey, Louisa started out in hope and expectation as she wrote to her husband:

I am this instant setting off and have only time to say that nothing can equal my impatience to see you some of my business is necessarily left undone but I hope that you will forgive all that is not exactly correspondant to your wishes and recieve me with as much affection as fills my heart at this moment for you. I could not celebrate my birthday in a manner more delightful than in making the first step towards that meeting for which my Soul pants and for which I have hitherto hardly dared to express my desire but in the full conviction that the sentiment is mutual.

During her trip, Louisa faced poor lodgings, broken down and lost carriages, and news of murders on the roads she was travelling. Still she recalled the scenes she passed in her retrospective Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France: “The Season of the year at which I travelled; when Earth was chained in her dazzling, brittle but solid fetters of Ice, did not admit of flourishing description, of verdant fields, or paths through flowery glebes; but the ways were rendered deeply interesting by the fearful remnants of mens fierry and vindictive passions; passively witnessing to tales of blood, and woes.” Finally, as she approached Paris, a unit of soldiers loyal to Napoleon, seeing that her carriage was of Russian origin, threatened to seize and kill them. Louisa, fluent in French, was able to show them her passport and explain that she was an American and diplomatically shouted, “Vive Napoleon!” to appease the troops and guarantee her safe passage. At last, late in the evening of March 23, a “delighted” John Quincy reunited with his wife and child.

You can read more of Louisa’s recollections in A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams.

Images: LCA to JQA, 12 Feb. 1815; LCA’s French Passport issued 10 March 1815; and the first page of LCA’s Narrative of a Journey

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 18 February, 2015, 9:58 AM

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