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July 2014

Eight Is Enough: The Worcester Family in the Civil War

MHS sealThe MHS recently acquired a collection of the papers of Joseph E. Worcester, publisher of dictionaries, almanacs, gazetteers, atlases, and other reference works. Most of the collection relates to his lexicographical career. One letter, written in the midst of the Civil War, caught the eye of an MHS staff member. On 20 April 1863, Joseph wrote to his sister Deborah (Worcester) Loomis from his home in Cambridge, Mass. The letter starts out discussing some family business related to the death of their brother-in-law Daniel French and the disposition of French's property. Then he changes the subject: "You know, I suppose, that we have eight nephews in the army, but how recent information you may have had respecting them, I know not." Intrigued, our staff identified and researched the fates of all eight nephews. Joseph continues the letter with thoughts about conflict itself: "This most iniquitous war, after two years of most destructive prosecution, seems now no nearer a successful termination than it did one or two years ago. I have all along had a hope that the war would lead to the extermination of the cause of it, that is slavery, but whether this will be effected seems doubtful."

From the Stacks: The Transcendental Tracings of Christopher Pearse Cranch

Cranch 'transparent eyeball'Christopher Pearse Cranch was a transcendentalist artist and poet. Born in 1813 in what is now Alexandria, Va., he eventually made his way to Boston to study divinity at Harvard in 1835. While at Harvard, he became associated with the New England Transcendentalists. Throughout his life, Cranch published several volumes of poetry, served as an editor and contributor for James Freeman Clarke's Western Messenger, wrote frequently for various periodicals, published a pair of children's books, and did a blank verse translation of Virgil's Aeneid. Despite all of this, it is his drawings for which he is most remembered, most of which were not published until they were rediscovered by F. DeWolfe Miller in 1951. A researcher in the Society's reading room was recently working with a collection of Cranch sketches. Prior to returning the material to the stacks, a staff member decided to have a peek at the collection. The first thing he saw was a drawing showing an eyeball raised on long, spindly legs and wearing a hat while striding through an unembellished countryside. The "transparent eyeball" is a facetious illustration of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Read more about Christopher Cranch and see a selection of his sketches.

Visitors from Bahrain Tour the MHS

Bahrain visitorsOn Tuesday, 24 June, the MHS hosted two special visitors from Bahrain: Dr. Khaldoon Ali Abdulrahman Abahussain, Executive Director, Shaikh Isa National Library and Cultural Center; and Dr. Mohamed Ali Mohamed Al Khozai, a member of the Board of Trustees at the same organization. The visit was arranged by World Boston on behalf of the U.S. State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program. With the aid of an interpreter, the two men visited several major institutions in Boston and along the east coast to learn about the development of library collections, building partnerships between institutions, best practices in library collection and facility management, and the role of libraries as cultural and community centers. MHS Librarian Elaine Heavey and Director of Communications Carol Knauff spoke with the men about collection acquisition, the Society's relationships with other institutions, growing our exhibition program, and reaching out to new audiences. The visitors enjoyed a tour of the library, focusing on both collection access and security best practices, and a small show-and-tell of notable items from the Society's collection.

MHS Library Offers New Photography Service

MHS Reading RoomThe MHS library recently acquired a 35mm point-and-shoot digital camera to create reference-quality reproductions of items too fragile to place on the photocopier. In the past, we have often had to deny researchers' requests for reference reproductions of items in bound volumes and other fragile materials. The addition of the camera offers much more flexibility in providing access to MHS collections. Reference reproductions of most MHS-owned materials can be requested by visiting the library or by contacting the library staff at or by calling 617-646-0542.

Save the Date! MHS Graduate Student Reception

Calling all graduate students and faculty! Mark your calendars to join us on Thursday, 18 September, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, for our fifth annual Graduate Student Reception for students in history, American Studies, and related fields. This event is free of charge; details will follow later this summer. In the meantime, e-mail with any questions.

Object of the Month

"Not a dream": A Portrait from Margaret Hall's World War I Memoir

Margaret Hall photographMassachusetts-born American Red Cross worker Margaret Hall took this portrait of Mildred Mitchell, a fellow volunteer, in France, late in 1918. For a photograph taken so close to the Western Front that the guns could be heard more or less constantly, the image might seem unusually serene. Mitchell sits in front of a fresco, staring into the distance with a curious expression. Whatever the original intent behind the posing and taking of this picture may have been, Hall gave it the caption "Not a dream." The contemplative scene represents the exception, not the rule, of a volunteer's life in wartime France. Read more about life on the battlefront.

Looking at the Civil War: Massachusetts Finds Her Voice

July 1864: " . . . we are crawling into the Confederacy, taking the matter of driving Joe Johnston out of his strongholds with as much coolness as the weather will permit . . . "

letter from George A. ThayerLetter from George A. Thayer to Lorin Low Dame, 17 July 1864

This 17 July 1864 letter offers the rather unique perspective of one soldier writing to another while both men are serving at the front in different theaters of the war. Writing from Vinings, Ga., as his regiment participates in the Atlanta Campaign, George Augustine Thayer, a captain in the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, corresponds with Lorin Low Dame, who is serving in New Orleans. The letter conveys Thayer's pride and frustration as he shares his thoughts about the leadership of the Union Army, the bounty system, and the progress of his current campaign. Read more about George A. Thayer and Lorin Low Dame.

On View

Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War

Margaret Hall photoTo commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I, the MHS has organized this exhibition focusing on two of the hundreds of women from the Commonwealth who went to France as members of the U.S. armed forces, the Red Cross, and other war relief organizations. From the Society's extraordinary collection of women's remembrances, the exhibition features photographs, letters, diaries, and memorabilia related to Margaret Hall and Eleanor (Nora) Saltonstall, Red Cross volunteers in France. The exhibition highlights Hall's large-format photographs of the battlefront on loan from the Cohasset Historical Society. Both women were keen observers of the climactic months of the war and depicted what they witnessed in vivid detail. Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country is open at the MHS through 24 January 2015.

Visit, a companion website, featuring 246 of Hall's photographs and 29 other illustrative items from her typescript narrative.

On Tuesday, 15 July, at 6:00 PM, Margaret Higonnet of the University of Connecticut will present "What Is Focus?" Margaret Hall's Battle Country. Also speaking will be Susan Solomon, Assistant Professor at Bogaziçi University, and Suzanne Diefenbach, Margaret Hall's great-niece.

MHS Events Calendar

Saturday, 12 July 10:00 AM

MHS Tour
The History and Collections of the MHS

Monday, 14 July 12:00 PM

Cautious Romantics: The Dana Family of Boston as the Interpretive Key to a Larger Discourse
Jonathan Koefoed, Indiana University, Purdue University, Columbus

Tuesday, 15 July 12:00 PM

Land, Liberty, & Property: Surveyors & the Production of Empire in British North America
Mark L. Thompson, University of Groningen

Tuesday, 15 July 6:00 PM

Book Launch
"What Is Focus?" Margaret Hall's Battle Country
Margaret Higonnet, University of Connecticut
Susan Solomon, Bougaziçi University, Istanbul
Suzanne Diefenbach
Pre-talk reception at 5:30 PM
Registration required

Wednesday, 16 July 12:00 PM

Americans in Chinese Treaty Ports: Trade & Diplomacy in 19th-Century U.S.-China Relations
Laurie Dickmeyer, University of California, Irvine

Saturday, 19 July 10:00 AM

MHS Tour
The History and Collections of the MHS

Monday, 21 July, to Tuesday, 22 July 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Teacher Workshop
Massachusetts Women in the First World War
$75 Registration Fee
Contact for more information
Registration required

Monday, 21 July 12:00 PM

Cosmopolitan Parochialism: Magistrates & Imperial Revolution in New England, 1760-1800
Brendan Gillis, Indiana University

Tuesday, 22 July 12:00 PM

Watershed Decisions: Arthur Shurcliff's Vision of the Quabbin Reservoir, 1922-1945
Jeffrey Egan, University of Connecticut

Wednesday, 23 July 12:00 PM

The Virgin Vote: Young Americans in the Age of Popular Politics
Jonathan Grinspan, University of Virginia/ Jefferson Scholars Foundation

Saturday, 26 July 10:00 AM

MHS Tour
The History and Collections of the MHS

Wednesday, 30 July, to Thursday, 31 July 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM

Teacher Workshop
Old Towns/New Country: The First Years of a New Nation
This workshop will take place in Milford, N.H., and Pepperell, Mass., in partnership with the Freedom's Way National Heritage Area
$25 fee
Contact for more information
Registration required

Wednesday, 30 July 12:00 PM

John Barleycorn vs. Sir Richard Rum: Alcohol, the Atlantic, & the Distilling of Colonial Identity, 1650-1800
Kristen Burton, University of Texas at Arlington

Friday, 1 August 12:00 PM

Character Detectives: Female Physiognomists in the Early American Republic
Rachel Walker, University of Maryland

Saturday, 2 August 10:00 AM

MHS Tour
The History and Collections of the MHS

Monday, 4 August 12:00 PM

The Labor of Self-Making in New England Mill Women's Poetry
Robin Smith, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Wednesday, 6 August 12:00 PM

"The Day of Sainthood Has Passed": American Abolitionists & the Golden Moment of the Civil War, 1861-1865
Frank Cirillo, University of Virginia

All events are free and open to the public and held at the MHS unless otherwise noted. Reservations are requested for most events. There is a charge to receive seminar papers in advance.

For complete event and RSVP information, visit the MHS online calendar:

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