The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: From the Reading Room

Debrief the Reader: Researcher as Resource

As a reference librarian at the Society I work regularly with the more than three thousand individual manuscript collections in the holdings. Often the job is a search for a specific piece of information in order to answer a defined question, perhaps for a remote researcher who cannot visit the library. In other instances, reference work might entail giving researchers suggestions for collections that are relevant to their particular project. Usually this second type relies heavily on searching the online catalog, ABIGAIL, or other in-house resources, to find collections that carry certain subject headings or involve certain people.

Unfortunately, in both of these situations, I do not always get the chance to look at a given collection in-depth and thereby gain a more complete understanding of the contents and how it might complement other resources or collections we have. This can be troublesome in a place where the reference librarians are sometimes expected to have deep knowledge of every collection in the building. In order to level the field a bit I try to focus my attention on the occurrences of the early days of colonial New England, roughly the period of the founding of Plymouth colony in 1620 up to the end of King Philip's War in 1676. When researchers come forward with questions concerning this time period I try to direct them toward collections or reference materials that, hopefully, will be of use.

While my colleagues in the collection services department are able to delve deeply into collections while going through the processes of arrangement and description, I do not always get that opportunity. Further, if a collection lacks descriptive aids then it can still be difficult to ascertain exactly what lies within and how it might fit with other collections. Yet, there is one recourse that I have left at my disposal should the chance arise.

Enter: the genial long-term researcher.

When a researcher brings an in-depth project to the MHS, we on the library staff have a wonderful opportunity to gain insights into the collections with which they work and to learn the topical connections existing among them. To illustrate: over the last couple of weeks we have had a researcher visit us nearly every day to work on a project involving 17th century colonial interactions between the English settlers and the native inhabitants. The researcher, who worked at the MHS in the past, came prepared with a few ideas of relevant collections with which to work. I suggested one or two other collections that I knew by name but of which I did not have intimate knowledge, with the idea that maybe one or two items would be relevant. As it happens, these collections turned out to be a veritable goldmine for our researcher. This also spurred her to investigate a couple of other things that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

This entire process is a benefit to both the researcher and myself. While I was able to point her to a collection she did not know about and which aided her research, she was able to identify to me the content of the collection, why it was so important for her research, and how it fits in with other collections that touch on the same time period. Because I lack the very thorough knowledge of the topics and themes involved, the researcher helps establish and explain the web of connections among the characters contained in our holdings. Without a doubt, the knowledge graciously passed on to me with regard to these collections will now help me to better direct future researchers in their endeavors to unlock the long-past and lesser-documented realities of 17th century New England.

comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 4:07 PM

Considering Collation: Decoding the Formula (2)

If you have ever had the pleasure of perusing books from the 18th century, or earlier, you may have noticed the appearance of sequences of letters and numbers that appear at the bottom of pages. Maybe you saw a series of four pages that had C, C2, C3, C4, in that order, followed by four pages without those letters. Then, four pages with the same sequence using the letter D, and so on through the alphabet. If you have noticed these, have you ever wondered what they mean? Well if so, keep reading because this post is for you.

During the hand-press period of printing books, the printers included these alpha-numeric sequences, called signatures, to indicate to the binder the order in which the material should be bound together. Nowadays, when constructing descriptive bibliographies of these rare books, examination of the signatures can show anomalies in the printing process and can help distinguish among various printings of a single title.

In my last post I provided a collation formula for a book called The Doctrine of Devils and explained how to determine the format of the book. Now we can look at the collation and signing statement. As you might remember, the collation formula for the book looks like this:

8°: A4 B-O8; [$4 (-A3,4) signed; missigning I4 as I3]; 108 leaves; pp. [8] 1-205 [3].

We know that the first part means that the book is an octavo which we determined by looking at various physical clues to find out that the pages were created on large sheets of paper that were folded three times to create gatherings of eight leaves, or 16 pages. Now, we can use that information to explain the collation of the book and the signing statement. These two pieces of the puzzle appear in the formula as: 

A4 B-O8; [$4 (-A3,4) signed; missigning I4 as I3]

The first part, the collation, tells us how many sections are in the book and how many leaves are in each section. Here, we see that section A has four leaves, while sections B-O have eight leaves each. [If the book was longer, it might go from B, all the way to Cc, meaning that we ended the alphabet once and started again in double]. The second piece, appearing in brackets, is the signing statement, which informs us of the pattern of signatures throughout the book and also indicates any mistakes or deviations. $4 tells us that the printer signed the first four leaves of each gathering, or half of the gathering (-A3,4 indicates that in gathering A only the first two leaves had signatures). Also, we see that the printer incorrectly signed the leaf that was to be I4 and instead used I3 again. Otherwise, there appear to be no other mistakes or deviations, pretty simple.

108 leaves

One last step is to do a leaf count, which is just as it sounds, and then determine the pagination. We can use the leaf count to double-check our collation to ensure it makes sense. In this case, the leaf count yielded a total of 108 leaves. We know from the collation that section A has four leaves, and that each section, B-O (excluding J*) contains eight leaves. So, we have 4 + (8 x 13) = 108. It appears to all match up.

pp. [8] 1-205 [3]

The pagination statement is a check to see how the pages are numbered and if any got skipped or left out. The statement above means that there were eight pages of front matter that did not get numbered, so they are in brackets. Then we have the pages that were numbered, 1-205, with no mistakes. Finally, there are three pages at the end that also are unnumbered. Adding those together, we get a page count of 216, which is exactly double the leaf count. Everything agrees!

So the next time you have your hands on an old book, pay attention to all of these little signs and indicators and you might just be able to figure out your own collation formula for the book and have your own little coded description.

And since this will probably be my last post about collation for a while, I want to leave you with one more example of a formula that is a bit more complex, just to illustrate how long and tedious these can get. Unfortunately, I no longer have the title of the work, just that it was published in London in 1773. Good luck deciphering!

2°: [A]1a2b1 B-6Z2 7B2*7B2 7D-7F2 χ7F2 7G-7I2 [$1signed]; 296 leaves; pp.[8]1-548 553-557 [=553] [31] [misnumbering 200 as 300, 248 as 548, and 412 as 112].

 

*Printers used the 23-letter Latin alphabet when creating their signatures rather than our modern 26-letter alphabet. In the 23-letter alphabet, I and J are interchangeable, though never both used; ditto for the letters U and V; last, there is no W in the Latin alphabet.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 29 November, 2013, 1:00 AM

A Lesser-Known Massachusetts "First": 1812 Flag-Raising on Catamount Hill

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is home to countless United States “firsts.” Among the most famous Massachusetts initiatives are claims to the first Thanksgiving celebration, the first public park, the first university, and the first public library. The Commonwealth took the lead in these and many other well-known realms, but one quiet act of patriotism that tends not to make the lists is this: In May of 1812 on the top of Catamount Hill, the Loyalists of Colrain, Massachusetts raised the first United States flag to fly over a public schoolhouse.

 

I had not heard of this Massachusetts first until an MHS researcher brought it to my attention earlier this summer. She was interested in learning more about the 1812 flag-raising to inform her planning of an Independence Day event at Pioneer Village at Friends of the Beaver State Park in East Liverpool, Ohio. Eager to provide the researcher with any information about this event the MHS collections might hold, I immediately took to our online catalog, ABIGAIL, and started down the path toward uncovering the story of the flag-raising on Catamount Hill.

Not hopeful that a search for “First flag-raising” would get me very far--specificity is important for conceptualizing a search, but broadening out is crucial to its success--I began with a “Subject” search for “Colrain (Mass.)”. The search led me to a number of resources that document the history of Colrain. I traversed the MHS stacks to retrieve the materials and parked myself in Ellis Hall for a good dose of reading room research. What ultimately stood out as the most compelling and useful source was A. F. Davenport’s A Sketch of the Origin and Growth of the Catamount Hill Association of Colrain, Mass ( North Adams, Mass.: Walden & Crawley, 1901). The purpose of this publication was to record the proceedings and goings-on of the Association’s various reunion events. Their Sixth Reunion, which took place in 1900, featured discussion and commemoration of the 1812 flag-raising. The momentous event was well-documented in this part of the text, and Mrs. Fanny B. Shippee’s recounting provides perspective on the political context that surrounded it:

Here, on the Hill, the Republicans largely outnumbered the Federalists, but the latter were very loud in maintaining their political views, and made up in noise what they lacked in numbers. At this, the Republicans were naturally incensed, and to show their loyalty to our government, concluded to make and erect an American flag....Those sturdy farmers were showing to the world and to the ‘Feds’ in particular that they were true to this republic.

I was certain that the researcher in Ohio would be happy to learn about the circumstances fueling the flag-raising, but I was personally eager to learn more about the story behind this event’s receipt of the “first flag-raising” accolade. I read on, and found that the MHS itself had a part to play in the construction of this snippet of collective memory:

In a reply to a communication sent to the Massachusetts Historical Society at Boston, for information in regard to the Catamount Hill flag being the first ever raised over a school-house, an answer was received saying that there was no record of any earlier flag, thus giving the Catamount Hill patriots of 1812 the credit of being the first to raise a flag over a school-house in this country.

I wish I could say that a gust of wind blew through the reading room when I read this tale of my late-19th-century counterpart’s response to a reference query about the Catamount Hill flag-raising, so similar to the one I was working on in 2013. The experience did not reach that level of melodrama, but it did bring with it an all-important reminder: “facts” are constructed, interpreted, and re-established over time, and our engagement with them will be best-informed when we manage to bear that in mind.

If you’re inspired to track down the source of another Massachusetts first, Reader Services will gladly welcome you to the library at the MHS!

 

 

 

 

***Image from A History of Colrain Massachusetts, (Lois McClellan Patrie, 1974): 9.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 1:00 AM

Advertising in America

If you are someone who regularly reads Boston newspapers, then you probably have noticed a few advertisements within the pages. In fact, on a given day you might find several pages worth of advertisements in a single issue. And then there is the Sunday edition which comes with an entire section composed solely of ads. Occasionally, these can be useful to inform about upcoming events, special deals at a department store, or penny-saving coupons at the grocery story. More often, though, they can seem a bit of a nuisance and waste of material, taking up space and distracting from the articles.

 

But did you know that the first time a paid advertisement appeared in an American newspaper it happened here in Boston?

 

By the start of the 18th century, the New England colonies were thriving and the population was steadily increasing along with its wealth, enterprise, and intelligence. Even foreign countries began to look at Massachusetts with interest, and colonists desired acquaintance with affairs in England, Europe, and the other colonies in British America. “Such increase of population and trade must naturally call for a publication, of the common character of newspapers.”[i]

The Boston News-Letter, the first regularly published newspaper in the British Colonies of North America, began publication on 17 April 1704. This newspaper was “published by authority” and featured all of the latest news from London, though with the time it took to cross the Atlantic, there was usually a delay of three months or so. At the very end of the inaugural issue, publisher John Campbell included a short paragraph announcing that any person could insert a small notice at a “reasonable rate.”

 

It was only two weeks later in issue number three, dated 1 May – 8 May 1704, 309 years ago this week that the first three paid advertisements appeared. The ads called for the recovery of stolen goods, information about lost anvils, and even information about real estate available on Long Island, New York.

While these ads appear to be regarding fairly mundane matters, readers only had to wait a couple of weeks for this new “social media” to get more interesting. In issue number five, 15 May-22 May 1704, readers looking for adventure got their opportunity.

Sadly, only two weeks later, one would also see two ads that, by today’s standards, are a bit more insidious. In issue number eight, we are reminded that Massachusetts was not always a cradle of liberty and that people were property.

What do you think today's advertisements will look like to researchers in 300 years? Maybe they will wonder how we ever got by driving automobiles relying on fossil fuels or how we kept time with something as simple as a Cartier watch. Will they look at personal ads as a definition of human interaction in our time?

To see more examples of the early days of advertising in American newspapers, consult our online catalog, ABIGAIL, or visit the library at the MHS to see what other early Massachusetts newspaper titles we have in our collections!



[i] Bradford, Alden, History of Massachusetts, for two hundred years: from the year 1620 to 1820, Boston: Hilliard, Gray, 1835. 

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 4 May, 2013, 8:21 AM

Congratulations! 2012-2013 Graduates Using MHS Materials

Since July 2012, the Massachusetts Historical Society has granted use permission to a number of scholars utilizing MHS collections in their theses and dissertations. Below are a list of the scholars and their projects.

Many of these projects should be available in the ProQuest database of theses and dissertations.  We encourage you to explore the fine work done by our researchers!

“Lost [or Gained] in Translation: The Art of the Handwritten Letter in the Digital Age”
Dallie Clark, University of Texas

“Plain as Primitive: The Figure of the Native in Early America”
Steffi Dippold, Stanford University

“ ‘Rage and Fury Which Only Hell Could Inspire’: The Rhetoric and Ritual of Gunpowder Treason in Early America”
Kevin Q. Doyle, Brandeis University

“Bodies at Odds: The Experience and Disappearance of the Maternal Body in America, 1750-1850”
Nora Doyle, University of North Carolina

“ ‘Deep investigations of science and exquisite refinements of taste’: The Objects and Communities of Early Libraries in Eastern Massachusetts, 1790-1850”
Caryne A. Eskridge, University of Delaware

“Female Voices, Female Action: A Small Town Story that Mirrors the State Struggle to Protect Massachusetts Womanhood, 1882-1920”
Sarah Fuller, Salem State University

“Engendering Inequality: Masculinity and the Construction of Racial Brotherhood in Cuba, 1895-1902”
Bonnie A. Lucero, University of North Carolina

“Trading in Liberty: The Politics of the American China Trade, c. 1784-1862”
Dael A. Norwood, Princeton University

“Het present van Staat: De gouden ketens, kettingen en medailles verleend door de Staten-Generaal, 1588-1795”
George Sanders, University of Leiden

“International Tourism and the Image of Japan in 1930 through Articles and a Travel Journal Written by Ellery Sedgwick”
Katsura Yamamoto, University of Tokyo

Did you, or anyone else you know, author a thesis or dissertation using materials held in the MHS collections in the past year? Please leave a comment on this post sharing the title, author, and the name of the institution to which the work was submitted.

Thank you all for your excellent work!

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Friday, 5 April, 2013, 1:00 AM

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