MHS News

First Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize Awarded

Mary Babson Fuhrer recognized for the compelling story of small-town New England transformed between 1815 and 1848 as told in her book A Crisis of Community

At an award ceremony on 29 October 2015, the Massachusetts Historical Society presented the first Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize to Mary Babson Fuhrer for her book A Crisis of Community: The Trials and Transformation of a New England Town, 1815-1848, published in 2014 by the University of North Carolina Press. The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize is given to the best nonfiction work on the history of Massachusetts published during the preceding year.

In A Crisis of Community, Fuhrer brings to life the troublesome creation of a new social, political, and economic order centered on individual striving and voluntary associations in an expansive nation. Blending family records and a rich trove of community archives, she examines the "age of revolutions" through the lens of Boylston, Mass., a rural community that was swept into the networks of an expanding and urbanizing New England region. This finely detailed history lends new depth to our understanding of a key transformative moment in Massachusetts and American history.

The selection committee received 21 submissions that interpret the history of Massachusetts through an exciting range of subjects, from colonial history to biographies of iconic figures, to politics, art, and sport. The submissions came from a dozen academic, trade, and specialty publishers. "It is certainly appropriate that the first annual prize in memory of someone rooted in his hometown as firmly as Rev. Peter Gomes was should go to the author of a town history," commented MHS Worthington C. Ford Editor and Director of Research Conrad E. Wright. He continued, "Beautifully crafted, gracefully written, Mary Fuhrer’s relation of the development of the small town of Boylston, Massachusetts, is a most worthy recipient of the first annual Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize."

Mary Babson Fuhrer is a public historian who specializes in the social history of New England. She has a B.A. in History from Princeton, an M.A. in Public History from George Mason University, and a Ph.D. in American History from the University of New Hampshire. An accomplished scholar, Fuhrer is recognized among historical societies, museums, and school systems throughout eastern Massachusetts for her stellar work in historical interpretation and educational curricula. She is the consulting historian for the Society's Saltonstall-funded educational program "Old Towns/New Country," which engages teachers, librarians, and local history enthusiasts in connecting their community's resources to the history of the new nation. She has also served as a consultant and presenter for MHS programs funded by the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati and the NEH. In 2013, the Society's Short-term Fellowship Committee awarded its Cushing Academy Environmental History Fellowship to Fuhrer, and in 2014, the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium granted her support to visit four additional repositories for her current project, "The Experience and Meaning of Tuberculosis in Rural New England, 1800-1850." In addition to A Crisis of Community, Fuhrer is the author of several articles, including “The Worlds of Lexington and Concord Compared,” which appeared in The New England Quarterly in 2012.

About the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize

The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize, for the best nonfiction work on the history of Massachusetts published during the preceding year, honors the memory of a respected Harvard scholar and beloved Fellow of the MHS. Peter J. Gomes (1942-2011) was elected to the MHS in 1976 and joined the Board of Overseers in 2010. He was the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School and the Pusey Minister of Memorial Church.

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Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the MHS Map Collection on View at the MHS

The MHS map collection—one of the Society’s most diverse and interesting—includes landmarks of map publishing.

Thomas Johnston’s 1754 plan of the Kennebec and Sagadahoc riversAs the MHS approaches its 225th anniversary, Terra Firma celebrates the beginnings of one of its most diverse and interesting collections. Among the maps on display are landmarks of map publishing that include the first published map of New England, the first map of Massachusetts published in America, and a unique copy of the earliest separate map of Vermont, as well as maps of important battles and maps and atlases from the United States and beyond. The exhibition is on display at the Society through 9 January 2016, Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Started with gifts of six manuscript maps from James Freeman and three (two published, one manuscript) from Thomas Wallcut, the MHS map collection grew quickly, with 130 maps and seven atlas volumes listed in the Society’s 1811 Catalogue of the Books, Pamphlets, Newspapers, Maps, Charts, Manuscripts, &c. Today, the map collection numbers more than 2,000 separate maps and more than 100 atlases. 

While maps of New England and its six states represented the lion’s share of the collection in 1811, the Society's founders widely collected maps—both printed and manuscript—that allow researchers to track the development, progress, and history of the United States. Each map provides a unique look at the concerns of the mapmaker and his time—from the isolated and far flung settlements of John Foster’s 1677 map of New England to the looming threat of French fortifications in
in Maine to the scientific and statistical knowledge displayed in Lewis Evans’s maps of Pennsylvania and the middle colonies.

Several rare examples of early battle maps are on display, the earliest being Philip Durell’s 1740 Plan of the Harbour, Town, and Forts of Porto Bello, and a 1746 map of the fortifications of Louisbourg. Detailed and important maps of Revolutionary War battles were donated to the collection by early members. Sebastian Bauman’s elegant map of the Battle of Yorktown was drawn in the days immediately following the decisive American victory and provides a vivid account of the battle.

Although most the early collection was acquired by gift, the MHS took up a subscription to purchase the monumental Atlantic Neptune in 1796. Begun in 1763 by Swiss cartographer Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres, if was hailed as “the most splendid collection of charts, plans, and views ever published.” Several plates are on display including Chart of New York Harbour, Plan of the posts of York & Gloucester, and South Carolina to East Florida; Plan of the Siege of Savannah.The Society's initial map collecting efforts were far from provincial. Members provided early printed maps from all corners of the globe. Featured maps display the range of the mapmaker’s art from the finely engraved city plan of Hamburg to the views of English seaports surrounding the New Map of England & Wales to the on-the-scene reportage of William Frazer's Correct Ground Plan of the Dreadful Fire at Radcliff.

The Atlas du Voyage de La Pérouse is a remarkable pictorial record of the doomed voyage of Jean François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse. A veteran of the Seven Years' War and American Revolution, La Pérouse was appointed by Louis XVI to lead an expedition that would chart previously unknown waters and provide the basis for future voyages of discovery. Encountering members of the British fleet at Botony Bay, Australia, he sent his journals, charts, and letters back to Europe by a returning British ship, a decision that proved fortuitous. He set sail from Australia in March 1788 and was never seen again. In addition to detailed maps and charts, the volume includes wonderfully evocative engravings. The atlas is on display along with a slide show highlighting a selection of the engravings. 

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God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill Opens at the MHS on 27 February

Immerse yourself in the tumultuous times leading to revolution with an exhibition of letters, diaries, political cartoons, newspapers, maps, artifacts, and portraits.

Boston Massacre engravingTo tell the story of the coming of the American Revolution in Boston, God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill follows the evolution of colonial thought and political action through the letters and diaries of men and women caught up in the conflict, together with political cartoons, newspapers, maps, artifacts, and portraits. The exhibition is on display at the Society February 27 through September 4, Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

The story of the coming of the Revolution in Boston is found not only in records that tell us the views of political opponents and military leaders; it also appears in letters and diaries that indicate what events meant to the ordinary men and women who experienced them. Along with celebrated Sons and Daughters of Liberty, this is the story of forgotten patriots who died for a country-to-be, brothers who served against each other in the courtroom, propagandists and war profiteers, merchants whose enterprise was threatened by political chaos, young lovers divided by battle lines, and a teenage African American poet who had to sail to England to secure her freedom.

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MHS Announces Publication of What's New About the "New" Immigration? Traditions and Transformations in the United States since 1965

What's New about the BOSTON, January 2014—As debates over immigration reform echo from local communities to the halls of Congress, the Massachusetts Historical Society is pleased to announce the publication of What's New about the "New" Immigration? Traditions and Transformations in the United States since 1965, co-edited by professors Marilyn Halter of Boston University, Marilynn S. Johnson of Boston College, and Director of Research Conrad Edick Wright and Research Coordinator Katheryn P. Viens of the MHS. The book is available from the publisher Palgrave MacMillan.

Through the ten essays in this collection, readers will discover a wide range of experiences that will inform their understanding of immigration today. Newcomers share the stuff of daily life as they cope with teenagers, worship together, and maintain long-distance family ties using new social media. In other instances, their experiences have been marked by the passage of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, which ushered in the current immigration system. In this new context, the men and women in these pages eke out a living below minimum wage, or practice a profession and contribute to political campaigns. They seek asylum through the federal bureaucracy and navigate the meaning of citizenship. They are Bosnian, Chinese, Mexican, Asian Indian, and Nigerian. They reside in Boston suburbs, the Nuevo South in Georgia, affluent Dallas suburbs, and the heart of Los Angeles. But they are representative of newcomers to communities throughout the United States.

What's New about the "New" Immigration? presents the work of recognized immigration scholars. It is the latest in a series of essay collections based on conferences held at the Society. Founded in 1791, the MHS is an independent research institution that promotes the study of the history of Massachusetts and the nation. It strives to enhance the understanding of our nation’s past and its connection to the present, demonstrating that history is integral to our daily lives. The MHS collections, which include more than 12 million manuscripts and several hundred thousand books, are particularly well-known for extensive holdings of personal papers from three presidents: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. Moreover, the MHS offers many other ways for the public to engage with history, including its publications, exhibitions, and an extensive range of programs including public lectures, tours, academic seminars and conferences, brown-bag lunch talks, and teacher workshops.

What’s New about the "New" Immigration? Traditions and Transformations in the United States since 1965. Marilyn Halter, Marilynn S. Johnson, Katheryn P. Viens, and Conrad Edick Wright, eds. (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014. x, 306 pp. Maps, tables, index. $90.00.) ISBN 978-1-137-48386-7

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The Father of His Country Returns to Boston Opens at the Massachusetts Historical Society on October 24

An exhibition of paintings, accounts, and other memorabilia assembled to commemorate the 225th anniversary of George Washington’s visit to Boston


George Washington portrait by GullagerTwo hundred twenty-five years ago, during his first year in office, Pres. George Washington embarked on a month-long tour of New England including a ten-day visit to Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Historical Society is commemorating this visit with the exhibition The Father of His Country Returns to Boston, October 24, 1789. The exhibition is open in the Treasures Gallery of the Society through December 31, 2014.

In Boston, the president was met by a great procession that paraded beneath a triumphal arch designed by Charles Bulfinch. Young John Quincy Adams observed the great excitement of people everywhere: “At the present moment they indulge themselves in sentiments of joy, arising/resulting . . . from the gratification of their affection in beholding personally among them, the friend, the benefactor, the father of his Country.” To set the scene, the exhibition includes a map of Boston, an engraving by Samuel Hill showing the triumphal arch, and a broadside describing the welcoming procession along with a painting of State Street in 1801 by James Brown Marston.

Featured in the exhibition is one of six portraits of Washington housed in the Society’s collections. The portrait is a life study by Christian Gullager painted during the New England tour. Gullager began his portrait of the president in October, 1789.  Jeremy Belknap, the minister of Federal Street Church in Boston and founder of the MHS, noted Washington's visit and Gullager's effort to portray him in his diary: "While he was in the chapel, Gullager, the painter stole a likeness of him from a Pew behind the pulpit." Belknap added, "Gullager followed Gen W to Ports[mouth] where he sat for 2 – hours for him to take his portrait wh[ich] he did & obtained a very good likeness after wh[ich] he laid aside the sketch wh[ich] he took in the Chapel wh[ich] however was not a bad one."

Also on display are designs of copper buttons made to celebrate Washington’s inauguration, the Bowdoin Bishop Cup from which Washington is said to have drunk punch, a lock of hair that Washington gave to Alexander Hamilton, and a walking stick presented to George Washington by Gov. James Bowdoin. Martha Washington returned the cane to the Bowdoin family after her husband’s death in 1799.

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