The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Education Programs

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

Fellowships for K-12 Teachers and Students

Did you know that the MHS has offered fellowships to K-12 educators since the summer of 2001? Nearly 60 teachers have taken part in the program, creating lessons for American history, world history, English, and even biology classrooms. If you’d like to spend four weeks of your summer immersed in the Society’s fascinating collections, consider applying for a Swensrud Teacher Fellowship. The program offers educators the opportunity to create lesson plans using documents and artifacts from the collections of the MHS, and the fellowships carry a stipend of $4,000 for four weeks of on-site research. Applications are welcome from any K-12 teacher who has a serious interest in using the collections at the MHS to prepare primary-source-based curricula. Applications must be postmarked by Friday, March 8, 2013.

In addition to our fellowship for teachers, the MHS is pleased to announce our new fellowship program for students! The John Winthrop Fellowship encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the Society in a research project of their choosing. Although students are welcome to work in the MHS Reading Room in Boston, online access to hundreds of recently digitized documents from our collections now makes it possible for students from across the country to identify, incorporate, investigate, and interpret these primary sources in their work. The student fellow and his/her teacher advisor will each receive a $350 stipend. Applications for the Winthrop Fellowship should be postmarked no later than Thursday, March 14, 2013.

More information about both fellowship programs can be found on our website ( Interested candidates can also contact the education department ( or the library ( for suggestions on potential topics or available resources.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 8:00 AM

Making History @ MHS

Pop Quiz! Which bloody seventeenth-century skirmish brought English settlers into conflict with local Wampanoags? The answer, of course, is King Philip’s War, a series of attacks that killed many colonists and Native American in 1675 and 1676, destroyed several New England towns, and cost the life of Wampanoag leader Metacom (or King Philip). Over the past few months, thirty-plus students from Boston University have been scouring the Society’s collections to learn more about this intriguing episode from Massachusetts’s past. Under the tutelage of Professor James Johnson, students became historians as they examined artifacts, transcribed documents, and tried to make sense of the relationships forged between colonists and native inhabitants, and where those relationships disintegrated.

Students visited the MHS several times, both as a class and as individual researchers. They had the opportunity to analyze a series of manuscripts and published documents. Pamphlets such as John Eliot’s Strength Out of Weakness (1652), describe Puritan’s attempts to convert Indians to Christianity, while other works, like William Hubbard’s The Present State of New-England: Being a Narrative of theTroubles with the Indians in New-England (1677) suggest that not all native peoples were willing to adopt English customs or religious principles. Class members also transcribed a number of documents from the Winslow family papers, which include the papers of Edward and Josiah Winslow, colonial governors of Plymouth Colony from 1638-1680. Several letters in the collection detail colonists’attempts to negotiate with Metacom and other native inhabitants, even as native groups began forming alliances against the English settlers.

All of this hard work culminated in an exhibition and public program hosted by the MHS on 13 December 2012. More than 100 guests visited the MHS that evening to hear the students talk about their discoveries. The program began with Professor Johnson and his students providing a brief introduction to the principles of the course, as well as colonial-native relations, growing tensions,and the war itself. Students then became docents as program attendees viewed a special exhibition assembled by the class. Small groups of students discussed the particular materials they had studied, while also answering questions about their experiences as budding history detectives.

Ultimately, this program combined many of the things that we love to do here at the MHS: we introduced a new group of people to our collections through our research library; we piqued the interest of young historians; and we provided history enthusiasts with an entertaining and informative program. For more information about visiting our library to conduct your own research, checkout our visiting the library page. You can also visit our web calendar for information about upcoming education & public programs.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 19 December, 2012, 8:00 AM

Turning Points in History

Summer has officially turned to fall, which means it’s time once again for leaf peeping, pumpkin carving, and National History Day! Since the Society became the official co-sponsor of Massachusetts History Day earlier this year, I’ve learned a lot about making websites, judging performances for historical accuracy, and spotting student-created content in exhibitions mounted on replicas of everything from the Taj Mahal to the R.M.S. Titanic.  I have also discovered that National History Day is a fabulous way to engage students in the process of doing history. For example, creating an NHD project requires that students work individually or in a group to select a topic related to the annual theme; conduct primary and secondary research at libraries, archives, and museums; think critically about sources and draw conclusions about the importance of their topic; and present their research through an exhibit, website, performance, documentary, or research paper.  Best of all, students who produce history day projects develop all sorts of reading, writing, thinking, and presentation skills that they can apply to other courses in other disciplines.  History Day is about so much more than history!

I was fortunate enough to attend a four-day NHD training session earlier this month. In addition to meeting competition coordinators from all over the world, I also attended a great session that explored the finer points of this year’s theme: Turning Points in American History. So, you might ask, how should we define a broad idea like “turning point?”  More than an important event from the past, a turning point is an idea, event, or action that led to some sort of cultural, political, social, or economic change. It could be anything from the changes in Secret Service protocol after President Kennedy’s assassination to the creation of state arts patronage that resulted from the Russian Revolution.  Of course, there are plenty of potential turning points in our own backyard. If you’d like to tackle a project that involves Massachusetts or New England history, explore the Society’s collections or contact the library staff (; 617-646-0532) and start to plan a visit to the Library. For more information about participating in Massachusetts History Day, visit the MHD website. Good luck!


comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 26 September, 2012, 8:00 AM

Interview: Spotlight on Education at the MHS

On Wednesday Assistant Director of Education and Public Programs Kathleen Barker wrote about the recent teacher workshops held at the MHS. The week-long workshops, titled “At the Crossroads of Revolution: Lexington and Concord in 1775,” engaged 80 teachers from across the country, who will return to their classrooms with exciting material for their students. After the successful workshops, Barker sat down to talk with me about the Society’s ongoing educational work.


  1. Tell me about the history of education efforts at the MHS.

About 12 years ago MHS fellow David McCullough, whose son is a teacher, expressed an interest in developing educational efforts for teachers at the MHS. That led to the Society offering the Swensrud Fellowships for teachers beginning in 2001. That program continues today, in addition to other efforts. We have curriculum ideas available for teachers based on the materials in our collections. We also offer seminars where teachers have the opportunity to examine primary sources from our collections and take their discoveries back to their students. And we offer workshops for students and parents.

 2. You recently completed two week-long summer workshops for teachers. What were the goals of these workshops?

The workshops were part of the Landmarks of American History and Culture project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the idea was to get teachers out into the landscapes where historical events happened. Our workshop was about Lexington and Concord during the Revolutionary War, so we took the teachers to those places. They were not in classrooms, but in barns, historic houses, and in Minute Man National Historic Park. We also spent time at the MHS and gave context to these places.

3. How have teachers been impacted by coming to educational events at the MHS?

Teachers from these recent workshops told us that they see history differently after being in the places where events took place, and they bring that to the classroom. Many teachers have told us they use our website in their classrooms, and they encourage their students to learn from documents from our online collections.

4. Why is it important that the rich materials in the Society’s collections reach young students?

The historical evidence in our collections helps students to develop critical thinking skills. Instead of taking the interpretation of their teacher or textbook at face value, they are able to examine original documents and form their own ideas. It’s also important to develop students’ interest in history, because they are the preservationists of tomorrow. If we want people to continue supporting historical work we need to foster a passion for history in today’s young people.

5. What are your plans for upcoming educational events at the MHS?

In the spring the Society will be cosponsoring National History Day. We’ll be holding workshops for both teachers and students for this event. Coming up on November 17th we have our Family Day, when the Society will be hosting a program for students and parents about the Revolutionary War. The Society also is planning the launch of a new website, so keep an eye out for updated curriculum help and program announcements in the Education section.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 17 August, 2012, 1:00 AM

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