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Beehive series: Around MHS

Welcome to Our 2018-2019 MHS-NEH Fellows!

The Massachusetts Historical Society’s Research Department is pleased to announce our two 2018-2019 MHS-NEH Long-Term Fellows, Mara Caden and Brent Sirota. Mara Caden will be researching the mint and early economic conditions in New England, and revising her book manuscript, which comes out of her Yale University dissertation, “Mint Conditions: The Politics and Geography of Money in Britain and Its Empire, 1650-1750.” Brent Sirota is an associate professor at North Carolina State University, and will be researching and writing his second monograph, Things Set Apart: An Alternate History of the Separation of Church and State, examining how people in the 18th- and 19th-century British Atlantic maintained their religion separate from the state after 1689.

Caden and Sirota join a renowned group of current and former MHS-NEH fellows. The long-term fellowship began in 2002, and the National Endowment for the Humanities has helped to support long-term fellows every year since. NEH support has allowed the MHS to have fellows spend four to twelve months as not only researchers, but as part of the scholarly and collegial fabric of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Our 2017-2018 fellows have presented at MHS seminars and brown bag lunches, and prior fellows have presented at MHS conferences and elsewhere in the city of Boston during their tenure here, and often return to the MHS to serve on committees for seminars, conferences, and future fellowship selections. As well as taking the opportunity to share their research and historical expertise in these formal settings, our MHS-NEH fellows—many of whom are established scholars in their fields—also foster an intellectual atmosphere at the Society by taking local graduate students and short-term fellows under their wing. They attend other researchers’ presentations, invite them for coffee, and offer advice on archives to visit, collections to search, and ways to read documents, artifacts, and silences. Our long-term fellows come from History, English, Political Science, Drama, and other fields, and their innovative methods and deep understandings of their field have broadened research horizons for younger fellows and students for over a decade.

Of course, such erudite scholars also use their long-term fellowships to research and write, and have published impressive works on a wide variety of subjects. From the fellowship’s first year in 2002-2003, we had Walter Woodward, who was working on Prospero’s America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676. There is 2003-2004 fellow Woody Holton’s research project, “Minds Afire,” now the book, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution; Lisa Wilson’s A History of Stepfamilies in Early America; Lisa Tetrault’s The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898; Vincent Carretta’s biography of Phyllis Wheatley; Martha Hodes’s Mourning Lincoln; Linford Fisher’s The Indian Great Awakening; and many, many more stellar works produced and forthcoming. (Keep an eye on our fellows’ publications page to read what comes out next!)

In sum, we couldn’t be more excited to have Caden and Sirota join an already prestigious array of long-term fellows in enriching the field with the scholarship they’ll produce here, and enriching the MHS with the expertise that they’ll share with young fellows and researchers during their stay. And we couldn’t offer any of this without the generous support and encouragement from the National Endowment for the Humanities!

(For more on the National Endowment for the Humanities, see their webpage. For more on our long-term MHS-NEH fellowships and past recipients, please visit


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 16 March, 2018, 10:36 AM

MHS Programs Explore Aspects of African American History

This past November, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar spoke at the MHS about their new book The Annotated African American Folktales. This publication presents nearly 150 African American stories, among them familiar Brer Rabbit classics, but also stories like “The Talking Skull” and “Witches Who Ride,” as well as out-of-print tales from the 1890s’ Southern Workman. Professor Gates’ reflections on how folktales weaved into his own personal history made the power of these stories very real, while professor Tatar helped place these stories in historical context and as a part of the American literary tradition.

Both Gates and Tatar are faculty members at Harvard University. Professor Tatar is the John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures. She chairs the Program in Folklore and Mythology, where she teaches courses in German Studies, Folklore, and Children’s Literature. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. He is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, a literary scholar, a journalist, a cultural critic, and an Overseer and long term friend to the MHS.

For the audience, it was a captivating opportunity to hear new tales and revisit some familiar stories. These folktales are so full of wisdom, humor, whimsy, and intelligence that anyone who reads or hears them must understand that they should hold a prominent place in the Western literary canon. However, the personal stories of when these tales were first heard or memories of them being shared made the evening truly special.

Kicking off African American History Month, we have made this program available to all on our website. Over the course of the month we are hosting several programs that explore aspects of African American history.


February 8 - 6:00 pm

Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments that Redeemed America with Douglas Edgarton (Le Moyne College)

One of the most treasured objects belonging to the Society’s collection is the battle sword of Robert Gould Shaw, the leader of the courageous 54th Massachusetts infantry, the first black regiment in the north. The prominent Shaw family of Boston and New York had long been involved in reform, from antislavery to feminism, and their son, Robert, took up the mantle of his family’s progressive stances, though perhaps more reluctantly. In this lecture, historian Douglas R. Egerton focuses on the entire Shaw family during the war years and how preceding generations have dealt with their legacy.

$10 (free for MHS members)


February 20 - 6:00 pm

Growing Up with the Country with Kendra Field (Tufts University)

Following the lead of her own ancestors, Kendra Field’s epic family history chronicles the westward migration of freedom’s first generation in the fifty years after emancipation. Field traces their journey out of the South to Indian Territory, where they participated in the development of black towns and settlements. When statehood, oil speculation, and segregation imperiled their lives, some launched a back-to-Africa movement, while others moved on to Canada and Mexico. Interweaving black, white, and Indian histories, Field’s narrative explores how ideas about race and color powerfully shaped the pursuit of freedom.

$10 (free for MHS members)


February 26 - 6:00 pm

Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court with Paul Finkelman (Gratz College)

The three most important Supreme Court Justices before the Civil War—Chief Justices John Marshall and Roger B. Taney and Associate Justice Joseph Story—upheld the institution of slavery in ruling after ruling. These opinions cast a shadow over the Court and the legacies of these men, but historians have rarely delved deeply into the personal and political ideas and motivations they held. In Supreme Injustice Paul Finkelman establishes an authoritative account of each justice’s proslavery position, the reasoning behind his opposition to black freedom, and the incentives created by his private life.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 5 February, 2018, 12:00 AM

Bring Your Students to MHS!

December is knockingon the door which means that the Center for the Teaching of History at the MHS is wrapping-up its inaugural semester of class visits! This fall, the MHS hosted a number of programs for middle school, high school, and college students who want to learn about primary sources and experience the work of historians first-hand.

Students getting up close and personal with MHS documents.

Our collection of Revolutionary War-era material is popular with middle and high school classes who come to MHS to learn about the real people behind Boston’s Freedom Trail. For example, Cohasset-based Chris Luvisi’s AP US History class examined artifacts and documents related to the Boston boycott of British goods in the 1760s and 1770s, including the 1767 “Address to the Ladies” which encouraged Boston women to forgo imported British luxuries in order to appear “Fair, charming, true, lovely, and cleaver” to young men. After taking on identities of Boston craft workers, merchants, shopkeepers, and domestic housewives, students voted on whether to support or ignore the nonimportation agreement. While most students supported the boycott in theory, a number of them admitted that they would likely keep buying their imported tea under the table!

Students were excited to get a close look at a bottle of tea leaves collected from Dorchester Neck the morning after the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

Vincent Bradley’s AP US History class from Catholic Memorial School also engaged with the history of the Revolution, this time through the perspective of John Adams. Students explored how Adams’ views on protest and dissent changed over time by looking at his opinions on the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, Shay’s Rebellion, and the Alien and Sedition Acts. Bradley’s class also saw historians in action while participating in one of MHS’ Brown Bag Lunches, where they heard Kabria Baumgartner from the University of New Hampshire speak about her current research on Black girlhood and the desegregation of Massachusetts public schools. Catholic Memorial students asked Professor Baumgartner questions about her work and listened as she workshopped her research with other local historians and visitors.

Students deciphered John Adams's notes from the Boston Massacre trials to learn about his motivation for defending British soldiers. 

As the state coordinators for Massachusetts History Day, the Center for the Teaching of History (CTH) also helps many students learn research strategies for their upcoming projects. Megan Brady’s eighth grade history club from the John F. Kennedy School in Somerville came in on a Saturday so that they could learn about the collections at MHS and practice working with primary sources. Her students, whose National History Day interests range from early Pilgrim-Wampanoag relations to LGBTQ History in the 1920s, posed thoughtful questions to Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey while looking at Sarah Gooll Putnam’s Civil War-era childhood diary and a daguerreotype of author and reformer Annie Fields, who lived in a “Boston marriage” with her partner Sarah Orne Jewett for decades. You can learn more about National History Day and find inspiration for your own projects at the Massachusetts History Day website, the National History Day site, or at our own Center webpage.

Sarah Gooll Putnam's diary entry on 14 April 1865. The young artist drew her own expression at hearing of President Lincoln's asssassination to illustrate how she felt at the news.

The Center sometimes partners with Library Reader Services to help host college visits as well, which gives the perfect excuse to explore more specific and unusual themes in the MHS collections. Erika Boeckeler brought two of her Northeastern University classes this fall to explore Children’s Literature and Shakespeare in America, leading to rediscovery of gems in our stacks such as a homemade morality tale titled “Adventures of a ruffle” that was written by Anne Harrod Adams, John and Abigail’s daughter-in-law! On another day, Cathy McCarron’s class joined us from Middlesex Community College to explore Elizabeth Freeman and Quock Walker’s court petitions for manumission and their leadership in ending slavery in Massachusetts. We discussed the different types of primary sources that illustrate the lives of individuals who previously lacked a voice in traditional historical narratives.

If you would like to bring students to visit us, or have the Center for the Teaching of History come to you, please contact the Center for the Teaching of History at All of our student programs are free of charge, and we would love to work with you to create a memorable program with your class!  For more information on our programming, visit the Center at

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 12:00 AM

Meet Your Archivists!

October is Archives Month, and to celebrate our wonderful archivists, we would like to introduce them to you! Every day the very talented and skilled archivists of the MHS work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that theSociety's collections are safe, properly preserved, well-organized, and accessible for use today and for future generations.

To introduce them to you, we asked our archivists a few fun questions, and here are their answers:


Collection Services:

Katherine H. Griffin, Nora Saltonstall Preservation Librarian

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Kathy: William Sturgis papers.

Why did you become an Archivist?

Kathy: I was in a “public history” master’s degree program at Northeastern University, thinking I wanted to work in museums, and I had an adjunct professor from the MHS.  We had a tour of the MHS for one of the classes, and I was completely captivated by manuscripts and paper conservation.

Several years later, a position came open at the MHS and Anne Bentley called me and told me to apply, which I did, and Voila!

What is a fun fact about you?

Kathy: I never wanted to live in a city, but now it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.


Peter Steinberg, Digital Projects Production Specialist 

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Peter: The Wilder Dwight letter he wrote as he lay dying.

Why did you become an Archivist?

Peter: For the benefits.

What is a fun fact about you?

Peter: I like All Bran.



Reader Services:

Alexandra Bush, Library Assistant

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Alex: It’s hard to choose a favorite, but one item from our collections that I really love is Christopher P. Cranch’s 1839 journal (part of the Christopher P. Cranch papers). It includes some great cartoons and rough doodles representing Cranch’s interest in the Transcendentalist movement. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these is an early sketch of Cranch’s famous “transparent eyeball” cartoon, which is based on a passage from Emerson’s Nature. (Here’s a link to the digitized version of the journal ->

Why did you become an Archivist?

Alex: I chose to become an archivist because I wanted an outlet for my love of history that allowed me to do my own research as well as help other people who also love history. I’m also really into organizing things!

What is a fun fact about you?

Alex: I’m an aspiring artist and also a dweeb who secretly loves video games.

Favorite archival tool?

Alex: The microspatula!


Brendan Kieran, Library Assistant

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Brendan: One item I enjoyed working with, and writing about, this year is the volume of Cigar Factory Tobacco Strippers’ Union records, 1899-1904, that is included in the Society’s collection of Boston Central Labor Union (Mass.) records. It was exciting to read about some ways in which women in Boston organized and responded to their working conditions during that period. Eventually, I’d like to look through other items in this collection and learn more about union activities in late 19th- and early 20th-century Boston.

Why did you become an Archivist?

Brendan: I gained my initial exposure to the field as an archives volunteer during my junior year of college. After I graduated, I sought out more opportunities in libraries and archives, and, as I gained more experience, I came to the conclusion that this was what I wanted to do long-term. Now I’m in library school, and I’m definitely happy that I chose this field!

What is a fun fact about you?

Brendan: My go-to fun fact is that I’m an identical twin!


 Erin Weinman, Library Assistant

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Erin: It is really hard to pick just one item, but I absolutely love our collection of Powder Horns from the American Revolution. The designs on the horns are so interesting to look at and make each one very unique. They always give such a unique perspective on the soldiers who fought during the war. They also show who can and cannot draw, which I think we can all relate to today!

Why did you become an Archivist?

Erin: I absolutely love history, and I was very active in gaining experience in museums and archives growing up. I was introduced to public history in college which put a lot of emphasis on the importance archives had in the field. I knew right away that I wanted to be the person who assisted researchers in gaining access to archival records, create exhibits, and educate future historians. It has been very rewarding to work first-hand with materials and provide reference to such a diverse group of researchers. To me, there is nothing more important than having full access to our historical past!

What is a fun fact about you?

Erin: It is my goal to visit all of the National Parks in our country! I have been slowly making my way through the parks in the North East, but there are over 450 to visit!



Dan Hinchen, Reference Librarian

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Dan: I can't say that I have a single favorite. Usually, it is whatever collection/item I am currently working with. Recently, while working on a reference question, I did some digging through a small collection of Smith family papers. Included are some logbooks and account books kept by Capt. William Smith - apparently, the first ship captain to pilot a U. S. ship to Siam (Thailand), in 1818. Inside the volumes are several pencil drawings of various vessels, including a couple that depict the U. S. S. Constitution engaged in battle with the H. M. S. Gurriere, an event that was part of the War of 1812.

Why did you become an Archivist?

Dan: After college I was working a few part-time jobs and not pursuing a career in biology. Library school is something that was suggested by a couple of people near and dear to me, and I liked the sound of working in archives as a profession. Ten years later and here I am!

What is a fun fact about you?

Dan: In the summertime I have a second life, my weekends lived in the kitchen of a small clam shack on Cape Cod. Fry or die!



Now that you have had the chance to meet some of our archivists, come visit the MHS to meet more of our fascinating staff. We welcome questions about the MHS collections as well as the archival profession, and would be happy to tell you more! Email us at or call us with any questions at 617-646-0532. 


Happy Archives Month from all of us at the MHS!


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 13 October, 2017, 3:50 PM

George Washington: John Quincy Adams’s “great Patron”

For as long as teenagers have had bedrooms, they’ve been pinning their role models up on the wall—a favorite singer, a beloved actor, the best ball player. When John Quincy Adams was fifteen, his bedroom at The Hague held a gilded framed picture of General George Washington. Like many of his contemporaries, John Quincy had the deepest respect for the “truly great and illustrious” Washington, a respect that endured throughout his life.

John Quincy's portrait was likely a copy of John Trumbull's 1780 portrait of Washington. 

[Accessed on 29 August 2017 at:]


Twelve years after the portrait of Washington was removed from the wall, John Quincy Adams discovered he would be returning to The Hague thanks to the general’s orders. On May 27, 1794, John Adams wrote to his wife that, “the President has it in contemplation to Send your son to Holland.” When he wrote to his son, he discussed the appointment at The Hague in vague terms, calling the nomination “the Result of the Presidents own Observations and Reflections.” The next day, John Adams penned, “The Senate have this Day unanimously advised and consent to the Appointment of John Quincy Adams to the Hague.”

Just at the beginning of his law career in Boston, John Quincy felt too young and inexperienced to deserve the honor. Nevertheless, he did not believe his father would have suggested it to the president. When he next met his father in Quincy, John Adams confirmed his hunch. “I found that my nomination had been as unexpected to him as to myself,” JQA recorded in his diary. “His satisfaction at the appointment is much greater than mine,” he confessed, writing, “I wish I could have been consulted before it was irrevocably made. I rather wish it had not been made at all.”

Despite his hesitation at being separated from his family and sent halfway across the world for a then-undisclosed purpose, the day before his 28th birthday, JQA was in Philadelphia being introduced to President Washington. “He said little or nothing to me upon the subject of the business on which I am to be sent,” JQA noted. That night JQA was invited to dine with the president, and he paid his respects to Martha Washington, delivering her a letter from his mother. Abigail wanted to acknowledge “the honor done him by the unsolicited appointment conferd upon him by the President.” She continued, “I hope from his Prudence honour integrity & fidelity that he will never discredit the Character so honorably conferd upon him. painfull as the circumstance of a Seperation from him will be to me Madam I derive a satisfaction from the hope of his becomeing eminently usefull to his Country whether destined to publick, or to Private Life.”

A week after receiving Abigail’s letter from John Quincy’s hand, Martha responded. “The prudence, good sence and high estamation in which he stands, leaves you nothing to apprehend on his account from the want of these traits in his character;—whilst abilities, exerted in the road in which he is now placed, affords him the fairest prospect rendering eminent services to his country; and of being, in time, among the fore most in her councils.— This I know is the opinion of my Husband, from whom I have imbided the idea.”

Washington may have felt confident in John Quincy’s diplomatic abilities, but the young man was less sure. As he waited for Alexander Hamilton to return to Philadelphia to deliver instructions relevant to his mission, JQA wrote to his father, expressing doubt about his unfolding career: “I have abandoned the profession upon which I have hitherto depended, for a future subsistence . . . At this critical moment, when all the materials for a valuable reputation at the bar were collected, and had just began to operate favourably for me, I have stopped short in my career; forsaken the path which would have led me to independence and security in private life; and stepped into a totally different direction.” John Quincy ended his letter by telling his father that he determined to return home and to private life in no more than three years, if Washington had not already recalled him by then. John Adams replied urging patience and flexibility. “As every Thing is uncertain and Scænes are constantly changing I would not advise you to fix any unalterable Resolutions except in favour of Virtue and integrity and an unchangeable Love to your Country.”

In 1796 John Quincy learned that his father had been elected to succeed Washington. He wrote to his mother, assuring her that he would never solicit an office from his father. He discussed the devotion he felt to his country and his plans for a private life back in Massachusetts. John Adams was so touched by the letter that he shared it with Washington. Washington communicated his reflections on the private letter to John Adams: “if my wishes would be of any avail, they shd go to you in a strong hope, that you will not withhold merited promotion from Mr Jno. Adams because he is your son.” Washington declared it his “decided opinion” that John Quincy was “the most valuable public character we have abroad,” a man who would “prove himself to be the ablest, of all our diplomatic Corps.”

When George Washington died on December 14, 1799, John Quincy received many letters offering condolences from his family, closest friends, and foreign dignitaries. Poignantly, his father, though overworked in the office of president, sent him a short note on February 28, 1800, acknowledging that John Quincy was mourning the loss of his “great Patron.” Just over a year later, John Quincy welcomed his first son, George Washington Adams


comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 12:00 AM

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