The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

It feels like spring finally arrived here in Boston. Why not get outside and take a walk to the MHS for some public programs? This week we are heavy on our lunchtime Brown Bag talks, but there are also a couple other public programs to balance things out. Here's what's coming:

- Monday, 16 May, 12:00PM : The first Brown Bag talk of the week is titled "Valuing the Body of the Enslaved: From the Cradle to the Grave." Pack a lunch and come listen to short-term research fellow Daina Ramey Berry of the University of Texas at Austin. Berry presents her framework for understanding the valuation of enslaved peoples from birth to beyond death, based on 10 years of research in northern and southern archives. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Monday, 16 May, 6:00PM : "Jefferson the Architect" is the final public program from the Jefferson Series, which centers around our current exhibition. In this talk, Henry Adams of Case Western Reserve University explores the impact of Jefferson in American architecture and the legacy he has left on our country's built environment. This talk is open to the public, though registration is required with a fee of $20 (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members). There is a pre-talk reception at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM. 

 - Wednesday, 18 May, 12:00PM : Brown Bag talk number two this week is presented by Sarah Templier of Johns Hopkins University, and is called "The Lives of Textiles: Trading and Consuming Clothing, Fabrics, and Apparel Accessories in French and British North America, 1720s-1770s." The progam presents an overview of Templier's dissertation research. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Thursday, 19 May, 6:00PM : POSTPONED: "Mass Momentum: Highlighting the Innovation Hub."

- Friday, 20 May, 12:00PM : The third and final Brown Bag talk this week features Travis Jacquess, University of Mississippi. In his talk, "'My Principles for Government...Are Fixed,' Declarations of Independence between Fathers and Sons in the Age of Revolution," Jacquess argues that the spirit of of independence - the spirit of '76 - gave rise to the spirit of individualism, which was passed from father to son as a natural product of their experience in the Revolution and their engagement in the new American Republic. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Saturday, 21 May, 1:00PM : Join us for the final instalment of this season's discussion of primary readings, Begin at the Beginning, led by Dr. Abby Chandler. "John Gyles' Odd Adventure : A Different Captivity Narrative" tells a story of his upbringing among the Micmac and Maliseet peoples: a story of understanding and respect, unlike most Puritan captivity narratives that tell tales of horror and fear. This program is open to the public and registration is required at no cost; Please RSVP

Finally, if you have not yet come in to see the Private Jefferson, your time is running out. The exhibition remains on view to the public through Wednesday, May 26. Don't miss it!

There is no Saturday tour this week

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 15 May, 2016, 12:00 AM

Margaret Russell’s Diary, May 1916

Today, we return to the line-a-day diary of Margaret Russell. You can read previous installments here:

January.

February.

March.

April.

Margaret Russell’s diary entries for May 1916 presented a puzzle which was solved through the collective sleuthing of archivists on social media. Early on in my transcribing I stumbled upon a word in the May 3 entry I could not decipher:

 

 

I posted the image on Twitter and by the end of the evening not only had the word been successfully translated (“sessions”), but the larger story behind the entry had been hunted down by curious followers. It turned out that in May 1916, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America held a meeting in Washington, D.C. at which Margaret Russell attended as a Massachusetts delegate (she writes of being part of “the Boston Party”). Unfortunately, she fell ill while in D.C. and spent much of her time there bedridden. She reports on May 9th that “people [were] very kind in sending flowers.” She spent much of the month feeling poorly, though her diary also records afternoon drives and occasional social calls or family dinners.

 

* * *

May 1916

 

1 May. Monday - Left on the 10 o’clock spent the night at Colony Club & saw Kate who is quite poorly.

 

2 May. Tuesday - Did a few errands, very hot. Met the Boston Party with Francis P. at 3.30 for Washington.

3 May. Wednesday. Opening of the sessions. Felt poorly and thought it was the heat. Lunched at Hattie’s. Drove with F. P. down Potomac. 

4 May. Still hot & do not feel well. Went to White House & thought Mrs. Wilson very attractive. Took drive to Chevy Chase camp. Mass. party in evening.

5 May. Had a bad night & feel feverish so went for Dr. Handin who says it is [liver?]. Ankles red & swollen.

6 May. Saturday. In bed.

7 May. Sunday - still in bed.

8 May. Monday. Frances & all hands left. Miss Didier [illegible] came & is bright & pleasant.

9 May. Tuesday - People very kind in sending flowers. Still in bed but feel better.

10 May. Wednesday - In bed but days pass quickly.

11 May. Thursday - Like Dr. Handin so much.

12 May. Friday. In bed but better.

13 May Friday - Got up after lunch & went for hour’s drive with Hattie & then back to bed.

14 May. The same - Dr. Handin comes every day.

15 May. Sunday - left at 12.30 & got to N.Y. very comfortably. Spent night at Belmont also Miss. Didier.

16 May. Monday - Kate Cary came to see me. Said good job to Miss D-- & left on 12 o’c. Miss Ahler joined me at the Springfield. Not too tired. Family to dine.

17 May. Tuesday - Stayed in bed till lunch & then on couch for the rest of day. Felt the fatigue of the journey.

18 May. Wednesday - Sent for Dr. Smith who looked me over. Let me go to drive in the P.M.

19 May.  In bed till twelve - drive to Swampscott after lunch. Then rested. Margaret Bradley engaged to Roger [illegible].

20 May. Friday - In bed till twelve. Went out in my new car for long drive. Feel better.

21 May. Saturday - Out at eleven for errand & to see Aunt Emma. Rested & then to see M. Bradley.

22 May. Sunday - Stayed in till I went to lunch with H.G.C.’s. Then to drive & to Fall River Hosp. to see E. Murray. Family to dine.

23 May. Monday - Doctor says I have improved in all respects. Went to see Marian then Mary’s & after lunch to botany lesson.

24 May. Tuesday. Lunched at Alice Burn’s. Only Sallie Ames & Mrs. Bell. Went to dine & home to rest.

25 May. Wednesday - Errands in the morning. Went to Swampscott.

26 May. Thursday.

27 May. Friday - Walked down town & bought flag. Took a long drive.

28 May. Saturday - Great preparedness procession. Went out & walked about, great enthusiasm.

29 May. Sunday. Walked to cathedral. Photographer came to take the 4 generations. Baby was good. Family to dine.

30 May. Monday - lunched with Marian. To E & E & then Good S--. Saw Aunt Emma.Came home & rested.

31 May. Packing - Packing.

 

* * *

If you are interested in viewing the diary in person 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.

 

*Please note that the diary transcription is a rough-and-ready version, not an authoritative transcript. Researchers wishing to use the diary in the course of their own work should verify the version found here with the manuscript original.

 

Image: Edith Wilson, no date. Portrait from the Library of Congress

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 12 May, 2016, 8:00 AM

Implementing Technology in Current Jefferson Exhibition was a TAG Team Effort

Last fall, as the Massachusetts Historical Society planned its current exhibition, The Private Jefferson, an interdepartmental team of staff members successfully pursued a wonderful opportunity to incorporate technology into the galleries.  Thanks to the efforts of Gavin Kleespies, Director of Programs at MHS, and Ryan Gaspar, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Microsoft, MHS staff members were able to showcase MHS digital content in an interactive content management system for exhibitions, Touch Art Gallery (TAG).  Numerous high resolution digital images, short videos, and interactive features are available on a variety of touchscreen devices within the Jefferson exhibition.

TAG was developed by a team of programmers (mostly undergraduate computer science students) at Brown University led by Professor Andries van Dam, the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Professor of Technology and Education.  Carolyn Gress, Marketing Project Manager, Microsoft, coordinated a meeting in October between some staff from the MHS and Professor van Dam and some of his students.  During the visit to Providence, Rhode Island, MHS staff saw and interacted with the digital museum experience they created using TAG for the Nobel Foundation.

Notable features of the TAG system include: the display and delivery of high resolution images of exhibition items and their associated metadata in various sets ("collections"); management of related material including audio and video clips; and interactive segments on topics ("tours").  Gallery visitors can browse the items, "grab" and zoom in to closely examine the high resolution digital images, select, start (and interrupt) the interactive tours to closely examine the featured images.

Due to several previous grant-funded digitization projects, MHS has many existing high resolution digital images of documents within the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts.  These digital assets and the existing metadata were good starting points for the implementation of TAG within the Jefferson exhibition, but it took intensive work and effort by many staff members to ready the digital features by the opening date of the Jefferson exhibition.

The digital team (Laura Wulf, Peter Steinberg and I) had to work efficiently to assemble over a hundred images and descriptions.  Bill Beck, MHS's web developer, worked with Trent Green (the Brown University student who our main contact for TAG server and software issues) on the batch ingest and overall configuration of the system.  Several staff members (Gavin, Sara Sikes, Sara Georgini, Peter Drummey and I) focused on the content for six interactive features and developed outlines and scripts to tell specific stories about the Jefferson materials.  The production of those interactive tours was truly a team effort with Gavin and Bill taking the lead on many sequencing and editing tasks; the digital team assembling more images; Sara, Sara and Peter providing narration for some tours; and Jim Connolly and Hobson Woodward recording additional audio clips.  Three staff members, Chris Coveney, Carol Knauff and Laura Lowell, provided excellent feedback regarding the multimedia overviews (the "tours").

The digital content and the touch screens of various sizes--ranging from one large (65") screen to two Dell All-in-Ones and one Microsoft Surface tablets--had to be physically incorporated into the exhibition. Gavin worked with exhibition designer Will Twombly and MHS's Chris Coveney to ensure that the screens were accessible and functional in the gallery spaces.

The result of so many people's efforts with the planning meetings, the configurations, the production tasks and deployment steps is an exhibition celebrating MHS's 225th anniversary with significant historical manuscripts (the core of the collections) as well as value-added digital content on current touch-screen devices.  We strived to make the digital content as informative and user-friendly as possible. 

Please visit the Jefferson exhibition to examine both the original manuscripts on display as well as the digital components on the touch screen devices in the galleries.  Professor van Dam and some of his students will be giving a gallery talk about the development of the Touch Art Gallery system on Friday, May 13, at 2PM.

 

Image:  Screenshot of a tweet Liz Loveland sent during the Jefferson exhibition opening with an image of a manuscript page from the Farm Book delivered on a touch screen device.

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 May, 2016, 8:00 AM

Part of the Process (ing)

In many archives, staff numbers are so low that all members must perform many different functions, from accepting new donations of material and housing the material for storage, to arranging and describing (processing) and providing reference assistance. Often, there is even much more on top of this (think: budgeting, fundraising, outreach, etc.). In past jobs I had the opportunity/necessity of donning these different hats.

Here at the MHS we are extremely fortunate in that we have several different departments that are all responsible for carrying out these functions, not in isolation but with focus and a degree of specialization.  All of this results in the smooth operation of the organization as an archive.

As someone who works (and very much enjoys) working on the public side of things, being part of a dedicated reference staff is great. I am able to focus much of my attention on the researchers, both in-person and remote, who want to utilize the collections we hold. However, this means that I run the risk of growing rusty with other archival functions. Thankfully, this is a collaborative organization and we get the chance to work with other departments to varying degrees at different times.

In the past year, I had the opportunity to take part in the re-processing of the George Bancroft papers. This collection of papers from the 19th century historian/diplomat relates to his time as a student - both at Harvard University and at Georgia Augusta University in Gottingen, Germany – as a schoolmaster, poet, historian, and diplomat. Bancroft’s writings and correspondence correlate to myriad events in American history during the 19th century and are a vital source of information for his lifetime.

Bancroft at work in his later years

(from the Marian Hooper Adams photographs, MHS)


Until now, this large collection (60+ boxes, 50+ volumes) was only given a basic level of description in our online catalog, ABIGAIL. While the material has been arranged and accessible to researchers, there was very little information forthcoming about the content of the papers and volumes. With that in mind, the Society decided to revisit the collection and give it a bit more attention in the hopes that more researchers will find their way to it.

While the MHS’ Collection Services department carries out our normal processing activities, we in Reader Services are occasionally able to get a hand in so that we can keep our non-reference skills sharp. The Bancroft papers were my opportunity to get into the process.

I was tasked with going through the 50+ volumes in the collection in order to get a grasp on the general types of volumes they are (i.e. diaires, journals, memoranda books, account books, etc.) and to get some idea of the content therein, then to house the material appropriately, and then to provide descriptions of the various volumes, along with a biographical profile of the man, for inclusion in a new online finding aid.

What this means for me is that I not only learned a great deal about Bancroft’s early life as a student in Germany, but also that I got to practice my processing. This was a bit of a reeducation for me since I have not been in a position to process materials for a few years now. 

Aside from re-housing all of the material in the collection (new boxes for loose papers, cases for many volumes, etc.), the major deliverable item from this project is the new online finding aid for the Bancroft papers. Unlike the catalog records in ABIGAIL, our online finding aids are discoverable via web searches using search engines like Google. Our hope is that now many more people from near and far can more easily learn about what the collection holds and perhaps come to the library to dig in even deeper.

Are you interested in learning more about Mr. Bancroft and his milieu? Take a look through the guide and then consider Visiting the Library!

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 6 May, 2016, 12:00 AM

“Big city life at its very best”: Urban Renewal, Vice, and Adult Entertainment in 1970s Boston

During the 1970s, Boston’s Combat Zone, a (now former) adult entertainment district located around lower Washington Street, was at the center of urban renewal plans. After looking through the finding aid for the Park Plaza Development Project records, I decided to dig in and see if I could unpack attitudes toward the Combat Zone during this period. I largely focused on a group of reports produced during the planning period by the Park Plaza Civic Advisory Committee (CAC), a citizen’s group formed in response to the plans of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) for the project. These records provide insights into the shifting attitudes toward regulation of adult entertainment and vice in Boston during the 1970s, and also shed some light on the goals of urban renewal projects, the physical and social geography of the city, and desired models for maintaining order in the city.

 

The BRA’s plans for the Park Plaza project called for the demolition of parts of the Combat Zone. In a May 1973 report, the BRA discusses the impacts of this demolition on adult entertainment in the city. The report mentions the prior demolition of Scollay Square and its impact on adult entertainment. Businesses did not move from the Square to the Washington Street area when it was demolished; rather, the Washington Street adult district already existed. This implies that when the Combat Zone is destroyed, adult businesses from the Washington Street area will not move elsewhere, and the businesses in other areas will not be impacted. The report then states the City of Boston’s desire to increase surveillance and management of “remaining adult entertainment,” utilizing “new street lighting, public mini-parks, sign control, expanded police enforcement, continued police ‘visibility’, and possible additional control under various regulatory measures.”

The “Combat Zone” area is to the left in this photo.

 

The BRA met resistance to this plan, however. Writing in July 1974, CAC member Daniel J. Ahern criticizes the demolition plan, and writes about proposals to preserve the district. His report represents a different view than the earlier one taken by the BRA; he suggests that containment of adult entertainment in that district is necessary for the well-being of the city. Ahern makes his views on the matter clear in Appendix A of his report, a memo dated 1 May 1973. In the memo, he is very critical of the “earthy” forms of entertainment in the Combat Zone that he thinks certain people “associate with big city life at its very best.” However, he argues that the best approach is to maintain it in that location, invest in it, and keep it available for people who want it while protecting other parts of Boston from those forms of entertainment.

Along these lines, an Entertainment District Subcommittee of the CAC was formed to work on these issues. Connections were formed between the CAC and business owners in the area, who wanted to privately invest in plans for improvements to the area. Additionally, both the CAC and the business owners expressed interest in working with the BRA to implement new plans. The BRA, however, while expressing a willingness to work with the CAC and business owners, was fairly uncooperative. As of Ahern’s writing in July 1974, and at least as late the release of a February 1975 CAC newsletter, the demolition plan was still in place.

 

These discussions about vice and urban planning took place within a broader context of urban renewal in 1970s Boston. The Park Plaza reports call for revitalization of underutilized areas, and predict an influx of newer, wealthier residents and customers into the area. According to a March 1974 Department of Community Affairs report, over three-quarters of the new housing proposed as part of the Park Plaza project were for “middle and upper income residents.” The influence of big developers and the lack of affordable housing in the proposal serve as points of contention for some people. This suggests room for analysis of class dynamics and who would have benefited from the developments.

As I only looked at this small group of reports, it’s safe to say that I haven’t come close to unpacking the whole story. For example, I’m interested in the roles that race and gender may have played in these discussions and developments. If you’re interested in conducting some investigations of your own, the Park Plaza Development Project records are open for research here in the library at the MHS.

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 4 May, 2016, 12:00 AM

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