Finding One’s Path on the Road of Research: An Intern’s Journey

By: Nina Rodwin

Originally published by the Center for the History of Medicine on December 5, 2017: https://cms.www.countway.harvard.edu/wp/?p=14583

Nina Rodwin, UMass Boston Public History Student
Nina Rodwin, UMass Boston Public History Student

When I started my internship at Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine, my project adviser, Joan Ilacqua, project archivist for the Archives for Women in Medicine, and I decided to investigate digitized journals between 1900 and 1920 from the Medical Heritage Library’s State Medical Society Journals project to uncover the effects of the 1910 Flexner Report on women’s medical education. The goal of the project was to create a digital exhibit about the state of medical education before and after the Flexner Report to better understand how women medical students and physicians were influenced by Flexner’s recommendations. However, as I conducted my research, I found that this topic connected to multiple issues beyond the question of women’s education in the medical field. These new avenues opened the exhibit to larger questions regarding sex, class, gender, and race during the early 20th century.

Abraham Flexner, c.a. 1908
Abraham Flexner, c.a. 1908.

In 1908, Professor Abraham Flexner was hired by the Council on Medical Education (a branch of the American Medical Association) to travel to each American medical school and evaluate the overall institution; from  curriculum, to the number of faculty, to the condition of laboratories and libraries. Flexner’s findings were unnerving and the quality of medical schools varied wildly. Flexner recommended that schools with financial means should emulate the quality of education seen at Johns Hopkins University, one of the first medical schools affiliated with a teaching hospital that also required laboratory experience for all its students. Flexner strongly recommended that schools which could not afford such expensive upgrades be closed.

Modern analysis of the Flexner report shows that his decisions meant that most women’s and Black medical schools were closed, as these institutions often had fewer funds. While medical students in the early 20th century were more likely to learn the latest medical techniques from prestigious institutions, many women and Black medical students were barred from these opportunities, as many schools (including Harvard) openly refused to admit them or admitted them in minuscule numbers. When I began this project, I assumed that these issues would be reflected and discussed in the state medical journals of the time.

I imagined discovering blustering editorials, where the authors would be offended at the very the idea of women entering the medical field. However, I struggled to find any editorial that even mentioned women, yet alone any that excoriated them for being in the field. I found many articles and editorials that dryly reported the progress of medical education and criticized the Flexner Report for its negative conclusions, but none discussed what these changes would mean for women medical students. Finding little evidence connecting the Flexner Report to women’s education in medical schools was particularly important– it demonstrated that many physicians in the early 20th century were no longer outraged by the idea of women practicing medicine. The research showed that the question for women physicians in the early 20th century was not a debate surrounding their abilities or rights to practice medicine, but was rather a debate surrounding which kinds of medical fields were best suited for women.

The Woman’s Medical Journal, Vol. XV, No. 4. April 1905.
The Woman’s Medical Journal, Vol. XV, No. 4. April 1905.

In fact, women physicians during the early 1900s went to great efforts to prove sex discrimination was a relic of the past. This belief however, was often countered by their own experiences, as seen in editorials from The Woman’s Medical Journal. These editorials were especially interesting when compared with editorials from state medical journals, as both used cultural ideas about women, motherhood, and women’s natural abilities to argue for or against women in certain fields. As my research progressed, I was especially drawn to the differences between the Women’s Medical Journal (WMJ) and the Pennsylvania Medical Journal. (PMJ) While both journals contained medical articles, the WMJ also had a social justice slant, advocating for women’s medical education across the world, endorsing a woman’s right to vote, and demonstrating that women physicians were just as capable as their male counterparts. Both journals portrayed women in the medical field, but PMJ often emphasized traditional ideas about a “women’s place.” For example, there are many articles in the PMJ, including this toast given in 1907, about the self-sacrificing wives of male physicians, but no mention of the struggle women physicians faced balancing their social, professional and domestic roles.

My research found that the fields of anesthesiology and lab work were seen as ideal place for women physicians. Public health was especially popular for women physicians, as its focus

Caption from “The Doctor’s Wife,” a speech given by H.J. Bell, MD in 1907.
Caption from “The Doctor’s Wife,” a speech given by H.J. Bell, MD in 1907.

on the household, parenting, dieting, and children’s health were considered extensions of a woman’s natural role as caretaker and mother. However, white women physicians in the field of public health in the early 20th century often advocated for eugenic practices, including limiting marriages to those considered “fit” and the sterilization of those considered “unfit.” So as white women advocated for equality in the medical field, they also encouraged policies that targeted and discriminated women from marginalized groups. While this topic is quite disturbing, I have found this section of my research the most interesting, as the concepts advocating for White Supremacy are very similar both in the early 20th century and today.

I believe that making historical connections to modern events can be a great tool to help connect today’s audiences to the past. The issue of discrimination against women in the workplace is still very relevant today, especially in the medical field. The decisions made by the Flexner Report still affect medical education today. Although women’s enrollment in medical schools was almost evenly split with men in 2016, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and rates of minority student enrollment has increased over time, Latino and Black students only comprise 20% of incoming medical students nationwide although these statistics do not break down minority applicants by gender.  Furthermore, women in the workforce still struggle with societal expectations of motherhood and marriage, making the balance between their personal lives and professional lives much harder. Although my research evolved from a project specifically on the Flexner Report to an analysis of women in medicine in the early 20th century, I hope my forthcoming exhibit can shed light on how far women have come, while reminding my audience that many obstacles remain. I look forward to completing the internship and presenting my findings.

Down in the Crypt: Interview with an Asher Jackson, Archivist, Fitchburg State University Archives

By Maddy Moison

As we descend down a long, forgotten hallway we come across an area of the building seldom visited. Large wooden tables with warm desk lamps stand guard over the old books that line the walls. The lamps do little to cut through the cold air that permeates the room. The climate controls kick in with a gentle hum in the background, the only noise in the room. I have ventured into the proverbial crypt of history. Few have dared to walk this path and even fewer have returned to tell the tale. Why have I risked life and limb you ask? Well, dear reader, I have managed to secure an interview with a rare species. No, not a vampire…. an archivist.   

Asher Jackson, archivist, Fitchburg State University
Asher Jackson, archivist, Fitchburg State University

Trapped below ground in Fitchburg State University’s archive I am stuck by how new everything looks; no cobwebs or dust bunnies here.  Asher Jackson, the archivist in question, comments that the university has undergone many renovation projects in the past four years, one of which was the creation of a new archive. What wasn’t anything more than a large closet with boxes stacked unceremoniously in piles when I attended Fitchburg State is now a brand new archive. The reading room is small but has enough seats to hold a class of students.

Mr. Jackson is the only trained archivist on staff. He gently moves a cardboard box off of our table so that we can see each other. Mr. Jackson found his way to this quiet reading room through a series of seemingly coincidental and haphazard choices. After dropping out of college and getting a job at a law firm in their records management department he spent his time wondering why arranging the files was such a difficult task. Paperwork was lost all the time, never to be found unless by happy chance. “I didn’t know it then but I was working in a sort of archive. I kept asking: if libraries could do this why was this so hard?” After a bit of research Mr. Jackson found himself applying to go back to school, this time for library and information science at Simmons College in Boston. He found the archives track and finally fit all the puzzle pieces together. After a stint in the muggy climate of Delaware, working at the University of Delaware, he made the move back to Boston. Soon after, he moved to Fitchburg with a friend, an organ player at a local church (I will keep my vampire speculations to a minimum, dear reader, I promise).

What makes Mr. Jackson’s job unique is his interactions with students. It’s the most rewarding part off the job for him. The differences between a job in university archives and one in a historical society or museum is the opportunity to interact with students. Of course, many students on campus don’t know what an archive is or that there even is one on campus. However, as Mr. Jackson points out, “People in university communities understand what primary resources are, and they understand the important uniqueness of that.” Here in the basement of the student center, classes are brought in to conduct research. Jackson’s favorite project every year is working with a writing class on a paper about the origins of superstitions. He helps them find resources, showing them how to navigate an archive for source material. At the completion of the project, each student designs a gallery exhibition to display their research. This ‘crypt,’ as it turns out, is a livelier place than I had anticipated.

Cover, "Homeland"
R.A. Salvatore, author of the “Dark Elf” trilogy, is among those whose collections are held in the archives at Fitchburg State

Among its many treasures, the archive holds the papers of Robert Cormier, author of The Chocolate Wars, as well as those of R.A. Salvatore, creator of the Dark Elf trilogy. Both lived and worked in the Fitchburg area and attended Fitchburg State University. As Mr. Jackson enthusiastically shows me around the archive, he singles out Cormier’s old typewriter. With unabashed joy, he holds the typewriter and lets me touch the well-worn keys.

As he talks, Jackson makes it very clear that he understands the importance of FSU’s archives to the city of Fitchburg. “Fitchburg is one of those places that is overlooked as a working man’s town… I want to force people to look and see that you can live here and be successful. Look at all the amazing things that were happening here.” As a part of his work with the Salvatore collection, Jackson worked closely with the author to create a welcoming space for fans. He points out a number of pieces from the collection, including fan art and letters Salvatore sent back asking permission to include them in his collection. “I wanted to make this place as accessible as possible so everyone can come and look at all of this.”

Main Street, Fitchburg, MA; c.a. between 1930 and 1945. Image is in the public domain.
Main Street, Fitchburg, MA; c.a. between 1930 and 1945. Image is in the public domain.

All of this outreach and work comes at a cost and Jackson, a realist, is quick to point out that his situation at the University is rather precarious. Fitchburg, for instance, does not provide him with his own budget. Consequently, he chips away what he can from the library’s budget. With money tight, he does what he can to minimize time spent on certain activities, “I could either take out all of these paperclips or actually or

ganize [the collections].” When he is not helping students or going through a new collection, Jackson is on call at the local historical society, lending a hand whenever questions arise. He is the only trained archivist in the area; yet, there are limits to his ability to help. He admits, for instance, that his preservation skills are not where he would like them to be. Nevertheless, the prohibitive cost of outsourcing preservation work means that he has to make do with his own skills. As such, he wants to learn more about preservation tactics to do more in house repairs.

I thank my host for sharing his time and make my escape back to the world of daylight and warmth to reflect on my time in the archive.

There was such a vast array of information there to be unearthed and helpful staff there to walk you through your excavation. Such a hidden world should not be left unexplored. Dear reader, I encourage you to seek out your local archivist. I promise you, the archive is not as scary a place as you might think.    

Public History at the American Historical Association’s 2018 Annual Meeting

By: Genevieve Wallace

How do you choose which conferences to go to, especially as a graduate student with limited travel funding? Public history students in particular (myself included) will likely be drawn to the National Council on Public History, or the New England Museum Association’s annual meeting. The American Historical Association (AHA) is often overlooked by students of public history because of its reputation for academic history. However, as the largest professional organization of historians, there is something for everyone—including public historians. I was fortunate enough to attend all four days of its annual conference in Washington, DC this (especially frigid) winter, and it was worth bundling up for.

Program Cover, American Historical Association, 132nd Annual Meeting
Program, American Historical Association, 132nd Annual Meeting
Museum Talk

Several panels at the AHA were focused on public history and composed of public historians in the field. I chose to attend 1960’s GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) in large part because Samir Meghelli, museum curator for the Anacostia Community Museum, was presenting. I learned about the Anacostia Community Museum in a public history class, and was inspired by its innovative approach. Meghelli walked us through the museum’s history and the transformative experience of sharing authority with a neighborhood. By opening dialogue with neighborhood residents, the museum gained information about community interests.

Anacostia Museum's building at 1901 Fort Place, S.E., Washington, D.C.
Anacostia Museum’s building at 1901 Fort Place, S.E., Washington, D.C. Public Domain.

These interests motivated the museum to shift its orientation from objects to the community itself. Exhibits became about topics like the neighborhood rat infestation, and the museum became a hub for community.

Public History and Public Memory: Talking about Slavery at Presidential Plantations panelists included staff from three presidential plantations: James Monroe’s Highland, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and James Madison’s Montpelier. All three institutions include tours and exhibits about slavery. Monticello and Montpelier have collected oral histories from hundreds of descendants of slaves, and work with the descendant community about how to represent their past. Brandon Dillard, educator at Monticello, shared an interesting anecdote about the slave quarters at Monticello. Visitors on tours consistently remark, “this isn’t so bad!” while inside a restored slave cabin. These remarks prompted staff to install a sign outside that reads, “not so bad?” and explains the reality of slavery as more than the material reality of their cabins.

Job Talk

“What Do Public History Employers Want?” A Report from the National Council on Public History was enormously informative. With an expected graduation in May (knock on wood), I walked away with several useful pieces of information about the job search. For example, jobs posted on USA Jobs use computers as first readers of applications, so interested parties should pack their resumes with terms from the job descriptions. Since many of us in the room were either teachers or students, we learned some “tricks” to describe our roles in ways that match the skills required. Serving on a thesis committee, for example, might translate into some of the skills needed for a project management position.

Panelists highlighted two particular skills—public speaking and digital skills. Public speaking was listed at the top of desirable skills for public history jobs. Digital skills, like graphic design, were likewise named valuable. These skills can be developed in myriad ways, and panelists encouraged current graduate students to take courses outside of their departments.

My takeaway from this panel? Continue to develop your extracurricular activities, even if they seem unrelated to your career search. I have been volunteering for The Moth, a non-profit dedicated to storytelling, and telling my own stories in various venues for the past two years. When I asked panelists for strategies

Here is one example of Genevieve's creativity and talent. You can see more on her Instagram.
Making mixed media art has helped Genevieve to develop her digital skills.

to bolster my public speaking resume, they encouraged me to highlight my storytelling experience. Additionally, I make mixed media art in my spare time, which has inadvertently helped to develop my digital skills (shameless self-promotion if you are interested). For the full report, “What Do Public History Employers Want?,” click here.

Networking

Snacks, drink tickets, public historians—what more could you want? The public historian’s reception was a fantastic opportunity to meet and talk with professionals in the field, other graduate students, and professors. Plus, Jim Grossman, executive director of the AHA, gave a speech, and announced that there were “a few” tickets available to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I was in the front of the room to pick one up before he had finished saying the word “museum.” My networking experience continued on the escalator down to the metro after the reception, where I ended up meeting a founder of the National Council on Public History and exchanging contact information.

I went to Building a Professional Profile on LinkedIn in the hopes of learning more about digital networking. Unfortunately, the presentation ended up being a bust due to AV issues in the conference room. However, while we were waiting for the presenters to set up I started talking to a history professor from New York who offered me another ticket to the NMAAHC. She said she had seen me get one the night before at the reception, and she was unable to attend her time slot. I was able to give this bonus ticket to my friend, who was kind enough to host me for the conference, and had never been to the museum.

Intellectual Growth

In addition to public history, there are panels on dozens of topics in history for conference attendees to choose from. Attending these topic sessions helped reinvigorate my desire to contribute meaningful scholarship to the field, and to read widely. In this case, my favorite panel of the entire conference, Comics and History: New Historical Research, inspired me to read more comic books. Jonathan Gray, former editor of the journal Comics and Culture, analyzed and applauded the work of graphic novels as sources of historical information on the Civil Rights Movement. He examined the graphic novel March in particular, which I was able to get for free from the Penguin Books booth in the exhibit hall. Ari Kelman, history professor at UC Davis, walked us through his own process of making a graphic novel with no previous experience working with an illustrator.

I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in history to not only join the AHA, but to attend their conference next year in Chicago.

Graphic for the American Historical Association's Annual Meeting, 2019.
Graphic for the American Historical Association’s Annual Meeting, 2019.

Reflecting Back, Moving Forward

by: Marilyn Morgan

With some heaviness in my heart, I recently announced my decision to leave my post as director of the Archives Program to apply my skills and passion for educational technology as an Instructional Designer at the Harvard Business School.

Graduate students working as a team to appraise a collection in “Intro to Archives,” fall 2017.

When I stepped into my role as the director of the Archives Program in September 2014, I felt honored to assume leadership of a program that provides affordable and high-quality graduate education in archival studies.

With support from  my extraordinary colleagues of the University Archives and Special Collections  (UASC) and the help of skilled and selfless archivists, including Marta Crilly, Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Alfie Paul, Jenny Gotwals, and Juliana Kuipers, the program has transformed. Together, we shaped a program that prepares students by blending archival theory with practical hands-on education.

Graduate students in History 627, processing archival collections, thanks to a collaborative arrangement with the UASC.

Thanks to the ongoing support of Joanne RileyInterim Dean of University Libraries at UMass Boston, and UASC processing archivist Meghan Bailey, graduate students in the program gained the unique opportunity to process archival collections, producing online finding aids that enable researchers to use collections. The Archives Program could not have succeeded without this collaborative ongoing arrangement.

Katie Burke, processing the records of the Massachusetts Federation for Fair Housing in “Archival Methods and Processing,”  spring 2017. The collection is housed at the UASC; access the finding aid online.

Over the past three years, the program forged critical new collaborations with local institutions including Boston City Archives; the Massachusetts Historical Society, the National Park Service, Boston; and the National Archives at Boston.

Marta Crilly, Archivist for Reference and Outreach at Boston City Archives, shared her expertise with students in all archives courses. Our ongoing collaboration enabled students in the course, “Transforming Archives & History in a Digital Age,” to gain invaluable experience digitizing records pertaining to the turmoil surrounding the desegregation of Boston Public Schools in 1974.

Archives students working together on a project during a class held at Boston City Archives.

 

That hands-on experience gave our students the chance to participate in digital projects, create metatdata, and design robust, engaging online exhibits that received local and national recognition. The digital exhibits students created in Omeka provided public access to many historical documents that were previously inaccessible.

Screenshot of the course site displaying online exhibits designed by students in “Transforming Archives and History in a Digital Age.”

In 2016, the Center for History and New Media recognized the online exhibits designed by graduate students in the Archives Program and the course site remains as a featured site in Omeka’s showcase. I could not be more proud of our students and recent graduates!

Alfie Paul (right) sharing his collection knowledge with students of H 630 as they investigated the desegregation of Boston Public Schools, spring 2016.

During the search for the next Archives Program director, it’s my pleasure to report that two seasoned and passionate leaders in the profession will begin teaching archives courses in the spring semester. Alfie Paul, Director of Archival Operations at the National Archives at Boston will teach “Archival Methods and Processing” while Veronica Martzahl, Digital Records Archivist at the Massachusetts Archives, will begin teaching “Transforming Archives & History in a Digital Age.”

Through determination and commitment to quality education, the program has grown more robust over the past three years. We have advanced a culture of practical education and performance that distinguishes our students. Graduates of the program promise to become future leaders in the profession.

For these reasons and more, I will truly miss having the honor of educating the graduate students of the Archives Program at UMass Boston. I have learned as much as I have taught. I look forward to hearing of our students’ future successes and achievements.

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!