Immigration in Public Education and Public History: A Brookline Non-Profit Makes an Impact

By: Katie Burke

When I entered a graduate program in Public History I was often met with a resounding “I hated History in high school!” from friends and acquaintances. I could actually relate in some ways. In History class there was often a sense that we were being fed regurgitated, cliché narratives that were, well, old. Without connecting to these stories, they never really came alive.

I spent summer 2017 as a graduate intern at the Brookline-based non-profit organization, Facing History and Ourselves. Facing History works with high school educators to develop lesson plans on the Holocaust and other instances of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism. Their goal is to promote awareness of these events, and help students use historical knowledge to make thoughtful and ethical decisions in their own lives.

My main project at Facing History and Ourselves allowed me to strategize effective ways to implement their resources into regional curriculums. I researched high school social studies standards for the seven states in which they are based, and worked with my supervisor, Dimitry Anselme, to match Facing History’s educational resources to each state. As I reviewed the required content, Dimitry encouraged me to make conclusions about how immigration history is taught in these states as well, in order to tie the project into my interest in immigration in Public History.

In the past, immigration history in schools has often fallen victim to a problematically stereotypic narrative. Students heard about European immigrants sailing into New York Harbor at the turn of the 20th century, with the Statue of Liberty in the distance, ready to embark on the “American Dream” in the “Land of Opportunity.” This overly-simplified narrative perpetuated a false nostalgia that prevented students from reckoning with the complex history of immigration in the United States. It also alienated students with the most recent ties to immigration when this narrative was a far stretch from their own experience.

Newspaper illustration of an ocean steamer passing the Statue of Liberty from the steerage deck, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1887

I was surprised to discover that many of the states’ standards outlined immigration history with nods to various ethnic groups and legislative acts. I did not remember this as a part of my own learning experience. However, immigration reporter Ted Hesson argues that, in practice, the actual teaching of immigration history is sparse or clings to the Ellis Island narrative. Additionally, state standards often stop shy of bringing lessons of immigration full circle to modern day debates. In today’s environment, where debates on immigration have become so contentious, it is important for students to be well informed on how immigration has impacted the past and present.

Facing History and Ourselves, along with a number of other organizations, have made efforts to help teachers utilize immigration history in their classrooms. Immigration has been a part of some of the major Facing History units, such as Race and Membership and Holocaust and Human Behavior. In some locations, Facing History also runs a hands-on workshop “Immigration in a Changing World: Identity, Citizenship and Belonging,” to guide teachers in creating a four-week unit that highlights the Chinese American experience from the mid-1800’s to the present. As with all Facing History lessons, these units are designed to use historical case studies to assist students to have greater worldly awareness about instances of genocide and persecution, and to make informed and conscientious choices in all their interactions in the present.

This immigration unit raises questions about American identity, and examines the tension between race, democracy, and citizenship. Students are encouraged to face their own prejudices while considering reasons that the Chinese and other immigrants have met resistance from many Americans. The questions are also a tool to help students make connections to the current debates and issues surrounding immigration today.

Photograph of Chinese American men and three children in traditional dress in Chinatown, San Francisco, between 1896-1911

I attended two days of Facing History’s immigration workshop and learned a lot from the comments of the teachers in attendance. Many wished to better serve their diverse student populations by offering broader narratives beyond the Ellis Island paradigms that focus predominantly on white immigrants. Others commented that they felt a responsibility to focus more on immigration history in response to a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment, especially towards Hispanic and Muslim immigrants, in the past few years.

Cover of Facing History and Ourselves’ educator’s guide to the documentary film Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

This workshop also revealed that Asian Americans have been hugely underrepresented in history lessons and popular culture. Many of the teachers at the workshop appeared dismayed that there was so much of the Chinese immigrant experience they did not know. This is perfect evidence that many of us adults received a homogenous immigration narrative, if any, while we were in secondary school. Now it is the responsibility of teachers and immigration public historians to make sure this does not persist.

As Dan-el Pedia Peralta, a professor at Princeton and Dominican immigrant wrote in a 2016 op-ed, “My hopes for immigration reform lie with the young. Their education is what’s next for reform, since the urgency of teaching about the immigration experience has rarely been so acute as it is now.” I would add that public historians also have a role to play in teaching about immigration outside of the schools. Both teachers and public historians have a lot to gain from Facing History’s approach to teaching immigration in this moment.

Dual Degrees and Dead Chickens: Municipal Records and Challenging Archival Stereotypes

By: Anthony Strong

“People are weird and you get all of that with city records. It’s great.” These were the words of Marta Crilly, Archivist for Reference and Outreach at the City of Boston, at the beginning of our exchange in October 2017. Her words especially resonated with me that morning, and I agreed wholeheartedly that people certainly are weird with myself being no exception. Being a first-year graduate student on the History track at UMass whose twenty-four-hour shift for the Boston Fire Department had ended just two hours prior, it was weird that I was sacrificing valuable sleep to meet with a woman I had no connection to, regarding a career I was not actively pursuing. It was weird that I had never conducted an interview before. It was even weirder that I had never stepped foot inside of an archive, let alone spoken with an archivist. Prior undergraduate work had led me to believe that institutional archives were largely obsolete due to the widespread availability of digital records – why go to an archive when I can find what I need online? This in turn dominated my opinion of the latter as I assumed the stereotypical image of the archivist as an older, unapproachable individual who spent a majority of their day muddling over dusty boxes in the dark recesses of a warehouse.

Pulling up to the Boston City Archives certainly did not do much to dissuade these preconceived notions. Tucked away on an industrial road behind a West Roxbury Home Depot, the City Archives occupies a building formerly owned by the gas company.

Exterior of the Boston City Archives, West Roxbury, MA
Exterior of the Boston City Archives, West Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Although you can tell that some remodeling efforts had been undertaken in recent years, the bleakness of the loading dock and desolation of the parking lot seemed to affirm my earlier conclusions. Upon entering the building, I was instantly greeted by an older gentleman sitting behind a desk which contained an empty sign-in sheet; my suspicions appeared confirmed. Within thirty seconds I found myself in the reading room of the City Archives and that is when my perspective of both the archives and the archivist began to change.

Archivist Marta Crilly (right) helping a patron in the Boston City Archive reading room.

Marta emerged to greet me; a woman not much older than myself with a small tattoo on her forearm and a personable demeanor. Contrary the air cast on her leg, this was not the old and unapproachable archivist I had assumed I would be interviewing. Rather, Marta proved enthusiastic, outgoing, and knowledgeable about her profession and the collections contained within the archives. After some small talk, we began a tour of the facility which proved more extensive and technologically advanced than I had imagined. Although she joked about the primitiveness of their microfilm reader, to my novice eyes this was a stark contrast to the dusty boxes I had pictured. It was during this tour that I received a crash course on administrative archival tasks and how they were conducted at the City Archives. The most rewarding experience, however, came as we entered the Records Room.

Interior views of the records room, City of Boston Archives.
Interior view of the Records Room, City of Boston Archives.
Another view of the Records Room, City of Boston Archives.

Clearly observing my amazement at the organization and breadth of the collections, Marta remarked: “I don’t think people understand how fascinating municipal records are.” She was right.

Returning to the reading room, the hard part was about to begin.

Though I had prepared several questions that I thought would fulfill the technical aspects of the assignment, I realized I no longer cared about simply “checking-the-box” and getting a good grade; I now had a legitimate interest in what I had just observed and the stereotypes that had just been challenged.

I was less concerned about annual processing statistics and was more intrigued by what she did as an archivist. Describing her typical day as a “mix of social media, working with researchers, and then using any extra time to work on digital records,” I realized an archivist is a lot less dusty boxes and a lot more interaction and technology. Not only does Marta maintain a twitter feed for the City Archives, but she also tries to keep the public engaged by posting a “mystery photo of the day” while actively blogging on behalf of the archive.

What really interested me, however, was how her formal education factored into her role as an archivist. Marta possesses Bachelor’s degrees in History, English Literature, and Spanish from the University of Tennessee, as well as Master’s Degrees in both History and Library Science (with a concentration in Archives Management) from Simmons College. Regarding my own situation, I was curious how her degree in History impacted her role as an archivist and if this was a career she just stumbled upon, or if it was her long-term objective after leaving Tennessee. Though she joked that she was “highly motivated to get out of Tennessee,” she explained that her undergraduate experience had nurtured an interest for the archives and that was a determining factor when applying to graduate school. Boston is home to an abundance of archives, and Simmons seemed a good fit for her as it offered many internship opportunities and a chance for her to network within the profession.

Why not just get a graduate degree in Archives? Why put yourself through the extra work and expense of attaining two graduate degrees? Quick to note that “not everyone would agree,” Marta feels as if having a history degree “is really helpful to understand the historical context of the records that you’re working with, especially when you are working with researchers.” This historical background appears to complement almost every aspect of her role as an archivist. Considering the appraisal process, for example, Marta reflected how “if you have a historical background you recognize the value in things that someone with just an archives background might not necessarily recognize.” Although her historical specialty while at Simmons of Gender and Religious History did not necessarily aide her work as a City Archivist, she was quick to credit the “writing and research skills” she developed while a member of their program.

Marta maintains the social media channels for Boston City Archives, including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Tumblr. Screen shot of BCA’s Tumblr page.

Writing and research skills have certainly paid off for Marta, as she is a frequent collaborator and initiator of digital projects and collections for the City Archives. Although the website for the digital records of the City Boston is somewhat difficult to navigate (you can find it here), the extent of the available collections is impressive. Marta is an active proponent of the City’s “Digital Access Initiative” – a program aimed at digitizing some of their “most interesting or best-known records.” While Marta lightheartedly states that making all of the records in the City Archives available digitally is unrealistic, she believes that the information they have digitized will draw more researchers into the archives. A perfect example of this is the desegregation records she has overseen the digitization of, which she concludes has “allowed her to a part of some groundbreaking research.” When researchers browse these desegregation records it is frequently followed with a phone call to Marta, during which she informs them that the archives houses about ten times more than what they are seeing online. This bait-and-hook tactic has proven effective, and has led her to aspire to conduct a similar project regarding Boston’s immigration history in the 1900s.

Flickr page of the Boston City Archives.

Marta’s work, however, is not solely aimed at academics and researchers; she hopes to engage public participation in the City Archives. The extensive use of FlickR on projects such as the “Ray Flynn Collection” have proven perhaps the most effective means of achieving this; the “granular information” that public participants provide is just an added benefit. Considering my personal situation and how I never had an interest in the archives until I had actually been there and seen one for myself, I questioned how she would convince someone to want to come to the archives? What would make Joe Schmo want to give up his Tuesday morning to examine the collections? Marta, after a brief moment to collect her thoughts, summed up her sales pitch in the simplest of terms by stating: “We have the history of your neighborhood. We have the history of your family. And for some, we have the evidence you need to hold the city accountable.”

“#Mystery Photo,” one of the most successful social media initiatives Marta implemented at Boston City Archives, using Twitter.

More interesting to me was the realization that nowhere else could you find a well-maintained record of how city of Boston residents interacted with their government. Where else could you find a letter to the Board of Alderman complaining that a neighbor’s dog killed his chickens?

Our interview concluded with some general advice about the profession, as well as some things Marta personally wishes she had done differently. Stressing “technical skills and digital classes,” her insight certainly suggested that the future of the archivist is increasingly focused on the digital realm. Rather than try to convince me to become an archivist, Marta offered credible and honest advice:

“Being an archivist is not for everyone and it can be a really difficult job sometimes. But what’s wonderful about being an archivist is that you get to see history in people’s own words; it’s not filtered through someone else.”

Whether or not I pursue an archives certificate is still a personal decision I have yet to make. If you are someone reading this however, don’t take my “filtered words” as gospel; this was just a small account of my brief interaction with the City Archives. Take an afternoon, visit the City Archives, and be surprised at what you might find there (just be sure to make an appointment).

Alumni Spotlight: Judith Marshall

By Violet Caswell

In the spring of her senior year at McGill University in Montreal, Judith Marshall opened her computer and searched that question that is nearly ubiquitous among history majors:

 

For students of history who do not want to teach or work in academia, this wearisome question is ever-present, made worse when relatives exclaim “History! What are you going to do with that?” at every holiday dinner. Yet, as she browsed the internet, Marshall found occasion for hope, not despair. History majors, she realized, could pursue careers in all kinds of organizations and institutions. As the possibilities stretched out in front of her, one path seemed particularly enticing: public history.

Judith with peer, Jacob Lusk, working with archival materials in a graduate history class.

After graduating from McGill, Marshall moved to the United States and enrolled in the public history program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Over the course of two years at UMass, she broadened her horizons and discovered that her interests were more diverse than she could ever have imagined.

“One of my responsibilities was to research the craftsmen and laborers . . . I didn’t think I would be interested in these men . . . but as I learned more about them and immersed myself in their lives, I became absolutely fascinated.”

“I had an internship with Historic New England,” she recalled, “and one of my responsibilities was to research the craftsmen and laborers who built a historic house in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I didn’t think I would be interested in these men—and they were all men—but as I learned more about them and immersed myself in their lives, I became absolutely fascinated.” Marshall’s intensive research allowed her to understand the craftsmen as dynamic individuals with robust political and social lives. Her capstone project, a walking tour of Portsmouth, showcased those lives and brought them to life.

After graduating from UMB, Marshall returned to informally advise incoming students at the History Department’s Graduate Student Symposium in September 2017.

With plenty of skills and experience under her belt, Marshall graduated from UMass in 2105 and entered the job market. She soon learned that a position was opening up at the Lynn Museum and Historical Society in Lynn, Massachusetts. After shadowing the Museum’s outgoing education and research specialist, she took over the position. There was only one problem: “I didn’t know anything at all about Lynn. Here I was training docents and working with our visitors, and I was just learning all of the history myself.” Marshall wasn’t intimidated by her task. With little determination and a lot of research, she eventually became well versed in Lynn’s history.

1911 postcard of Market Street in Lynn, Massachusetts, with a car of the Bay State Street Railway. Wikimedia Commons.

“It’s a little like being a teacher,” she explains, “Where at first, when you’re doing lesson plans and you’re teaching yourself along the way. But then it gets easier and easier.”

Now, Marshall serves as an excellent resource to her institution’s patrons. She works with any researchers who come to the Museum to look at its remarkable photograph collection, which spans from the nineteenth century to the present day. Although the Museum has transferred its archival holdings to the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, she routinely directs research requests and assists the public in any way she can.

Judith Marshall (center), Education & Research Specialist at the Lynn Museum, leading a tour.

There is no such thing as an average day for Marshall, whose duties at the Lynn Museum are broad in a way that is common for professionals working at smaller institutions. On any given day, she might be training docents, developing new exhibits, leading fleets of elementary school groups through the Museum or even trying to figure out why that fountain in the courtyard keeps leaking. “Small institutions can be like that,” she laughs.

Marshall says that juggling so many responsibilities can be a challenge, and that time management skills are essential to her success. Flexibility, too, is crucial– as is the ability to remain calm under pressure. When busloads of students arrive early for a field trip, or when buses are late to pick them up, Marshall has to improvise and find ways to entertain them for longer than anticipated.

Despite the occasional hiccups that arise, Marshall finds planning field trip programming to be one of her most exciting responsibilities. While she works with students of all ages, her most extensive initiative is with third grade groups. Because of Marshall’s planning, these Lynn public school students have the opportunity to participate in a field trip that much more dynamic than your average, forgettable one-day field trip.

When she first started the program, Marshall says, “I didn’t have any idea how to communicate with third graders. I didn’t know what they looked like or what they could know.” After careful research, she developed an age-appropriate program to teach Lynn students about their city’s history. She and her colleagues go into the classroom twice—one before and once after students visit the Lynn Museum—to reinforce the lessons that students learn. She also invites the students and parents to the Museum’s end of the year Open House to reinforce the students’ knowledge of the institution and to create new bonds with parents.

Judith, relaxing outside of her work at the Lynn Museum.

Through her work with the Lynn Museum, Judith Marshall has put her background in public history to good use, developed new skills, and brought history to life in Lynn, Massachusetts. Yet, her career trajectory was one that she never could have predicted, even as she graduated from UMass Boston.

Her advice to current students?

“Apply for jobs- lots of jobs. You never know what you’ll end up being interested in.”

 

“Where is Cambridge From?”: Tackling Historic Research, Interpretation, and Programming for the Cambridge Historical Society

By Taylor Finch

In the summer of 2017, as a new programs intern, I caught the Cambridge Historical Society in the midst of a great institutional transition. With few resources and a staff of four, the CHS has spent the past few years struggling against its reputation as an antiquated institution. As such, planning for future programs takes all hands on deck, and my role as a programs intern soon evolved from the architect of a single event to one where I wore multiple hats as a researcher, community development representative, historical interpreter, and program creator.

Hooper-Lee-Nichols House, home of the Cambridge Historical Society. Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Society.

The Cambridge Historical Society (CHS) has been a community institution since 1905. The Society focuses on preserving, researching, and educating residents about Cambridge’s history. The Society has sought to diversify and expand to meet the changing roles of historic houses and their search for new audiences in the twenty-first century. Through their programs,  CHS seeks to focus on community partnership, shed light on the historical background of contemporary issues, and share the historical narrative of Cambridge with its community members.

To meet these goals, the CHS designates a ‘theme’ for each year’s slate of programs. I helped define, develop, and plan programs for their 2018 season– “Where is Cambridge From?” This theme offers opportunities to broaden Cambridge’s historical narrative to include often overlooked communities, cultures, and stories.  Our first task as an institution was to explore the meaning of the 2018 theme. What were we trying to find out? What historical stories were we hoping to share? How could we uncover those histories? Defining “Where is Cambridge From?” occurred across several staff meetings. Eventually, we found it helpful to outline some discussion questions on the subject that could steer the research and program selection process. We narrowed the focus down to: (1) Where do Cambridge residents come from? (2) Who considers themselves Cantabrigian? (3) What does it mean to be Cantabrigian? and, (4) What do these answers mean for the future development of Cambridge?

While wrestling with these questions about definition, we also needed to think about the practical goals of our small historical institution. The CHS needed programs that appealed to its current membership base, but could also attract new populations that the Society had previously ignored. We also needed to consider our limitations as a small venue and as a staff made up solely of white, middle-class, educated women.

We identified program goals that were in line with the institution’s new mission. Every program would link to Cambridge’s past, present, and future.  Each selected topic was designed specifically to challenge the institution’s authority over Cambridge’s history and the process of interpreting it. We quickly decided to seek out any community group, committee, or club that could provide voices from populations across Cambridge. Any community members willing to participate became part of our “Advisory Board.” Today, the board’ continues to grow, guide the society’s efforts, and share authority in creating Cambridge’s narrative.

One community group we quickly identified was the Caribbean-American population of Cambridge. The CHS decided to expand the narrative of Caribbean-Americans in Cambridge into a walking tour of the Port, one of the city’s historic neighborhoods. My task as the tour’s advisor was to condense the Caribbean community’s general narrative and supplement it with historical resources and materials. As I am neither a Caribbean-American or a resident of the Port,  I quickly recognized the importance of first-person narratives as a foundation for the tour. I relied heavily on community members and oral histories compiled in the book We Are the Port: Stories of Place, Preservation and Pride in the Port/Area 4, by Sarah Boyer. The book is made up of oral histories gathered by hundreds of Port residents. These oral histories offer first person accounts of Port residents’ experiences in the neighborhood and the Port’s meaning to them.

A map of “The Port”, or “Area 4,” in 1901. The map features several landmarks chosen for the walking tour, including the Boardman School. Courtesy of Harvard Libraries.

In order to establish an authentic narrative, community voices were paramount to our project. I set about establishing partnerships with members of the Port’s community. One of these individuals was Andrew Sharpe, a Jamaican-American whom I met at a Dorchester Historical Society/UMass event. Andrew’s organization, the Authentic Caribbean Foundation, focuses on celebrating Caribbean culture and history and interpreting them in contemporary issues. With the help of Andrew, Marian Darlington-Hope, and several members of the Caribbean community, we were able to bring together a committee who will oversee the “Stories from the Port” walking tour and discuss the continuing challenges the Caribbean community faces at a 2018 History Café.

The goal of CHS and our community partners was to provide a working narrative that showed inaccuracies and ignorances in the larger narrative of Cambridge and the United States in general. In our meetings, these Caribbean-Cantabrigians discussed how they don’t find their history in the popular historic narrative of Cambridge, New England, or even America. Their large population of residents and vast contributions are generally ignored by the western, colonial-centered narrative perpetuated in Cambridge – largely by the tourist industry.

Neighborhood children on Clark Street in 1901. Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Commission.

According to the Cambridge Historical Commission (an institution that has worked with the Caribbean community in the past)  some of the earliest Barbadians came to Cambridge against their will as slaves in the eighteenth century.  Though their freedoms and identities were stripped, these early Caribbean-Americans brought their culture and values to Cambridge. A century later, in the mid-nineteenth century, Caribbean immigrants to Boston and Cambridge brought with them education and skilled trades, but they faced discrimination in employment and educational opportunities. Still, they built lives for themselves, and raised children who became second, third, and fourth-generation Caribbean-Americans with dual identities. The role for the Cambridge Historical Society in this project, then, was to present an authentic history of Caribbean-Americans in Cambridge, recognize how they shaped Cambridge’s neighborhood, and serve as a platform for Caribbean-Americans to share their stories and discuss what they think it means to be Cantabrigian.

The objective for our tour was to capture ordinary, day-to-day life as a Caribbean-American in the Port and to rely as heavily on the recollections of community members as possible. As such, it was to be heavily informed by first-person narrative. We wanted “Stories from the Port” to show how a collection of individual experiences shaped the neighborhood and life in Cambridge. As such, each location was carefully selected for its historic value and practicality. I relied heavily on schools, places of business, and churches – the centers of day-to-day life. Each stop provided historical context for individuals’ stories, but mainly relied on quotations from the Port residents. To supplement these experiences, I found historic images and maps at the Cambridge Historical Society and Cambridge Historical Commission. These resources not only proved invaluable to the research, but also supplement the tour by adding visuals for its audiences. The end result was a blend of historic research and cultural interpretation that captured early life in the Port.

The Cambridge Historical Society provided me with an opportunity to be in the room where it happens. I was part of creating a shared historical and cultural narrative, which will go on to inform community members in Cambridge. Above all, my time as a programs intern showed me exactly how much effort, research, and careful planning goes into each and every initiative at a historic house. Sometimes it takes several months of brainstorming sessions, wide research, missed and made connections, and even the occasional shot in the dark to turn a question, such as “Where is Cambridge From?” into a platform for community development and discovery.

Taylor workshopping a walking tour of North Cambridge with CHS interns Joe Galusha (left) and Katherine Hobart (center). Courtesy of Lynn Waskelis.

“What’s An Archivist to Do?”: An Exercise in Appraisal

By Violet Caswell

Graduate students enrolled in Professor Marilyn Morgan’s “Introduction to Archives” class do a lot of reading. We read about the history of archives, core archival principles, and about challenges that modern archivists face. And we read theory- lots of theory. Information from books, journal articles, and even blog posts swirl around in our heads as we to get a handle on the essential practices and principles of the profession. The process can be frustrating– like when we have to reread the same dense sentence five times to ascertain its meaning– but it can also be immensely rewarding, especially when we get to apply our knowledge to real-world situations.

Enter Juliana Kuipers, Senior Collection Development Curator and Archivist at the Harvard University Archives.

Guest speaker Juliana Kuipers leading graduate students in the Archives program in a discussion of appraisal based on real experiences.

Juliana visited our class recently, to talk about her experience in the field and also to lead a short exercise in appraisal. A week in advance, we broke into teams and, in addition to reading published articles about selection and appraisal, Marilyn assigned us a document containing five appraisal scenarios drawn from Juliana’s experience at the Harvard Archives. Our task was straightforward: after contemplating the theoretical readings, we were to put ourselves in Juliana’s shoes, and decide whether or not to accession materials for the Archives.

Faith Plazarin, Taylor Finch, and Iona Feldman debate whether or not the Archives should accession the personal papers of an alumnus from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that this assignment was more complicated than it seemed at first glance. There were all kinds of questions to consider, from issues of provenance to ethical dilemmas to everything in between. Similarly, there were a host of materials involved in the scenarios, including diaries, correspondence, artwork, scrapbooks, and artifacts.  As we weighed the benefits and drawbacks of accessioning each collection, we remained cognizant of the Archives’ Collection Policy, a document which clarifies much but also contains ambiguity.

Juliana Kuipers shares her experience with archival selection.

What did it mean, some of us wondered, that the Archives sought “to gather an accurate, authentic, and complete record of the life of the University”? Did that mean that the institution should purchase or accept any collection remotely relating to Harvard? Were some materials more conducive to this end than others? What about resources? Should collections that require fewer resources (finances, personnel, space) take precedence over materials that are more costly? And if the archivist decided not to accession the collection, what then? Did he or she have an obligation to suggest other avenues for the donor to pursue? The Archive’s Collection policy provided clues, but no hard-and-fast answers.

Grad students Chris Norton, Nina Rodwin, and Maddy Moison, with guest speaker Juliana Kuipers, discussing selection challenges and how to navigate tricky acquisitions issues.

Juliana smiled and nodded as we expressed our uncertainties. In many ways, she told us, uncertainty is one of the hallmarks of the accessioning process. The determinations that archivists make on a day-to-day basis require background knowledge, critical thinking, and even a little creativity. They argue for and against the accessioning of materials whose incorporation into the Archives is in no means inevitable. Juliana encouraged our class to keep working to develop the skills that will allow us to make informed decisions that will enhance the collections of our future institutions.

Our sincerest thanks to Juliana Kuipers for sharing her time and experiences with us. Stay tuned for updates on the ways in which our class continues to learn about archives and think as archivists!

Surrounded by Sound: Processing Pop Culture

by Connor Anderson, MA (Archives program ’17)

I was in the unique position to work with and create a finding aid for an unprocessed archival collection for my Capstone Project during my final semester at UMass Boston.  For those who are unfamiliar with a Capstone, it offers an equivalent alternative to writing a traditional thesis in the History MA program. Personally, a Capstone was a better fit for my career aspirations as an archivist—the inventory and finding aid I created, along with the collection I processed, are both tangible objects.

I chose to work with the Allan D. MacDougall Popular Culture Collection which represents the lifework of its namesake.

Stamp of MacDougall’s signature.

MacDougall, known affectionately as “Rocco,” taught at Newton North High School in Newton, MA. He dedicated his life to collecting items that he felt documented popular culture in the US. MacDougall used items from his vast collection as integral part of his teaching to instill a love of music and pop cultural history for decades. His massive collection was donated by his wife, JoEllen Hillyer, to the Center for the Study of Humanities, Culture, and Society (CHCS) at UMass Boston in the spring of 2015.

A musician and lover of music, MacDougall collected all genres and styles of recorded music, from the eclectic and obscure to popular hits that topped 20th-century American music charts. The collection also hosts the various formats on which music was created and stored over time, including impressive quantities of CDs, vinyl records, audio tape cassettes, and phonograph cylinders. First used by Thomas  Edison, inventor of the phonograph, to successfully record and reproduce sounds, phonograph cylinders were small grooved cylinders made of ceresin, beeswax, and stearic wax. The sound recording format was popular in the late 19th through the early 20th centuries.

Phonograph cylinder produced by the Thomas Edison Phonograph Company in 1911 (left) with a case of late 19th- and early 20th- century wax cylinder sound recordings collected by MacDougall.

In addition to music recordings, MacDougall acquired extensive runs of British and American magazines, numerous trade journals and collectors’ guides. Titles included mainstream publications, such as Rolling Stone, Uncut, Word, and Billboard, as well as journals that are difficult to find and even more difficult for researchers to access. The collection boasts hundreds of issues of local Boston and New England regional publications, such as Broadside of Boston. Especially noteworthy is the breadth of magazines, journals, and newspapers devoted to jazz, blues, and folk music, as well as band and concert guides spanning the latter half of the 20th century. Included among the magazines is small but notable assortment of magazines about Elvis, Buck Owens, John F. Kennedy, and the Beatles.

In addition to providing a wide range of music materials, the archive also houses more than 2,000 comic books and a wide range of popular culture ephemera, including hundreds of newspaper and magazine clippings organized by topic, ranging from individual musicians to major corporations, from cultural phenomena to social problems.

Cover of DC Comic’s Romance Comic, Secret Hearts, 1970.

The comic-book collection includes an impressive selection of mainstream comic books from the 1960s and 1970s, many of them superhero comics. But it also includes dozens of “humor” comics, such as Little Lulu, Casper, and Walt Disney comics. Perhaps the most distinguished feature of the comics collection is the remarkable number of “romance” comics, of which there are more than 200 from a variety of publishers.

There are a notable number of books, VHS tapes, and DVDs as well. The sheer size of the collection combined with the small space it resides it proved overwhelming to me at first.

The Allan D. MacDougall Popular Culture Archive as it appeared before processing began
The Allan D. MacDougall Popular Culture Collection as it appeared before processing began.

Luckily, I received help from two alumni of the American Studies Graduate Program during the semester, Andre Diehl and Scott Harris.

Scott provided the muscle—consolidating the collections and creating much needed “breathing room” in our location. Even though he worked with the archive for a short period, he played a pivotal role in my project. Andre knows the collection back and forth, up and down. He may have forgotten more about the collection than I’ll ever know.

Connor, ensconced in the processing area of the MacDougall Collection, creating an inventory of thousands of AV materials.

Andre and others before him did an amazing job cataloging much of the magazines, journals, and comic books, as well as digitizing all the CDs in the archive.

Here are some numbers for you—as of spring 2017—that we have cataloged EXACTLY:

  • 8,960 vinyl records—including sizes of 7”, 10”, 12”, and rare 16”
  • 3,145 CDs
  • 836 tape cassettes and another 500+ student-made mix-tapes
  • 33 rare phonograph cylinders
  • A combination of 4,035 magazines, journals, and newspapers
  • 2,277 comic books
  • 110 VHS Tapes
  • 180 DVDs
  • 1,990 books

If you are interested in learning more about the collection, reach out to CHCS!

Note: A few weeks after graduation, Connor Anderson became the new Public Records Access Officer/Archivist of the Town of Plymouth. Congratulations, Connor!

Ambiance in Archives: How Surroundings Inform Content

By Katie Maura Burke

As a Public History student pursuing an archives certificate, I have spent countless hours in various archival repositories. The cardboard cartons, steel shelves, and chilly temperatures can give off a utilitarian feel that contradicts the richness of the records they contain.

The Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site. Courtesy of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service.

Today, digitization projects have drastically changed the way researchers can access archival documents, enabling them to receive images of requested items via a website, zip drive, or email attachment. Thanks to technology, many researchers no longer have to travel to archives, such as the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, where I started working as an intern in February. However, the beauty and history of the location of this archive infuses the records stored here with a context that informs their meaning in ways I did not anticipate before I began working here.

FL Olmsted, Sr. writing in the Hollow, Fairsted. Courtesy of Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service.

Who knew an archive could be so beautiful? Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., who designed the site which now houses the archive, is widely recognized as America’s premier landscape architect. His accomplishments in park design, town planning, landscape architecture, and conservation have earned international acclaim.


South Lawn with Olmsted Elm photographed circa 1900. Courtesy of Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service.

In 1883, he purchased a home in Brookline, Massachusetts, for both his family residence and professional office. He deemed the property “Fairsted.” Over the next decade, he designed the building and grounds to match his aesthetic vision, creating a space to celebrate nature and offer an oasis amidst an increasingly urban setting.

Fairsted continued to be a hub of landscape design far past Olmsted’s retirement in 1895. His son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and stepson, John Charles Olmsted, continued the business as the “Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects.” During the first three decades of the twentieth century, the work volume and staff of the firm increased significantly.

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Image of ten employees of the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects in the upper drafting room at Fairsted in 1930. Courtesy of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service.

By the 1940s, the volume of work had begun to decline; however, during the 1960s and 1970s, scholars, landscape architects, environmentalists and historic preservationists showed interest in the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. This academic and practical interest in Olmsted’s landscape architecture prompted individuals to collect and begin to preserve materials related to the firm’s history.

In 1979, when the firm’s landscape design activity formally ceased, Fairsted was acquired by the National Park Service (NPS) as a National Historic Site. The NPS became responsible for preserving and cataloging the documents, plans, and artifacts left behind by the firm and interpreting Fairsted’s history for the public.

The Olmsted archives contain more than 1 million original documents related to landscape design projects the firm took on between 1857 and 1979. The repository contains approximately 139,000 plans and drawings, as well as photographic negatives and prints, planting lists, lithographs, employee records, and office correspondence. Today, the majority of research requests the archives receives relate to the firms’ plans and drawings, which have been used for landscape restorations, academic publications, and historical exhibits.

In the early stages, the archives staff focused on preserving the plans, which were often brittle, dirty, and damaged. Next, the items were cataloged and made available to researchers, who, at that point needed to visit the site to view them physically. In recent years, reflecting archival trends and practices, a massive digitization project focusing on the plans and drawings began.

Plan for Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, created by Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot in 1894. Courtesy of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service.

Initially, the plans and drawings were scanned into black and white tiff files. But the Olmsted National Historic Site is currently undertaking a four-year project to re-scan plans and drawings into high resolution color images that meet current industry standards and research expectations.

Working, as many archives do, without an in-house platform and hoping to provide widespread public access to the materials, the archives staff have been uploading the items to Flickr. The availability of scanned images has been extremely popular, so much so that it has greatly diminished onsite research visits. Staff members are currently working out a system to include visitors to the Flickr page to meet the annual visitation expectations of the site.

The shift, along with an option of offsite storage, has brought up discussions on the necessity of archival storage at the Olmsted site in general. Fairsted is made of wood and highly susceptible to fire and other environmental factors. The plans are stored in a protected vault, but many other items remain in the open. For that reason, storage of the Olmsted firms’ archival items is split between the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

For now, the items at the Olmsted site will remain there, due primarily to a consensus that their presence adds visceral meaning to the site as a whole. The visitors on public tours experience, that intangible feeling familiar to historians who physically interact with meaningful historical records. This feeling is even stronger at the production site, in this case a beautiful home among gardens and wildlife. The researchers looking at files on their laptops will miss this experience.

Is it really worth researchers travelling miles and miles for a feeling?That depends on myriad factors. But, after working at the Olmsted site over the past six months it is clear to me that seeing, touching, and interpreting the plans while in the historic office delivers a powerful impact. If Olmsted researchers are in Boston, I hope they will make a stop at Fairsted.

Think Like an Archivist: A Public Historian Processes the Washington Street Corridor Coalition Collection

By: Caroline Littlewood

Recently, the University Archives and Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston acquired the papers of the Washington Street Corridor Coalition (WSCC), a local organization committed to transport justice. The WSCC, a community group active in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, the South End, and Chinatown during the 1980s and 1990s, advocated for adequate replacement of the Elevated Orange Line along Washington Street.

The Elevated Orange Line on Washington Street south from Corning Street, ca. 1908. Courtesy of Boston City Archives. See City of Boston Flickr albums for more historic photos.

The group also facilitated community involvement in the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) planning and development process and orchestrated protests when MBTA service did not meet their community’s needs.

Flyer, produced by the WSCC, announcing a silent vigil to express a sense of community loss over the El’s closure.

Three decades after the Coalition’s founding, the WSCC records provide a treasure trove for researchers interested in community organizing, grassroots activism, and resident resistance to development.

Along with three other collections, the WSCC records were entrusted to the graduate students of Professor Marilyn Morgan’s Archival Methods & Practices class in spring 2017. On the first day of class, I was assigned to process the WSCC collection. I spent the rest of the semester preparing it for researchers and preserving it for the future. To do these things, I needed to produce a finding aid that described the contents of the collection and the value of the story it tells.

A carton of the Washington Street Corridor Coalition collection, in February 2017, before it was processed.

The first time I set eyes on my collection, I confronted a single cardboard box with dividers and papers and spiral notebooks and more papers. Next to the box was a pile of bound reports, inches thick. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, and I knew next to nothing about the WSCC. I had the urge to research my collection the way one would a person or artifact. But I couldn’t. Nothing had been written yet; the research materials weren’t in an archive or library. They sat in front of me, thousands of pages thick and unprepared for use by the public.

As a public history student and genealogist, I’ve learned how to interrogate a document from every angle, wringing every last drop of evidence. The urge to analyze is so ingrained, it’s practically instinctual. When faced with the WSCC collection, I wanted to pull up a chair and get to reading. However, I would not be assessing and describing every individual item in the collection. This would take too much time and prevent timely public access to the documents. It would be unnecessary and a waste of resources. Instead, I would be describing groups of documents.

To do this, I had to train my brain to work a little differently, to seek different kinds of information. Scanning each document, I had to consider intellectual content. Was it a letter, a memo, a map? Was there sensitive information? A date? What was it about? I also had to consider physical content. Did the document need to be photocopied, moved to the oversize folder, or rid of a rusty staple?

At first, this was an uncomfortable process for me. I couldn’t simultaneously assess the physical and intellectual content. But after practice, I began to see in a new way.

MBTA map showing the Washington Street Elevated route, as it existed from 1938 to 1975. Wikimedia Commons.

I scanned for the names and acronyms of key players, following the gist of their correspondence without reading every word, and understanding the general findings of reports without flipping through every page. By the end of the semester, I knew that the Elevated Orange Line train was a vital transport link which ran along Washington Street, through downtown Boston and neighboring communities.

When the MBTA moved the Orange Line to the southwest corridor and closed the “El” in 1987, community groups came together under the WSCC name to hold the MBTA accountable to their 1973 promise that they would replace it with equal or better service.

Excerpt of a publication concerning the replacement of the El.

I learned that the WSCC had launched an extensive letter writing campaign in support of Light Rail Vehicles and worked with other organizations to hold community dialogues about replacement options. I also knew that the MBTA finally replaced the old Orange Line with the Silver Line, a Bus Rapid Transit system the WSCC deemed neither better than, nor equal to, Orange Line service. And as the Silver Line expanded, WSCC activity waned.

Newspaper clipping reporting on the community reaction to the closing of the EL, 1987.

I was inspired and challenged by this collection. It was my first experience facilitating access to archival material, rather than mining the material, myself. The primary purpose of my investigation was to aid and encourage the investigations of others. This was a new goal for me, but, at the end of the day, it fit. As a public historian, I want to connect people to history and encourage historical thinking. Maybe, with a little more brain training, I can do this from within the archives, too.

“Abandoned His Duty”: Uncovering the 1919 Boston Policemen Strike

By Nina Rodwin

In the fall semester, my HIST 600 class had the opportunity to participate in a collaborative project between UMass Boston and the Boston Police Department Archives. We were tasked with documenting the lives of the officers involved in the police strike of 1919. Policemen had demanded a higher yearly salary, adopting the slogan “$200 or nothing” (Puleo, 143). When their demands were ignored, 1,400 police officers walked out. From September 9th to the 11th, Bostonians rioted and reacted violently (often towards the striking officers). President Wilson found the found the strike so disturbing that he described it as a “crime against civilization” (Puleo, 155-156). The police head clearly felt the same, firing all striking officers with no chance of re-employment. The men’s duty cards, which detailed each officer’s employment history, were stamped with a large “abandoned his duty, September 9th 1919.” These duty cards lay in the BPD archives for years, largely forgotten. It was only by chance that a former BPD archivist discovered these cards and was immediately filled with questions: who were these men and what happened to them after the strike?

Image of Hugh P. McGuire’s Duty Card

The scale of the project required collaboration, not only between UMass Boston and the BPD archivists, but also volunteers, the police officers’ descendants, and finally, my own class. While we entered the project in order to learn genealogical research skills, it was gratifying to see that our small contribution helped in a large-scale project. Each student was instructed to pick an officer and fill in vital information into a worksheet. We used public records to uncover these men’s lives, searching through the census, birth and death records, military records and newspapers. To me, the most engaging records were the census records, as they not only reflected a specific officer’s life, but also larger changing trends in America.

Image of Hugh P. McGuire from the 1901 “The Officers and The Men The Stations Without and Within of The Boston Police.” This book’s yearbook format was a great source for photographs of the striking BPD officers.

I choose Hugh P. McGuire, who seemed to have a relatively good life before the strike: he lived in his rented house with his wife and four children and had been on the police force since 1896. However, his whole family was drastically affected by the strike. Just one year later, McGuire was working as a watchman for a lumberyard. His eldest son and daughter, then in their twenties, continued to live in his house. These two children may have stayed home to contribute to family finances, as both were employed. By the 1930 census, it is clear that he was experiencing still more trouble: he was now unemployed, and while his sons seem to have left home, his two daughters remained as the sole breadwinners in his household.

By 1940, Hugh McGuire was 74 years old. According to census records, he was “unable to work.” His eldest daughter, Anna, now 40, continued to care for her parents as a secretary for the Veterans Bureau. As the sole breadwinner, she received a yearly salary of $1,980, which in today’s money ($34,500) would relegate the McGuire family to the lower class. However, this census information has its drawbacks: even though it offers us Anna’s yearly income, we don’t know, if McGuire’s sons contributed to the household, if McGuire received Social Security benefits, or if the McGuire family saved money before Hugh lost his job. In other words, the whole family may have been struggling to make ends meet.

Image from the United States Census, 1940.

The census records also leave out vital information about McGuire’s wife. Was she unemployed because she was fulfilling the stereotypical duties of white women at the time, or did her lack of education (she only completed the further grade) shut her out of the scant opportunities women could obtain? As much as the census can aid researchers, it will never be able to answer these compelling questions, and may often leave researchers with more questions!

Image from the United States Census, 1930. In the “Home Data” section, it asks the family to report if they own a radio set.

While census records offer the bare facts of an individual’s life, they are quite useful to demonstrate large-scale changes in health, education, immigration and even leisure through their questionnaires. For example, in both the 1900 and 1910 census, participants are asked to list the number of children born, as well as the number of children living. This distinction reflected the high child mortality rate during the time; Hugh’s wife was quite lucky that all four of her children survived. However, by the 1920s, efforts to combat childhood diseases increased, and the census no longer included this category. The most amusing category was in 1930s census, which included a category simply titled “radio set” reflecting the growing number of families with radios, including the McGuire family. This category disappeared by the next census in 1940, reflecting both that radio sets were no longer novelties and the assumption that most households owned a radio.

This research was so engaging that I chose to volunteer my time to help the project further. While completing the worksheets of three more policemen, I learned a valuable lesson about genealogical research: researchers should not always trust their internet searches. When attempting to find the birth records for a man named Owen Katon, I was unable to discover his information. It was only with the aid of UMass Boston archivist Joanne Riley that I noticed there had been a transcribing error between the physical documents and the online search results. When I searched for Owen Katon, I had only found one record for “William Katon” and promptly assumed it couldn’t be the correct person. However, Riley taught me an important lesson: never assume that the online search results are always correct. When I actually looked at the scanned records for “William Katon,” I discovered that the records were really for Owen Katon after all! This is not to say that websites are untrustworthy; rather, researchers must be aware of these human errors, and conduct their research accordingly.

The BPD Strike Project still continues, with the goal of completion by the 100th anniversary on September 9th, 2019. If you are looking to improve your genealogical skills, for your own personal or scholarly projects, I strongly I strongly recommend getting involved.

Reference

Puleo, Stephen. Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press, 2004.

Preserving the Past: An Active Internship at the NEDCC

by Rebecca Carpenter

In the fall of 2016, I completed an internship with the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) with Frances Harrell and others in Preservation Services.

Screen shot of the NEDCC website.

The NEDCC, founded in 1973, was the first independent Conservation lab in the US dedicated to preservation and conservation of paper and film based materials. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities it has grown to encompass Imaging and Audio services as well. With the advent of new technologies, preservation and conservation will become ever more important in the archival world and the NEDCC is leading the way.

19th century college scrapbook
This 19th-century scrapbook contains mixed media and provides complex preservation challenges.

I took a behind the scenes tour of the NEDCC facilities during Professor Morgan’s “Archival Methods and Practices” course. That experience, and my lifelong interest in preservation, led to the opportunity to work with the NEDCC.

Digitization as Digital Preservation?

Since the 1990s libraries, archives, and similar institutions have digitized select special collections materials at an increasing pace. This push occurred partly because technology enabled it. Digitization and the internet brought hidden collections out of the shadows and made them accessible to a much larger audience. This brought with it a host of challenges.

David Joyall, Senior Photographer at NEDCC, using digital photography for preservation.

At what resolution should items be scanned or photographed? What storage should we be using to store digitized materials? What platform is easily accessible to the public? How often should we do fixity checks? Is an internal or external IT department better? How much storage space will we need? What happens to the materials after digitization?

All these questions, and more, became commonplace when talking about digitization. Quickly, archivists began to ask, who could and should create and provide answers and establish best practices? The Library of Congress, Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative, and the Smithsonian Institute are some of the bigger institutions and groups that have taken on the task of creating and distributing best practices and guides. These standards are helpful, but often filled with jargon and might not be useful in small- to mid-size institutions who have limited staffing and budget resources. It is with this thought in mind my internship took shape.

The Survey

The main objective of my internship centered on assisting in the creation and distribution of a survey about the present-day digitization and digital preservation practices of small- and mid-size institutions. NEDCC hoped to use the information gleaned from the survey to devise educational classes and webinars on digital preservation and digitization techniques.

I researched and identified state and local institutions to target in the survey.

I worked with the Preservation Services team throughout the entirety of this process. In the first few weeks of my assignment with the NEDCC, much of the time was pulling together a list of possible institutions to target for the survey. Researching each state, I collected information about statewide museum and archive associations to get the information out to as many people as possible. Then, I targeted smaller and specialized institutions, especially those whose focus pertained to minority groups. After targeting individual institutions and statewide institutions, I moved to looking at listservs and social media pages that could be helpful in distributing the survey. In the end, I created a list of over 200 individual email addresses compiled for distribution, along with other 50 listservs and groups.

One of the most important steps was writing clear survey questions and making sure that the answers would give us the information we wanted. I have only made one survey before this project and it was a customer service survey. In a way, being new to preservation, digitization and digital preservation helped me to create questions hat were easy to understand, even for those with limited knowledge of the specifics of digital preservation.

I designed the preservation survey using Survey Monkey.

I designed the survey in SurveyMonkey. This was the most creative part of my internship and I had a good time with it!

The weeks following the opening of the survey became about data analysis. SurveyMonkey has an analysis tool; however, we collected so much odd and individualized data, the results of SurveyMonkey’s analysis were not great. Therefore, my job became attempting to do basic data analysis. Having never done data analysis before, I spent time watching YouTube videos and doing research about how to do data analysis. I found out from this survey how incredibly difficult data analysis is! I was not surprised to find out that the NEDCC previously hired data analysis employees.

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Staffing data from Digitization and Digital Preservation Survey. October 2016.

 

The work with the survey culminated in the presentation at the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG) conference in New York. I presented with NEDCC’s Frances Harrell. I was very nervous about speaking to such a large group of people but, in the end, our presentation went well by all accounts.

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Frances Harrell of the NEDCC and me after completion of our presentation at PASIG. October 2016.
Preservation Services Work

Along with the survey work, which took up most of the time, I was able to spend time doing other tasks for the preservation services at the NEDCC.

Kiyoshi Imai, Associate Book Conservator, working in NEDCC conservation lab.

One of my favorite tasks that did not directly relate to the survey was reference work. I read and answered questions that came to the Preservation Services email address . This enabled me to do research on preservation and conservation practices. Because of this task, I also spent some time in the conservation lab seeing what they were working on and the techniques they used regularly. This part of my internship I enjoyed more than anything else.

Take-away

The NEDCC Preservation Services team showed me how important preservation is to all collections and how vulnerable almost all collections are.  This internship was informative, educational, and challenging at times. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know more fully that preservation and conservation are where my true passion lies.