The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Around MHS

Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the MHS

Have you ever wondered who adds the references to Wikipedia articles? The answer is YOU!

Join us on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 from 2:00 PM to 6:30 PM for a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon! The MHS is hosting a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to edit Wikipedia articles using our materials on philanthropy and philanthropists in 19th-century Boston. This event is part of the week-long Open Access to Massachusetts History 2013.

1154 Boylston Street

The event will include a short how-to on Wikipedia basics, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Society and refreshments. If you are new to Wikipedia editing or an experienced Wikipedian, all are welcome! Just bring your laptop, power cord, a government-issued ID, and a ready mind. Learn more about the event and RSVP

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 18 October, 2013, 2:07 PM

Discussing Digitization with a Visitor from Serbia

On May 7, I had the privilege of sharing information about how MHS digitizes its collections with Dr. Andrej Fajgelj, Director of the Cultural Center of Novi Sad.  (Novi Sad is the second largest city in Serbia.) The Cultural Center is embarking on a new project to use information technology in art and culture and Dr. Fajgelj will be overseeing a large digitization effort to present rare books, musical scores, notes and manuscripts. 

The purpose of Dr. Fajgelj’s trip to the United States was to meet with professionals involved with the digitization of library and cultural heritage materials.  Over the course of about one week, he visited many institutions on both coasts including the San Francisco Public Library, Stanford University, the Internet Archive, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

To help Dr. Fajgelj understand the context in which our digital projects take place, Brenda Lawson, Director of Collections Services, provided a brief overview about the MHS.  Even though MHS is an independent research library (and differs greatly in size from the other institutions he visited), I conveyed how important it is for us to create digital collections according to standards and best practices.  At MHS we always have to work to balance the content and goals for digital projects with the available resources.   We talked about workflows, standards, equipment, encoding, web delivery systems, and budgets.  

Towards the end of our meeting Dr. Andrej Fajgeli made some thought-provoking points about the importance of the Cultural Center’s upcoming digitization activities.  He acknowledged that at the present time, there aren’t significant amounts of digitized Serbian-language material s.  As a former instructor of languages and assistant professor in a university philology department, he is well-aware of the fact that students turn to the Web for research, news, and fun.  Although many Serbs know multiple languages, he wants them to find more Serbian cultural sources online.  He hopes more digitized Serbian materials will inspire Serbs to be creative and write songs, prose, and poetry in their native language. 

Dr. Fajgelj was accompanied by Glenn Carey, a U. S. State Department English Language Officer (who kindly provided the image of the meeting).  Dr. Fajgelj’s trip and itinerary were administered by the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program and the Massachusetts portion of his visit was arranged by WorldBoston. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 7 June, 2013, 1:00 AM

Virtual Field Trip: MHS Staff Interacts with 5th Graders 1,400 Miles Away

Earlier this spring my colleagues and I had the opportunity to spend two fabulous afternoons with a fifth-grade class in Minnesota. Thanks to the magic of Skype, we never had to leave the Society! Our online field trip was facilitated by Laura Tessmer, a teacher at the Clover Ridge Elementary School in Chaska, just outside of Minneapolis. We first met Laura three years ago when she participated in our NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture workshop, “At the Crossroads of Revolution.” Since that summer we have looked for ways to reconnect with Laura and her students, in spite of the 1,400 miles that separate our two institutions. Laura has been experimenting with other distance-learning technologies this year, and in April and May, she added the MHS to her list of virtual classroom visitors.

The Society’s wealth of online resources  allowed Laura’s class to preview many documents and artifacts prior to our discussions. On 4 April, students came prepared to analyze items from our recent exhibition on the War of 1812. Questions and comments flowed nonstop as we discussed documents such as “Huzza for the American Navy!”, a political cartoon published in 1813. Students expertly dissected the saucy puns and plays on words intended to celebrate America’s early naval victories over the British, while commenting on visual details such as the patriotic wings of the wasp and the hornet. Throughout the discussion these young scholars demonstrated their great knowledge of the war, as well as their enthusiasm for the documents and artifacts they explored as part of our visit.

We met with Laura’s class again on 29 May, this time to review events related to the Civil War. We began by discussing the recruitment of soldiers during the first year of the war, and students quickly identified all of the clever tactics used by military propagandists in broadsides such as “Major Gen. Banks's Grand Expedition!: 2d Mass. Cavalry!” from 1862. We pondered the military pay scale, and discussed the importance of musicians, who often played a vital role in preserving troop morale during and between battles (in spite of their lower pay). Class members also discussed several manuscript documents, including the illustrated diary of Sarah Gooll Putnam. On 3 February 1864, Putnam visited the military camp at Readville (in Boston) where she saw General Burnside on parade with Massachusetts troops. Once again, this great group of budding historians impressed us with their knowledge of the Civil War, making connections between MHS documents and the wartime experiences of men and women from Minnesota.

Since our first experiments with Skype programs were both entertaining and enlightening, we hope to expand our virtual offerings to additional teachers and students in the next school year. The flexibility of this online format allows us to expand our outreach efforts in multiple ways. We are always looking for new opportunities to meet local teachers who might not have the time or the budget to bring students to our headquarters on Boylston Street. Of course, we also enjoy meeting and working with teachers from across the United States through our onsite programs, and virtual field trips will allow us to maintain our many connections in all corner of the nation. If you are a teacher who would like to sample an education program at the Society—either in person or through the web – please contact the education department. Meanwhile, many thanks to Laura Tessmer and our new friends in Minnesota for making our virtual visits such a success!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 5 June, 2013, 12:00 AM

Last Chance to Visit Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land

Boston enjoys a reputation for its role in the founding of the United States. That reputation is well deserved, but the American Revolution was hardly the last time Boston figured significantly in a radical and righteous cause.

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, Boston became a center of the national antislavery movement. In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison, a key figure in the movement, began the publication of The Liberator, the country’s leading abolitionist newspaper. On the first page of the first issue (1 January 1831), Garrison fired a bold volley against not only proslavery attitudes, but apathy and arguments for a cautious and gradual approach to abolition. “Urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch.—AND I WILL BE HEARD.”

William Lloyd Garrison and several other prominent Boston abolitionists are the subjects of the Society’s current exhibition, Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land": Boston Abolitionists, 1831–1865. Manuscripts, portraits, broadsides, and artifacts from the MHS collections illustrate the role of Massachusetts in the national struggle over slavery. Among the most fantastic objects on display are John Brown’s Colt revolver, first editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, and the imposing table on which Garrison set the type for The Liberator, which has not been displayed at the Society in many years.

The exhibition closes Friday, 24 May 2013, so come down to 1154 Boylston Street as soon as you can. It’s free and open to the public from 10 AM to 4 PM, Monday through Saturday.

And for those who can’t make it to Boston, you can explore the exhibition’s companion web feature, Boston Abolitionists, 1831–1865.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 17 May, 2013, 10:00 AM

When Catholic Easter Was Unknown in Boston

We recently celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter Sunday is fast approaching – both holidays that are widely honored in Boston, which has a reputation for being heavily Catholic. It is hard to believe, therefore, that there was a time when openly practicing Catholicism in Boston was illegal. But prior to the American Revolution, the city laws prohibited public worship by Roman Catholic priests. Anti-Catholic sentiment was so widespread, in fact, that there was a holiday in New England called Pope Night, which took place on November 5, when often violent, riotous participants paraded effigies of the pope, his cohorts, and the devil through the streets before they burned them (to learn more about Pope Night read this earlier post).

After the American Revolution, George Washington ordered an end to Pope Night, as it was undermining relations with Canada, and when the Massachusetts Constitution took effect in 1780 it became legal for Catholics to practice publicly. The Rev. Claudius Florent Bouchard de la Poterie, a former French naval chaplain, established the first Catholic parish in New England in 1788 on School Street in Boston, and he celebrated the first mass there on November 2, the Catholic feast of All Souls’ Day.

So exotic was Catholic worship to Bostonians when the parish opened that La Poterie felt it necessary to write an explanation of Catholic practices in order to show that there was nothing to fear. In 1789 he published a pastoral letter titled “The Solemnity of the Holy Time of Easter: The Order of the public Offices, and of the Divine Service, during the Fortnight of Easter, in the Catholick Church of the Holy Cross at Boston,” a copy of which the Society has in its collections. His explanation begins with Palm Sunday, continues through Holy Week, and finishes with Easter Sunday. He writes of the “paschal duty” of Catholics to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and the subsequent availability of daily confession to Catholics throughout Holy Week. La Poterie also illuminates the ritual surrounding Holy Thursday mass, including the washing of the “feet of 12 lads, between 10 and 14 years of age; the poorest will have the preference.” The 12 boys represented the 12 apostles, who had their feet washed by Jesus in the Gospel. La Poterie also describes the importance of the Easter Vigil mass as the time when new Catholics are welcomed into the Church through baptism.

The Holy Cross parish did not appear to have money available to pay its musicians for Easter Sunday mass. La Poterie writes, “The gentlemen musicians of this city are earnestly requested to continue to give testimony of their goodness and of their generosity, the congregation reserving themselves for more happy times to prove their gratitude and good wishes.” He indicates that a collection would be taken up at mass and the musicians would receive the results of it afterward.

Despite his efforts to demystify the perception of Catholics in Boston, by both explaining the events that would take place during Holy Week and indicating the humble nature of the parish, the letter backfired. La Poterie was rebuked by his superior, Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, who wrote that many parts of the letter were “highly improper for publication in this country, & of a tendency to alienate from our Religion & disgust the minds of our Protestant Brethren.” La Poterie was suspended and left Boston in 1790, but the openly Catholic presence in the city of Boston remained and only grew into the 19th and 20th centuries.

The MHS itself has a connection to the first founder of a Catholic parish in Boston. MHS founder Rev. Jeremy Belknap mentions having seen La Poterie “dressed in his toga” at a religious lecture. Later, after La Poterie was disciplined, Belknap wrote in a letter to Ebenezer Hazard, “He is, I believe, but a speckled bird” (James Hennesey, S.J., American Catholics: A History of the Roman Catholic Community in the United States [New York: Oxford University Press, 1981], 78-79).

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 27 March, 2013, 8:00 AM

older posts