MHS Librarians Hit the Road
Today, the library at the MHS is closed in preparation for our annual fundraising event, Cocktails with Clio. What is a group of librarians to do with a day off? Rather than sit by and toil in our respective offices as set-up goes on around us, we instead are opting to go on a field trip. Specifically, we are jumping on the Mass Pike to go see our counterparts at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.
The reader services staff here recently decided that we should better our knowledge of at least some of the many institutions in the area that are similar to ours. With that in mind, we compiled a list of such “sister institutions” to visit so that we can get a better sense of what they do, what collections they hold, and what a user’s experience is like.
While the MHS holds incredible and unique collections relating to the history of the state and the nation, we do not always have the right materials for every researcher. One thing that we hope to take away from these site visits is a better understanding of the holdings and specialties of some nearby institutions. This will in turn allow us to better serve our own researchers by knowing the proper direction to send them when we cannot answer their questions.
Also, these experiences give us the chance to network with colleagues and peers working in other libraries around the Boston-area. We can discuss emerging scholarship relevant to our respective institutions and talk about trends in research topics and researcher questions and behavior.
Another hope is that the places and people we visit will get the same from us in return. It is easy to think that every library professional in the area knows who we are and what we do but that is not always the case. These site visits give us the opportunity to expose ourselves more widely to the academic community in Massachusetts and to help our peers understand what material we hold and what we might do to help their researchers.
In a profession – and an institution – where it is sometimes easy to insulate ourselves from the outside, this is an opportunity for us to reach beyond our four walls to communicate our mission to other institutions. We also get the chance to increase our own ability to pursue that mission.
| Published: Friday, 7 November, 2014, 12:00 PM
The Siege of Louisbourg, 1758: The Daring Capture of the Prudent and Bienfaisant
By Thomas Lester, Reader Services
During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the fortified French city of Louisbourg loomed over the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, denying the British access to the Saint Lawrence River - the route to capturing the key cities of Quebec and Montreal. The fortress, considered the “Gibraltar of the North,” had famously been captured by a combination of New England militia and the British navy in 1745, only for the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle to return it to the French in 1748. Now, a decade later, the invading British forces looked to capture the fortress for a second time.
In early June 1758, ground forces under the command of Jeffery Amherst landed outside the city and began a siege operation which, in accordance with the standard of 18th century siege warfare, meant digging a network of trenches surrounding the city.
While Amherst’s command toiled in the trenches, the British navy remained concerned about French ships defending the harbor. Though only five French ships of the line remained by late July, they proved enough of a menace to receive considerable attention by way of British artillery fire. As a result, on July 21st, a cannonball penetrated one of the ships, detonating its powder magazine. The ensuing blaze was so hot that it set fire to the sails of two neighboring ships, burning all three down to the waterline.
Three days later, on July 24th, Admiral Edward Boscawen, commander of all British vessels in North America, informed Amherst of his bold plan to capture the remaining two ships - the Prudent (74 guns) and the Bienfaisant (64 guns) . Late in the night of July 25th-26th, two squadrons under the command of Captains John Laforey and George Balfour, totaling approximately 600 sailors and marines, rowed into the harbor. Concealed by the dark and fog, and with Amherst ordering his artillery to “fire into the works as much as possible, to keep the enemy’s attention to the land,” the two squadrons slipped past the French battery guarding the entrance to the harbor and approached the two French vessels undetected.
As Laforey’s command approached the Prudent and Captain Balfour the Bienfaisant, each was hailed by sentries aboard the ships. Receiving no response, the guards opened fire, breaking the silence. The squadrons then moved quickly to maneuver alongside their respective targets, capturing both ships with minimal resistance, but at a cost of sixteen casualties (7 killed, 9 wounded).
Hearing the events that transpired, the French defenders were alerted to the threat and opened fire upon the two ships. Under fire, and finding the Prudent run aground, the British sailors set her ablaze. The Bienfaisant, meanwhile, was towed to the Northeast corner of the harbor, safe from French artillery fire. The image above, printed in 1771, depicts the Prudent caught in a blaze, while nearby the Bienfaisant is towed to safety.
The following day, with Amherst’s ground forces making ready to breach the city walls and Boscawen’s fleet entering the harbor, the French governor sent a messenger to Amherst initiating the surrender of the city.
Discussing the siege, historian Julian Gwyn notes in his book, Frigates and Foremasts, that “some naval and military historians have asserted that once the British assault landing force had succeeded, the capture of the fortress with its garrison was a foregone certainty. Yet none of the British or French accounts expressed this view.” He goes on to comment that “the loss of these two warships had a profound effect on the French defenders…morale plummeted within the town, and the fatigue occasioned by the siege, which until then had been borne without complain, suddenly became unendurable for many.”
In the aftermath of these events, Captain Balfour was awarded with command of the Bienfaisant, and command of the frigate Echo to Captain Laforey. Their lieutenants were also awarded with new commands of their own.
In the short-term, the event depicted was significant for breaking French morale and contributing to the success of the siege. In the long-term it opened the heart of New France, most notably the cities of Quebec and Montreal, to British invasion via the Saint Lawrence River. Having previously read about the events that transpired, I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled upon this print in our collection. I love the color of the raging fire engulfing the Prudent set against the dark, foggy night with Louisbourg in the background. Most of all I was caught in the suspense while reading about this risky operation.
This print was originally a painting by Richard Paton (1717-1791). Born in London in 1717, Paton was found as a poor boy living on the streets by an admiral of the British navy and went to sea. Receiving no professional training as an artist, Paton is known for depicting the famous sea-battles that occurred during his lifetime. His paintings were exhibited it the Royal Academy of Art in London from 1776-1780.
The engraving was made by Pierre Charles Canot (ca. 1710-1777). Born in France, he moved to England in 1740 where he spent his professional career as an engraver. Most famous for his engravings of Paton’s works, in 1770 he was elected Associate-Engraver of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
| Published: Wednesday, 5 November, 2014, 12:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
Here we are again looking at events taking place at the MHS in the week ahead. On Wednesday, 5 November, there is a Brown Bag lunch talk beginning at noon and presented by the Society's new Director of Public Programs, Gavin Kleespies. In his talk "Choosing Challenges," Gavin will give a rough outline of his goals, as well as his plans to meet them, in his new position. This event is free and open to the public.
Also on Wednesday, 5 November, is an author talk featuring James Redfearn. He will talk about his most recent work, "The Rising at Roxbury Crossing," a novel which centers on the true events of the 1919 Boston Police Strike. Visit www.TheRisingAtRoxburyCrossing.com to learn more about the author and his novel. There is a $10 fee for this event (no charge for Fellows and Members) and registration is required. Please call 617-646-0560 or click here to register. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM.
On Thursday, 6 November, is the first in this year's series of New England Biography Seminars. Beginning at 5:30PM, Ted Widmer moderates this panel discussion, "Understanding the Presidency: Personality, Politics, and Policy." The discussion features three authors: Evan Thomas, Kathleen Dalton, and David Michaelis, and focuses on the balance between policy and politics as it affects writing presidential biography. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required.
Please note that the MHS Library is CLOSED on Friday, 7 November, as we prepare for our fifth annual Cocktails with Clio. Kicking off at 6:00PM, the evening features an elegant cocktail buffet at the Society's historic building and then continues at the nearby Harvard Club where guests will here a conversation with historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, David Hackett Fischer. Purchase tickets (tickets cost $250 per person). All net proceeds from the event will support the Society's outreach efforts.
Finally, on Saturday, 8 November, there is a teacher workshop taking place at the Society. Painless: A Survival Guide to the Dreaded History Project is a free hands-on workshop co-sponsored by the National Archives at Boston. To register, contact the MHS Education Department at email@example.com or 617-646-0557. The workshop begins at 9:00AM and goes until 2:30PM.
There is no building tour on Saturday, 8 November, but remember to stop by to check out our two current exhibitions anytime Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM.
| Published: Sunday, 2 November, 2014, 8:00 AM
Trick AND Treat: The Digitized Norwood Penrose Hallowell Papers
By Peter K. Steinberg, Collection Services
The recently launched fully digitized manuscript collections of Civil War papers at Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) is a significant step forward in making our collections accessible remotely. Motivated by the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the presentation of full-color surrogates of complete collections will be a model for further digital projects at the MHS. Just as the MHS was inspired by the fully digitized collections available on other websites, we hope our approach can be useful as other organizations undertake similar projects.
Many of the collections were straightforward to digitize. Crudely and in short: remove a folder from the box>remove a piece of paper from the folder>scan>repeat. Of course, much more goes into the process than that: determining permanent and secure storage for 9,000+ images, repairing documents in need of some T.L.C. (Tender Loving Conservation), potentially informing researchers they cannot work with the materials for a while, capturing metadata, tracking all the moving pieces, and so much more. Some collections contained material separated for specific reasons. Photographs and oversize materials, for example, are stored in different locations as these items have their own preservation requirements.
The Norwood Penrose Hallowell papers proved to be particularly challenging to digitize for a variety of reasons. There are loose papers; three disbound scrapbooks; an oversize, intact scrapbook; an oversize scrapbook volume; and some of those aforementioned separated oversize materials. Funding for the digitization of the nine Civil War manuscript collections that enabled both the creation of preservation microfilm and the online version of the collections was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. Part of the budget of the grant enabled us to send large (oversize) materials to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover for imaging. As part of the preparation to send the collection out, we needed to record how many pages there were in total and how many digital images we expected. Then, once we got the collection back, we needed to reconcile that the collection was returned complete and that all of the anticipated digital images were made.
The oversize scrapbook, a.k.a. Scrapbook Vol. 3 was the most difficult part of this collection to represent online. It contains pasted-down newspaper articles, photographs, tipped-in items, photocopies, letters, pamphlets, and other relevant memorabilia. By browsing the digital images, you will see a number beneath each thumbnail image in the sidebar on the left. This is the sequence number that we used to order images so that they will accurately reflect the order of the original item. On occasion, the thumbnail images will appear to be the same. But, please do not be fooled or think us careless. What is actually happening is that a more complicated scrapbook page—one containing something with print on both side of the leaf, or a multi-page document—is being imaged page-by-page, with items flipped up, down, or over, or with loosely tipped-in pieces being photographed and removed one by one.
A good example of this is the sequence number range of 71-76. In sequence number 71, you can see the page in its static, flat form, as it would appear if the volume were in front of you: a letter (of six pages) and a drawing an animal (a doe? a deer? a horse? – I know metadata, not animal species). Sequence 72 shows the first page of the letter flipped up, so that you can read the second page, sequence 73 shows the third page of the letter, and so on. This sort of thing happens throughout the series (see also, for example, sequence numbers 140 -148; and 149 -157, which culminates fascinatingly with the story of death of "Jo-Jo" the "Dog-Faced Man"). We hope that this blog helps to explain the treats this collection has to offer. Happy Hallowell!
| Published: Friday, 31 October, 2014, 12:00 PM
By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services
Happy Halloween, dear readers! In preparation for all the spooky fun and candy this evening, I present you with two “facts” about ghosts from English humorist Jerome K. Jerome’s 1891 book, Told After Supper:
1. It is always Christmas Eve in a ghost story.
Jerome K. Jerome begins his introduction with the following:
It was Christmas Eve. I begin this way because it is the proper, orthodox, respectable way to begin, and I have been brought up in a proper, orthodox, respectable way, and taught to always do the proper, orthodox, respectable thing ; and the habit clings to me.
Of course, as a mere matter of information it is quite unnecessary to mention the date at all. The experienced reader knows it was Christmas Eve, without my telling him. It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story.
Christmas Eve is the ghosts’ great gala night. On Christmas Eve they hold their annual fete. On Christmas Eve everybody in Ghostland who is anybody – or rather, speaking of ghosts, one should say, I suppose, every nobody who is any nobody – comes out to show himself or herself, to see and to be seen, to promenade about display their winding-sheets and grave-clothes to each other, to criticize one another’s style, and sneer at one another’s complexion.
If Jerome is to be believed, you may rest assured that you will most likely not see a “real” ghost on Halloween. If you do see a ghost, you can talk about the contrary occurrence to Jerome’s ghost on Christmas Eve. The English writer’s ashes are buried at St. Mary’s Church, Ewelme, Oxfordshire, England.
2. The act of homicide results in both murderer and murdered ghosts.
The Tales After Supper narrator relates the following story: A mysterious young woman in a nightgown visits the room of a young man staying in his family county house for the Christmas holiday. She sits on his bed before suddenly vanishing. The young man interrogates the ladies of the house the next morning in hopes that he may identify the visitor.
[The host] explains to [the guest] that what he saw was the ghost of a lady who had been murdered in that very bed, or who had murdered somebody else there – it does not really matter which: you can be a ghost by murdering somebody else or by being murdered yourself, whichever you prefer. The murdere[r] ghost is, perhaps, the more popular ; but, on the other hand, you can frighten people better if you are the murdered one, because then you can show your wounds and do groans.”
If given the choice, I would prefer to not become a ghost any time soon. Happy Halloween to everyone and to all, a sweet night!
| Published: Friday, 31 October, 2014, 1:00 AM