Triumph and Tragedy in History
By Kate Melchior, Education
School has started, which means that it is time to start brainstorming for this year’s National History Day projects! Each year National History Day selects a theme that is intentionally broad enough so that students can select topics from anywhere and any time in history. The theme gives students a lens through which they will gain a deeper understanding of history beyond facts and dates, and pushes them to think about perspective, context, and broader impact of historical events.
The 2019 theme has been announced as “Triumph and Tragedy in History.” While this theme sounds straightforward at first, it challenges students and teachers alike to think about the true meaning of both words in a historical context. National History Day advises students to begin with the definition of both words: according to Merriam Webster, the definition of triumph is “a victory or conquest by or as if by military force, or a notable success,” while tragedy is defined a “disastrous event.” While students do not need to necessarily include both triumph and tragedy in their work, many topics will end up including both: a military triumph, for example, might be defined as a tragedy by the losing side. NHD then poses the following questions for students starting to select their topics:
“Can one person’s triumph be another’s tragedy? Can the same person or group suffer from tragedy and triumph at the same time? How does one ultimately triumph after tragedy? Can triumph lead to tragedy?”
The Massachusetts History Day affiliate recently held an Intro to Mass History Day teacher workshop for educators from BPS, Lynn, and other schools in the Boston area. To put themselves in their students’ shoes, teachers built upon NHD’s questions about the meaning of “Triumph and Tragedy” and brainstormed their own questions (see image). Some of their questions included:
- Can war ever be a triumph? Is it always a tragedy?
- How long does triumph last in history?
- Does triumph always equal tragedy for someone else?
- Do people learn from tragedy? Can that lesson be a triumph?
- Can reform be both triumph and tragedy?
- Can whether something is thought of as a triumph or tragedy change through history? Does it depend on who remembers it?
Portrait of Elizabeth Freeman, 1811.
Along with many heritage organizations around the country, the MHS Center for the Teaching of History thought about how the NHD theme connects to our own collections at MHS. We set up a CTH Theme Page with ideas about topics, links to collections, and intriguing objects from our archives that might serve as a launching point for student research into triumph and tragedy. Suggested topics include early Boston smallpox inoculations, Massachusetts women in WWI, Boston marriages and LGBTQ+ history, Wampanoag and English settler interactions, and Elizabeth Freeman’s suit for freedom from slavery.
Henry A. Monroe, a young musician with the 54th Regiment.
Another example is the history of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War. The 54th’s tragic losses at the Battle of Fort Wagner in 1863 are also remembered for triumphant bravery shown and for how the soldiers paved the way for numerous other black units in the Union Army for the remainder of the war. The 54th also fought a lesser-known but just as critical battle against its own government: the fight for equal pay. African American soldiers in the 54th and other Black units refused pay for 18 months until the government granted them the same pay to their white counterparts. While the achievement of equal pay is regarded another triumph for civil rights, numerous tragedies shape this story: the hardship of the pay battle on Black soldiers and their families, the immense tragedy of the US Government’s racism and oppression, and the harsh punishments and even deaths of several soldiers for “mutiny” over the conflict.
How do you think that Triumph and Tragedy can act as perspectives for examining history? What items in our collection do you think connect to the theme?
| Published: Friday, 14 September, 2018, 12:00 AM
Sibley’s Harvard Graduates: Determination and Persistence
By Conrad Edick Wright, Research
One of the happy consequences of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s centuries-long institutional stability has been its ability to carry out extended projects. It is not that we actively try to transform small, modest undertakings into ones that never end, but that we see our commitments through to their conclusion. Determination and persistence are our watchwords. The time horizon of most businesses is usually a matter of a few weeks, months, or years. Even well-endowed educational and cultural institutions rarely project their plans decades into the future. One of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s signature projects, however, Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, a multi-volume collected biography of the college’s alumni, has a history more than a century and three-quarters long, including more than 130 years as a formal MHS activity.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, no one expected that work on Sibley’s Harvard Graduates would still be underway today. To say that Sibley has proceeded by fits and starts would be a triumph of tact. Whether one dates the series from 1842 (the year that Harvard assistant librarian John Langdon Sibley [1804-1885] began to collect source materials for the series), 1859 (when he wrote the first entries), or 1873 (when he published the first volume), the undisputable fact is that the project has been underway for a very long time.
It goes without saying that everyone involved would prefer a more rapid rate of publication. The series was an ancillary responsibility when Sibley began to work on it some 176 years ago, however, and an ancillary responsibility it has remained. One of his many duties as assistant librarian was to maintain an up-to-date record of Harvard’s alumni. The college began no later than 1674 to publish an annotated broadside list of its graduates, Catalogus eorum qui in Collegio Harvardino . . . alicujus gradus laurea donate sunt, so in 1841, when President Josiah Quincy asked (or really instructed) Sibley to add the preparation of the list to his library responsibilities its form and nature were well established. The broadside appeared once every three years. To the extent possible, it included the Latinized names of the known graduates of the college—thus William Ames, A.B. 1645, became Gulielmus Amesius. Graduates who had achieved such honors as elevation to a major public office or admission to a significant cultural institution qualified for appropriate abbreviated notes recognizing these distinctions. When a graduate died, he did not disappear from the list; instead, a star next to his name marked his passing.
As Sibley accumulated reams of biographical information on Harvard men, friends began to urge him to make more of this data than the restricted space of the triennial broadside allowed. There were already models of collected biography to draw on, notably Athenae Oxonienses: An Exact History of All the Writers and Bishops Who Have Had their Education in the University of Oxford from 1500 to 1690 by Anthony Wood (1632-1695), but, model or not, preparing volumes of Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, later known simply as Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, still proved to be a time consuming task. Shortly before Sibley’s death in 1885, he completed his third and final volume; he had taken his story from Harvard’s first graduating class in 1642 through the class of 1689. All told, he had written entries on 301 graduates. Some sketches, on subjects about whom little was known, were only a few paragraphs long. In contrast, the entry on the Puritan minister Cotton Mather, A.B. 1678, no doubt colonial America’s most prolific author, ran 153 pages, including a list 117 pages long of his 456 works.
John Langdon Sibley and his wife, Charlotte, lived with unusual frugality; at his death, after providing for Charlotte, he pledged to the Society about $150,000, to that point its largest bequest. Although the legacy could be used for a number of different purposes, the continuation of Sibley’s Harvard Graduates was the closest to his heart. Nearly half a century passed before another scholar, Clifford K. Shipton (1902-1973), resumed the series. Between 1930, when Shipton began the work, and the posthumous publication of volume 17 in 1975, he prepared fourteen volumes of sketches, a massive achievement that carried the project from the class of 1690 through the class of 1771. After a sixteen-year pause, work on the series resumed in 1989. Volume 18 appeared in 1999. Publication of volumes 19 and 20 is in progress, and research and writing for volume 21, which will take the series through the class of 1784, is far along.
From time to time, scholars and administrators at other American colleges have toyed with the possibility of undertaking their own counterpart to Sibley and two institutions have produced valuable reference tools. Between 1885 and 1912, Franklin Bowditch Dexter (1842-1920) brought out six volumes of entries on Yale alumni from the school’s founding in 1701 through the class of 1815. At Princeton, between 1976 and 1991, a team of scholars issued five volumes of sketches of that college’s graduates and non-graduates through the class of 1794. In 2005, the MHS and the New England Historic Genealogical Society brought out a CD-ROM, Colonial Collegians: Biographies of Those Who Attended American Colleges before the War for Independence, that collected all the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton entries through the class of 1774, together with parallel material on the graduates of William and Mary, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Dartmouth, Rutgers, the medical schools at Penn and Columbia, and William Tennant’s Log College, a Presbyterian seminary.
Recent Sibley volumes, both published and in the works, as well as Colonial Collegians testify to the Society’s belief that even after well over a century it has not quite satisfied its commitment to John Langdon Sibley and his Harvard graduates. In the coming years, look for more Sibley volumes in print, including those now in press. And look for Colonial Collegians, currently available in our reading room as a CD-ROM, to be accessible one day as a free reference source on the MHS’s website.
| Published: Friday, 31 August, 2018, 12:00 AM
Travel Without Moving : Adam Matthew Digital and the History of Tourism
By Katie Loughrey, Reader Services
As summer draws to its inevitable end, I am somewhat grateful (In case you haven’t noticed, it has been a hot one!) and somewhat wistful. Although I’ve been privileged to take several trips this season, I am someone always thinking of the next place left to explore, even if that place is as close as downtown Boston or a small piece of New England I haven’t yet seen in my lifetime of living here. Luckily, as a library assistant here at MHS and an aspiring archivist, I do always have an option to turn to when needing to be transported to a new place: the archives.
Quite the useful tool in my vicarious travels has been the Adam Matthew Digital online database Leisure, Travel and Mass Culture: The History of Tourism. This digital collection - available by subscription - highlights materials from several contributing institutions around the world, including the Massachusetts Historical Society, revolving around the birth and growth of travel and mass tourism between 1850 and 1980. The collection is made up of all sorts of ephemera from photographs, travel brochures, and ads to promotional tourism films. One can explore the collection by curated themes, country or region, contributing institution, or even within a set chronological timeline. It can be accessed online here at the MHS, or within any contributing or subscribing library.
Below I’ve highlighted a few items from our collections available on this database, and how they contribute to our understanding of how Americans traveled and toured New England in the past two centuries.
Many of the more eye-catching items are those tourism guides and brochures by transportation and tourism companies trying to entice consumers to be whisked away on a seasonal adventure of a lifetime. A prime example is this guide, Outdoors in New England, published in 1909 by the Boston & Maine Railroad General Passenger Department.
Inside this colorful volume, are nearly 50 pages of enthusiastic prose on the many leisure activities in the different states of New England, “the ideal, the perfect resting-up section of America.” Accompanied by both photographs and tri-colored illustrations of serene activities like boating and fishing, it captures the ever increasing narrative of the commodity of vacation as a respite from the tedium and stress of work and everyday life that was becoming available to the average American as railroads commercialized.
As the next decade approaches, more of these brochures became geared toward automobile travel, such as Real Tour to the Berkshires, published by the Real Tour Association of Lenox, MA. Including a fold-out map of the routes, the guide provides a detailed description of a scenic drive from New York through Connecticut and into the Berkshire area of western Massachusetts, with suggestions of accommodations and activities along the ride.
Aside from brochures and advertisements, a large part of our travel related collections on this database, and in general, are travel diaries. The diaries of Eva E. Blackwelder record her travels through Boston and surrounding towns, from winter 1938 to spring 1939. Eva’s entries are quite thorough, noting the weather, the sights seen, town histories learned on her tours and the quality, or lack thereof, of food at each of their accommodations. Not unlike myself, Eva seems to have kept most of the brochures, maps, photos and newspaper clippings collected along her journey to remember these places by. A notable realization as one leafs through these pages is how most of the sites she visited nearly a hundred years ago - the many stops of the Freedom Trail, Plymouth village, the House of Seven Gables in Salem - remain the draw for many tourists to this area today due to eastern Massachusetts’ historic past.
Eva E. Blackwelder Scrapbook , c.1938-1957.
Eva E. Blackwelder Scrapbook [Brochures], 1935.
Eva E. Blackwelder Scrapbook [Brochures], c.1938-1957.
Here’s a final nostalgic image from Eva’s journal - soon to be just a faint memory for Massachusetts travelers - physical turnpike tolls. On her way back into Boston at one point she writes:
The toll houses were constructed with large gates which swing across the way as reminders to the traveler that he must help pay for the road.
The toll rates for passing over the turnpike were 25 cents for one person with a carriage of 4 wheels drawn by four horses. Carts and wagons with 2 horses paid half this amount… horse chaise, 10 cents. A man on horseback 5 cents. Cattle one cent and sheep and swine 3 cents a dozen. According to the general turnpike laws no toll could be collected from a passenger on foot; nor could toll be collected from those going to or from public worship within the limits of any town.
It’s hard to decide which is more surreal - a 25 cent toll or dozens of sheep on I-90! Either way, I hope this post inspires you to venture out on one last day trip before it’s too late.
| Published: Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 3:31 PM
The Nathaniel T. Allen Papers and Photographs
By Susan Martin, Collections Services
I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about two terrific collections available for research at the MHS, the papers and photographs of Nathaniel T. Allen of West Newton, Mass. The Allens were a truly remarkable family. Nathaniel, his wife Carrie, and their three daughters (as well as many other relatives) were educators and reformers of the 19th and 20th century, and these fascinating collections are a very welcome addition to our library. I processed the photographs, and my colleague Laura Lowell processed the papers.
This cabinet card photograph (Photo. #247.311), taken in 1882, is my favorite of the Allen family. Seated are Nathaniel Topliff Allen (1823-1903) and his wife Caroline Swift (Bassett) Allen (1830-1915). Standing behind them, from left to right in reverse age order, are their three children: Lucy Ellis Allen (1867-1943), Sarah Caroline Allen (1861-1897), and Fanny Bassett Allen (1857-1913). A son, Nathaniel, Jr., had died as a child.
Nathaniel Allen was the founder and principal of the West Newton English and Classical School (familiarly known as “the Allen School”) from 1854 to 1900. The school was progressive, co-educational, and integrated, and its student body included African-American, Latino/a, and Asian boys and girls, as well as international students. It was also one of the first schools to incorporate physical education into the curriculum. Nathaniel’s wife Carrie worked with him to run the school and look after the students, many of whom boarded in various Allen family homes. Several aunts, uncles, and cousins also served as teachers and administrators.
This photograph (Photo. #247.874) of the Allen School at 35 Webster Street, West Newton, dates from 1886. Carrie is seated in the middle wearing a light-colored shawl, with Nathaniel immediately to her right. You can also see some exercise equipment in the yard.
After Nathaniel died in 1903, his oldest and youngest daughters, Fanny and Lucy, opened the Misses Allen School for Girls at the same location. Their middle sister Sarah, unfortunately, had died in childbirth in 1897 at the age of 36.
Laura and I processed the papers and photographs concurrently, and I think our work really benefited from the collaboration. We arranged the collections to mirror each other, for the most part, with separate series of family and school material. This division was trickier than it sounds, because many family members were also teachers and students. I frequently had to move photographs from one section to the other as I figured out who everyone was. (For more information about how we process photographs at the MHS, see my earlier Beehive post.)
The photograph collection contains 1,030 photographs, primarily individual and group portraits of Allen family members and students spanning almost 100 years. While Laura got to know the Allens from their letters, diaries, and other writings, I got to know them from their faces. The collection was completely disorganized when it came to us, but by the end I’d gotten pretty good at identifying people and could even distinguish baby pictures of the three sisters!
It was a lot of fun to share information and compare impressions with Laura as we worked. When she came across a particularly interesting person, she was curious to see what he or she looked like. I also went to her to learn more about the people who intrigued me. For example, I loved the way Lucy, the youngest Allen, usually smiled directly into the camera while other subjects looked stiff or coy with a slightly averted gaze.
The story of the Allens has so many fascinating threads to follow that we hope these collections will be of interest to a wide variety of researchers. For example, Edwin and Gustaf Nielsen were two brothers who, through the intervention of the poet Celia Thaxter, were taken as wards into the Allen home and became de facto members of the family. There’s also Fanny Allen’s decades-long friendship with Pauline Odescalchi, Princess of Hungary. Not to mention the fact that the Allens played an active part in the anti-slavery, suffrage, temperance, peace, and educational reform movements, rubbing elbows with the likes of William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Horace Mann, and Lucy Stone.
Nathaniel and Carrie Allen had no surviving grandchildren. Fanny and Lucy never married, and Sarah’s only daughter died two days after she did in 1897. But this family of teachers clearly had a profound and far-reaching influence on the thousands of boys and girls who attended the Allen School and Misses Allen School. Among them were future writers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, activists, soldiers, at least one actor, and a Supreme Court justice. In my next post, I’ll tell you more about them.
| Published: Friday, 13 July, 2018, 12:00 AM
The Adams Papers Digital Edition Turns Ten!
By Amanda M. Norton, Adams Papers
On July 1, 2008, the Massachusetts Historical Society launched the Founding Families Digital Editions, the home of the Adams Papers Digital Edition. This resource converted 45 years’ worth of published material, comprising 32 volumes and three generations of Adamses, and made them more accessible than ever with keyword searching, a cumulative index, and hyperlinked cross references on a freely available website. This massive multi-department undertaking took three years, financial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Harvard University Press, as well as technical support from Rotunda, the electronic imprint of the University of Virginia Press. Using a defined subset of the Text Encoding Initiative, an XML-based tagging language designed for the digital markup of various kinds of texts in the humanities, the website retains the editorial standards of the original letterpress volumes, while making the presentation more flexible for the digital environment. As originally conceived, this Founding Families project was to house both the Adams Papers and the seven volumes of the Winthrop Family Papers; however, over time, the projects were separated and the Founding Families page was renamed to simply the Adams Papers Digital Edition.
Over the last ten years, the website has only increased in its value to scholars and the public as thirteen more volumes have been made available, additional search and browse features were added, and displays were updated.
This summer we are pleased to announce that to celebrate its tenth anniversary, the Adams Papers Digital Edition has undergone a complete redesign. The all new web platform enhances not only its readability but also its usability, with more tailored search options, the ability to save your most recent search, and a better mobile experience. Last, but certainly not least, the relaunched website benefits from the addition of a new volume, Papers of John Adams, Volume 17. This volume includes a momentous occasion for both the Adamses and the nation—John Adams greeting King George III as the first minister from the newly independent United States. John’s detailed account of this dramatic meeting, written in code to the secretary of foreign affairs, John Jay, is just one highlight from a volume that also includes the first substantial correspondence between Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the beginnings of treaty negotiations with the Barbary States of North Africa.
While some of the Adams Papers volumes are also available on both the National Archives’ Founders Online and Rotunda’s Founding Era sites, only the Adams Papers Digital Edition website includes all of the historical documents and editorial content from all of the digitized volumes in one place; and the Adams Papers Editorial Project with the Massachusetts Historical Society is committed to continuing to expand its digital offerings. Visit our new site at www.masshist.org/publications/adams-papers.
| Published: Friday, 29 June, 2018, 12:00 AM