We at the UMass Boston graduate program in history are pleased to announce that an article by recent alumnus, Edet A. Thomas, has been accepted to the Pardee Periodical Journal of Global Affairs. Edet’s article will appear in the journal’s forthcoming Fall 2018 issue. A full abstract of his article is below. Congratulations to Edet!
“Wicked and Illegal Traffic”: Newspaper Portrayal of Nigerian Women in the Cannabis Trade (circa 1970 – 1980)
By Edet A. Thomas
This paper examines the portrayal of Nigerian women involved in the illegal international cannabis trade by the Nigerian newspaper press between 1970 and 1980, to offer new perspective of historical scholarship on Africa’s role in the global drugs trade. Besides citing oral sources, the researcher analysed news reports, opinion articles, letters to the editor and pictures as published in Daily Times, New Nigerian, West African Pilot, Daily Express and The Punch. Findings suggest that the managers of the newspaper press, guided as they were by patriarchal notions of how women should behave in traditional Nigerian society, took liberties in sensationalizing stories about the suspects. In terms of extent and intensity, there was far more press coverage of cases involving women, who made up only 2% of the 1,169 persons convicted for cannabis-related offences between 1966 and 1975. The paper demonstrates how prevailing socioeconomic conditions shaped the press’s framing of women’s drug-related activities in an era of relative economic prosperity.
On a quintessential fall day this past October, the UMass Boston Labor Resource Center held a memorial lecture in honor of the late Dr. James Green. Dr. Green, the celebrated historian, author, and activist, was a beloved member of the UMass Boston faculty and the Boston labor community. The event featured Professor Patricia Reeve of Suffolk University, who spoke to an enthusiastic audience about the contemporary labor landscape in Boston and Jim’s legacy in the field. As first-year public history MA students, we responded to the Labor Resource Center’s call for volunteers to lead a labor history walking tour in downtown Boston. This was also an opportunity for us to learn about Jim Green’s work and legacies as a movement historian.
As a scholar of new labor history, Jim brought together scholarship and his commitments as a public historian. He brought a people’s history lens to Boston’s historical landscape in 2001, when he planned and wrote the “Working Peoples’ Heritage Trail,” a driving tour of Boston’s labor history sites from colonial times right up to the present. In 2017, a recent Harvard PhD, Cristina V. Groeger, revised and updated the tour. Her project resulted in digital access to the sites, facilitated by an easy to follow google map, both of which can be found here. Groeger spoke briefly at the memorial event about the creation of the website and then handed the microphone over to us to introduce our tours.
We were a bit intimidated, as neither of us are labor historians or active in the labor movement. We knew we would be talking to experts in the field, leaders in the community, and people connected to Jim’s legacy. But as aspiring public historians, we enthusiastically embraced the challenge. In planning our tours, we divided up the sites, so we offered the participants two different experiences. Adam (having only lived in Boston for a grand total of a two months) kept his group focused around the Common. This part of the tour brought the group to well-known Boston landmarks, but interpreted them through a labor lens. Heading in the opposite direction, Madison took her group down through the theater district, Chinatown, and the old Garment District. Her tour had very few extant buildings, but brought people to lesser known sites and illuminated their hidden histories.
Despite the anxiety of keeping groups together through construction sites, yelling over jack hammers, and illustrations blowing away in the wind, both tours were successful and rewarding. Our groups were engaged in the information we presented, and excited to see Boston through a new lens. Madison’s audience loved hearing about the time that Amelia Earhart, a short-term employee of Denison House, a social settlement on Tyler Street, flew over Boston scattering leaflets about a Denison House event. They were also very curious about the development of Chinatown as a center of labor, and the community’s efforts to preserve their unique culture. Many of the participants were involved in the labor movement themselves, so when we were not able to answer specific questions, we deferred it to the group at large. This encouraged dialogue and critical thinking, and generally led to rich group discussion.
Adam’s group enjoyed finding the exact place of the famous photo, “Soiling of Old Glory” in Government Center. They discussed the
ways in which Boston’s busing crisis is remembered, or not, as the case may be, through public displays and in our collective consciousness. We also considered the complicated history of African American struggles and contributions to Boston’s historical landscape. These conversations with our tour participants reflected their deep interest in thinking about how to complicate our narratives and tell hard truths.
We are pleased that the Labor Resource Center has offered us the opportunity to lead tours again in July 2018. We are delighted that our continued participation in this project gives us the opportunity to continue developing our skills as public historians while keeping Jim’s legacy alive.
In his many writings, Dr. Green called for scholars to be stewards of historical knowledge and make history accessible in causes for social justice. We have taken those ideas to heart. It was a distinct pleasure to learn about his perspective on history and to experience the challenges to personal and popular narratives of history, posed by a people’s history tour. The entire experience provided a lesson on how each individual and community shapes their own histories, and the importance of the contributions and agency of those relatively invisible in the historical record as the true agents of important historical moments. As historians, we play a role in shaping these narratives, and Jim’s work reminds and challenges us to live up to our responsibilities to and the promise of collaborating with our communities.
We are excited to announce that the Dorchester Reporter recently published an article about an upcoming exhibit curated by public history student Sarah K. Black. You can find it here.
Sarah’s exhibit, which is entitled, “An Extraordinary Look into Ordinary Lives: Uncovering Dorchester’s Industrial School for Girls,” explores the first decades of Dorchester’s Industrial School for Girls, touching on daily life at the school, gender roles, class dynamics, and race relations. It will also feature dozens of artifacts recovered during the archaeological dig performed on the site in 2015.
The opening reception will take place at the Massachusetts State Archives & Commonwealth Museum on Thursday, May 10th.
I moved to Boston from California two years ago because of a love of old boats and cobblestones (yes, really). Fortuitously, I sat next to Jennifer Zanolli, Manager of Interpretation and Visitor Services at the USS Constitution Museum, during a session at the New England Museum Association (NEMA) conference in November 2016. A year later, I was lucky enough to work with Jennifer as a museum education intern at the USS Constitution Museum.
My primary responsibility was brainstorming educational programs to implement on USS Constitution. The goal was to create a program on the ship itself based on an existing program at the museum. We envisioned this complimentary program as a way to help visitors identify and make connections between the museum program and its context in this historical setting. Since hands-on learning is a hallmark of the USS Constitution Museum, any new program required appropriate and meaningful strategies for audience participation. I faced this new challenge right away, since the precise details, or even the general structure, of this program were unknown at the start of the internship. Previously, the Constitution Museum had not had access to the ship for its educational programs, so my task was unprecedented. However, the format of the program would follow that of existing gallery guides for programs in the museum. This exciting new opportunity became possible through the combination of an amenable commanding officer, and a grant to fund collaboration between the US Navy and the USS Constitution Museum.
The USS Constitution Museum has won numerous well-deserved awards for their interactive and highly engaging exhibits since they opened in 1972. The museum’s primary focus is USS Constitution and everyone whose lives were touched by the vessel’s construction and commission. It is located next to the ship itself, in the Charlestown Navy Yard. The museum’s mission statement boasts a commitment to scholarship and innovation, as well as providing hands-on experiences that keep the stories of USS Constitution and those associated with her relevant.
Because of the intimidatingly high bar the museum has set for engaging and interactive exhibits, I had the challenge of creating ideas that would be within the realm of possibilities, but also the encouragement to think big. I approached the task by researching and brainstorming programs suitable for the ship, interacting with and observing the different galleries and programs in the Constitution Museum, and attending museum educator meetings.
I began my research began by exploring programs at other maritime museums to identify possible on-ship program models. This offered limited information, because many ship museums are able to offer sailing tours that Constitution cannot, and the ones that don’t (like the HMS Victory) offer visitors open decks to walk through, but no educational programing. I turned back to our own exhibits and programs in the museum for inspiration, but I still didn’t have a clear idea. It was difficult to decide on which aspect of the ship’s history to focus on, and how to transform that aspect to an engaging experience for visitors on deck. I wanted to explore the possibilities of dreaming big, but I soon learned about the practical limitations of some of my ideas. I have so many details about the sounds and smells of shipboard life from reading maritime literature, that I was especially interested in giving visitors sensory experiences on the ship. How about inviting visitors to dine on a tarp, like the enlisted men would have done, I suggested? As my supervisor, Jennifer gently reminded me of problems with cleanup and containment. Some of my other adventurous ideas—installing a tarp with fake blood, or salt to recreate the grainy texture from scrubbing the deck, or installing speakers in the masts—all presented similar problems.
After talking to Jennifer and hearing her suggestions, I decided to build an activity for the ship based on the existing, Ready? Set, Fire!program in the museum. Ready? Set, Fire! is a program about cannon pressure where visitors build Alka-Seltzer cannons out of film canisters. Once I had made my decision, I knew that gunpowder would be the focal point of my program, and I shifted my research focus to gunpowder and powder passing. Powder passing is the process sailors used to get gunpowder from storage kegs below decks, up to guns on the gun and spar decks. The museum has many resources for information on passing powder on the USS—the responsible crew members, as well as timing and logistics.
The most important historical resource for planning this program was the ship itself. I had an idea that a powder passing activity might be fun, but I needed to see parts of the ship I had never been to in order to in order to imagine the details. Luckily, I had the assistance and a full tour of the ship by Margherita Desy, a civilian employed by the navy as the ship’s historian. I was in a much better position to plan the logistics of this activity after my tour. I had originally wanted to start the powder line in the magazine, however after visiting it I decided that would be a bad idea. For example, the magazine, which is the room where the powder kegs are stored, is tiny! Only two or three people can fit into it at once, and it is difficult to climb down into.
The Constitution Museum emphasizes a culture of collaboration. Once I had completed sufficient research on powder passing, and had a general idea for a powder passing activity between decks, I was able to run this idea by the museum educators in a meeting. I was met with enthusiasm and several good ideas. The collaboration between educators was energizing and inspiring, and left me wanting more collaborative experiences. Working alone in the research room meant that I had to create opportunities for such experiences, but minimize interrupting staff while they worked on their own projects.
By the end of my internship with the USS Constitution Museum I was able to accomplish several of my original goals. I had been interested to learn about the job descriptions for different roles in the museum, in order to get a feel for what I might want to pursue in the museum field after graduation. I had one-on-one meetings with Harriet Slootbeek, Collections and Exhibits Manager; Robert Kiihne, Director of Exhibits; Jodie Smith, Manager of Academic Programs; Jennifer Zanolli, Manager of Interpretation and Visitor Services; Margherita Desy, Historian for USS Constitution; Carl Herzog, Public Historian; and several educators. I asked them about their jobs—their current job descriptions as well as what projects they are currently part of at the museum—and their past work experience. Though I haven’t decided what I would like to do most, I have a better idea of what is possible.
Brainstorming, research, and collaboration in the museum helped me write a gallery guide for a new education program. Although I found my professional education experience useful, I learned to create a new type of lesson plan, and discover the institutional constraints that impact program development. I volunteered at the museum’s biggest annual fundraiser—a silent auction and dinner in the Seaport—and experienced the culmination of months of planning for the ship’s 220th birthday celebration (which included a Constitution shaped cake!).
One of my biggest takeaways was how invigorating and inspiring it can be to work with a team of dedicated, and similarly nerdy, professionals who are all invested in the integrity of an institution and its mission. When I was working with a small team and I had people to share and build ideas with I was much happier and more productive than when I was working alone. Throughout the whole process of creating a program, I learned how much work and how many voices go into each final version.
In the 1960s and 70s, the areas along Dudley Street in Boston’s Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods were the target of intentional disinvestment and isolation by Boston banks, public and private developers, even including the City of Boston. These individuals and groups were influenced by many motives, foremost among them a toxic mix of greed and racism. An initial refusal to provide individuals of color with access to mortgages and other financial loans, combined with developers secretly intimidating the neighborhood’s white residents, particularly Jews who had already paid off their mortgages, prompted departures, and ultimately led to a dismal housing market. Houses started burning down almost every night, some torched by landlords eager to leave the neighborhood with the most cash possible—collecting homeowner’s insurance was known to produce a larger sum than selling property. Burned out lots became vacant. Vacant lots eventually became vacant blocks. To add insult to injury, throughout the 1980s many outsiders to the neighborhood, including City contractors, used the lots as dumping grounds for the city’s trash.
In response to the devastation, as well as the irrepressible belief that the neighborhood could be a successful urban neighborhood, community members organized the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) in 1984. Community members included residents, area business owners, and leaders of local nonprofits. DSNI’s mission is to empower Dudley residents to organize, plan for, create and control a vibrant, diverse and neighborhood in collaboration with community partners. The neighborhood’s residents specifically identify the right to a hazard-free environment, affordable housing, affordable childcare, education for and training of children and adults, and to be treated in a culturally sensitive manner by the wider society as major values. In short, DSNI is a community organization for the community, constituted and determined by the community. Most of its board members are residents and represent the four major ethnic/racial groups in the neighborhood (African American, Cape Verdean, Hispanic, White). Community youth as well as representatives of businesses, agencies, and religious organizations located in DSNI’s catchment area also sit on the Board. Since 1984, DSNI has undertaken a massive cleanup of the neighborhood’s vacant lots, won ownership of neighborhood land from the City of Boston, and built 226 new affordable homes on their property. DSNI is one of the only community organizations in the United States that owns city land. Effectively, this ownership means DSNI controls the terms of the land’s development, thus protecting its residents’from displacement that often accompanies development.
Today DSNI still confronts the challenge of systemic dangers. The development of a new shopping, eating, movie-watching, and residential area a la Somerville’s Assembly Row fifteen minutes from DSNI’s headquarters, for instance, threatens Dudley Street neighbors with displacement by gentrification.
But DSNI has a history of success in building a strong neighborhood that serves it residents and businesses. This past offers vital lessons for today’s challenges. Over the course of their 30 years, DSNI accomplished many of their goals and stabilized the community. Perhaps this history could serve a new generation of residents and activists, although there are very few published sources that narrate the history of this Boston neighborhood since the 1960s.
This is what inspired Rosalind “Ros” Everdell, a recently retired long-time employee at DSNI, to undertake a neighborhood oral history project. Building on her long and deep connections with the diverse racial and cultural groups, individuals and organizations in the neighborhood, Ros conceived Neighborhood Voices–a cross-generational project that records spoken, first-person stories documenting the Dudley Street neighborhood history since the 1960s. The audio-recordings will be placed at UMass Boston’s University Archives and Special Collections in the Healey Library, and portions of the interviews will be uploaded onto the DSNI website. The project will ultimately produce over 20 individual interviews over the next two years.
Although a relative newcomer to the Dudley Street neighborhood—I arrived in 2014—I developed a passion for the Neighborhood Voices project. My landlord, Bob Haas, had told me many stories of his own experiences in the neighborhood as a resident and active community organizer since 1971. The project also provided an opportunity for me to bring together my interests in community-based history, oral history, and my commitment to the neighborhood. Mentored by a skilled and experienced community organizer with a vision, I signed on as an intern to learn public history by doing, and create a program to train project participants, including myself, in some of the rudiments of oral history. I organized an oral history workshop to train resident interviewers, and produced materials on oral history procedures, and a pertinent history timeline to provide local, regional and national historical context. As a relative newcomer to the neighborhood, I had the opportunity to interview my landlord, and thus practice some of my emerging oral history skills.
Through interning with the Neighborhood Voices Project, I learned about the importance of personal connection and individual respect necessary in oral history work, versus the distant observation for which history is traditionally known. As a result of Ros Everdell’s personal networks built on relationship-building and respect and resulting from years of community organizing for better living conditions in the neighborhood, this project was possible and will continue to record the stories of the Dudley neighborhood residents.
In September of 2017, I started my Public History internship with Historic Newton as an Education Collection Interpretation Intern. Historic Newton has a very active presence in their city. They were founded in the 1950s and today run two museums, The Jackson Homestead & Museum and the Durant-Kenrick House & Grounds. They also maintain the town’s historic cemeteries, offer many educational programs to their community including programs for adults and school children, and have online programs that include exhibits, historical information and teacher resources. Their mission is to illuminate their city’s history in the context of the nation’s history.
Historic Newton is dedicated to providing educational opportunities, not only for Newton residents, but for the broader community via the world wide web. Historic Newton offers many educational programs for school age children, and these programs were the focus of my role as intern. In recent years, Historic Newton has developed a daylong lesson on old burying grounds in conjunction with Newton’s middle school teachers. Their two museum spaces feature multiple exhibits on Newton’s history, including sections on slavery and the Underground Railroad, and the domestic life of a Newton family spanning over a century. Online visitors can find exhibits on the Charles River, Newton artists, penny postcards, and the Underground Railroad. Currently, Historic Newton is writing a new curriculum on immigration and has several new programs in the works for the community.
Over the last thirty years, museum education has become an integral part of exhibit planning. Before the 1960s, museums were spaces where people went to simply look at exhibits. In the 1970s, museums began to be thought of as nontraditional learning spaces (versus a traditional classroom setting) and history museum staff began developing exhibits with learning objectives in mind. As a result, there has been a shift from passive to active learning. Today, when people visit a museum they expect to learn something new from an exhibit, a community program, a walking tour, or an activity; most likely, a museum educator had a hand in its development. Museum educators are a vital component of a well-staffed museum. They are specialists who assist institutions in achieving their educational goals.
Museum educators may work with a variety of people, whether they are in-house professionals, community residents, or local public school teachers, to develop programs that are both engaging and informative. Working with teachers on developing curriculums, results in lessons that are meaningful to students, respond to the curriculum, and that teachers are eager to teach. This kind of collaboration creates ownership for the project, which helps the community value the exhibit or program. Through collaboration and exhibit design, museum educators create meaningful programs, lessons, and exhibits for their participants.
As the Education Collection Interpretation Intern, it was my turn to put these ideas and theories into practice. My responsibilities included updating the existing program “If You Lived in the Jackson Homestead” to make it more participatory for young audiences; creating a new exhibit for the “Please Touch” table in the Historic Newton Gallery; and researching items in their education collection for further use in Historic Newton’s educational programs. My goal was to create hands-on activities that allow young children to encounter the past in meaningful ways and engage them in age-appropriate historical thinking.
The “If You Lived at the Jackson Homestead” program is one of Historic Newton’s much loved and older programs, but both staff and visiting teachers identified the need to make it less lecture-based and more participatory for its young audiences. Feedback from teachers indicated a need for more resources for use in their classrooms to support this program. My initial observation of this hour-long lesson for children ages 4 to7 revealed the need for a new approach – these young children spent 30 minutes listening to the presenter deliver information before they had an opportunity to participate in a hands-on activity. My challenge was to figure out how to incorporate participatory elements into the 30-minute information-based session, to make it fun and meaningful for the children. I came up with several ideas then refined them with the help of Newton Public School teachers and Historic Newton staff. In addition, I revised objectives, artifacts, instructions, and follow-up for the existing artifact-handling activity, devising a game that allows children to practice comparing past and present through images of objects of the past and their versions in the present. This new approach to the activity and the other additions to this lesson added a strong participatory component, which better engaged the children.
On Saturday, October 28, 2017, my phone rang out its shrill, soul-crushing alarm at 7:00 AM. And then 7:05. 7:10.
At 7:45, I dragged myself out of the safety and coziness of my bed, threw on clothes, and placed an On-the-Go Dunkin Donuts order for a large coffee while brushing my teeth.
“Add a turbo shot?” the app asked me. I hit yes and dashed out the door, pulling on my shoes as I ran.
What was I, a twenty-two year-old graduate student, doing waking up so early the morning after a friend’s Halloween party—my first day off in weeks? Driving an hour to volunteer at a public history event, of course!
The Mass Memories Road Show at UMass Boston is an event-based public history project that digitizes family photos and memories shared by the people of Massachusetts. Road Show volunteers work with members of the local community to organize a free public event where residents can contribute their photographs to a digital archive. To date, the project has digitized more than 6,000 photographs and stories from across the state, creating an educational resource of primary sources for future generations. On October 28, 2017, I volunteered at the project’s event in Marshfield. It was my first Road Show, and despite having attended a training session, I had no idea what to expect.
Carolyn Goldstein, the Public History and Community Archives Program Manager at UMass Boston’s Archives and Special Collections, greeted me with a smile when I walked through the doors of Marshfield’s Ventress Memorial Library. She directed me to a medium-sized community room, where I saw volunteers of all ages milling around, chatting with one another and setting up their stations. Members of the local community had turned out in force, each excited to take an active role in documenting the history of their community. Several were elders with long memories of Marshfield’s history; some were history buffs; a few were even volunteers from other towns who had volunteered in previous Road Shows. I sat down at my designated station next to an affable woman named Maureen. She and her husband had moved to Marshfield the year before, hoping that a house by the beach would entice their grandchildren to visit more often. She had come to the Road Show because she wanted to become more involved in her new community, and to learn about its history in the process.
As we waited for participants to arrive, Maureen and I went over our responsibilities. Our task was simple: we were to help participants fill out a form for each one of their photographs. We would ask them to title and describe their own photographs and to identify any relevant people, places, and events they captured. We were to allow people to tell their own stories, and to record the meanings that they assigned to each photograph. Our role was to listen, not to shape, suggest, or revise.
Throughout the day, I was privileged to meet and serve many members of the community, and to learn about their diverse experiences as residents of Marshfield. I saw pictures of family homes, children’s weddings, vacations, and old-time local businesses. A woman laid out three pictures before me that comprised six generations of her family. A widow came with her daughter to make sure a photograph of her husband’s old five and dime store made it into the archive. Two of Marshfield’s town historians wanted to scan the cover of their first book. “Don’t worry,” they told me when they learned that I was in a history MA program, “You can make a living doing history—we sure have!”
All day long, I was humbled by the knowledge that participants were allowing me an intimate glimpse into their hearts and minds. They were showing me the people and places that they valued most in the world- memories held so dear that they were worth preserving for future generations. This was, truly, something special.
It is an unfortunate but undeniable reality that archival repositories—digital and not—tend filled with records of the powerful. Their materials disproportionately focus on the lives of white men, the wealthy, the healthy, the well-connected. Those who lack privilege are chronically underrepresented in archival collections, and, too often, that absence leads to an erasure from history. Projects like the Mass. Memories Road Show, which empower people to construct their own archives, tip the balance of power by allowing ordinary people to shape the historical record. They gather together a wealth of material that the historians of the future can draw upon to construct a richer, more complete picture of the past.
And that’s worth getting out of bed on a Saturday morning.
The next Mass. Memories Road Show will be in Amesbury, MA on Saturday, April 21st. A full schedule of Spring events can be found here.
In the summer of 2016, volunteers petitioned throughout the state of Massachusetts to put Question 3 on the ballot. The question involved increasing the amount of space farm animals were given in Massachusetts, affected issues of food safety, and passed in a landslide that November.
At the time, I was completing an MA in History and began working as an intern at the Boston City Archives. I used documents I found at the archive to write about women and African Americans who influenced Boston history. The one that stuck out to me the most was Ida M. Hebbard. Hebbard presided over the Housekeepers League during the 1910s and protested the surging prices of basic goods. She held various meetings about public health, worried about the cost of living for struggling families, and advocated for laws which affected food safety and animal welfare. About a hundred years later, the activists petitioning for Question 3 would follow in her footsteps.
Inspired by Hebbard, I initially wanted my capstone project to tell the story of animal welfare organizations in the Boston area and thought about creating an online exhibit. So when Jan Holmquist took me on a tour of the archive at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, I came in with my original idea in mind. However, at end my visit I had already scrapped that idea and decided to make the MSPCA Archive more accessible to researchers by creating a finding aid. Much of the archive was already processed, but a 2008 fire had set back progress. There was also no concrete list of what records the MSPCA had; researchers needed to email Holmquist first to see if what they needed was there or make an appointment and hope that it was. Although there was a lot of work to be done, I was excited to get started.
In 1867, philanthropist and activist, Emily Warren Appleton traveled to New York and met with Henry Bergh. The founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offered her advice on founding a similar organization in Massachusetts. Upon returning to Boston, she located the men who would become the MSPCA’s first donors and began working on a charter. A year later, George Thorndike Angell published an editorial in response to two horses that were raced to death after traveling a distance of forty miles. Appleton immediately went to Angell’s office after seeing the article, and together they founded the MSPCA. Angell became the first president; during his term, the organization pushed for the passage of multiple anti cruelty laws, published “Our Dumb Animals,” created the first American Band of Mercy, and began the distribution of children’s classics like Black Beauty or Beautiful Joe.
Dr. Francis Rowley took Angell’s place as the MSPCA’s second president in 1910 when Angell passed away in 1909. Rowley expanded the influence of the MSPCA. He oversaw the creation of the first MSPCA shelters and Angell Memorial Hospital. The hospital would be at the forefront of new practices in veterinary medicine, like the world’s first veterinary intern training program in 1940 or the first successful feline kidney transplant in 1997. Rowley also helped build the American Fondouk Maintenance Committee in 1929, a humane organization in Fez, Morocco. This event served as the first of many instances where the MSPCA fought for animal welfare abroad.
Despite the accomplishments of Appleton, Angell, and Rowley, many of their letters and documents may have been lost in the 2008 fire. I began my work at the MSPCA going through Angell’s correspondence and early records. A portion of the letters between Angell and his mother were burnt or missing. However, the correspondence that did survive gives insight into Angell’s upbringing and character. Even rarer, though, are records from Appleton and Rowley in their hand. The MSPCA Archives has a copy of Appleton’s will and she’s mentioned in various record books, but not much else. Only a few of Rowley’s letters survived the fire. It’s impossible to know just how much was lost, because of a lack of a finding aid before the fire.
After surveying early records, I began processing documents that were still disorganized from the fire. In about five boxes, I found records from the American Fondouk, correspondence from MSPCA employees, and many media clippings. The MSPCA Archive had amassed a large collection of newspaper and magazine clippings that mentioned the organization, the hospital, its many shelters, and other organizations that they were connected to. The clippings ranged from the early 1900s to the 2000s, the majority of which were from the 1970s up through 2005. While it would have been great to scan the clippings, as newsprint doesn’t preserve well, I had no means of doing that. So I spent time putting all of these clippings in chronological order and into boxes by decade. I learned a lot about animal welfare history in the 20th century from these clippings. For example, the MSPCA worked with the Franklin Park Zoo in the late 1970s and early 1980s to upgrade the zoo and improve conditions. I would sometimes separate articles not just chronologically, but by event as well. I did so with articles about the zoo in the 1970s.
When going through the records of the MSPCA and creating the finding aid, I not only learned a lot about animal welfare history, but I also realized how a collection can take a toll on the archivist processing it. Sometimes the subjects presented can hit close to home, and this was especially true with how big animal welfare had become in my life. The records at the MSPCA mentioned various issues like donkey basketball, greyhound racing, and instances of animal rescue during natural disasters. In addition to records of successful legislation and uplifting stories, there were also images of animal cruelty. Around the 1950s, employees at the MSPCA wrote to various companies which sold humane stunners and pistols asking for brochures. I also had to process articles on different methods of euthanasia. This aspect of the collection, while important to preserve, was particularly hard for me to look at.
Coming into this project, I was extremely attached to the subject matter. I wanted to list every single record I came across. My finding aid would include everything from documents and photographs to audiovisual material and medals. In the middle of my project, my advisor, Dr. Marilyn Morgan, confronted me with reality. She told me that processing and recording everything at the MSPCA was impossible if I wanted to graduate in December. She also made me realize that my time at the archive wouldn’t have to end when I submitted my finding aid. With her guidance, I focused on what I could actually get done within the time I had. I began selectively processing and recording things. I listed all of the boxes on the finding aid, but not all of the folders inside of them. For example, I didn’t list all of the folders for the many boxes of publications. I knew that any researcher looking for a newsletter or magazine could find what they needed in the labeled boxes and all the folders within them were in alphabetical order. My finding aid ended up focusing entirely on the documents and a small portion of the books. The photographs, audiovisual items, oversized materials, and ephemera needed to be left for another time.
That time came less than two months after I submitted my finding aid and graduated. I became a consultant in February. I work a few hours a week helping Jan Holmquist keep up with the archive. This includes processing new materials, adding to the finding aid, researching the history of the MSPCA, and finally being able to go through all the materials I missed last time around. The project I’m most excited about is going to various archives and learning more about Emily Warren Appleton.
Animal welfare activism has grown in the last decade, and while Massachusetts has been on the forefront of this issue since 1641, the history isn’t too readily available yet. I know that my work will change that. The past will become more accessible to researchers and activists will be able to learn about how far animal welfare has come in almost four hundred years.
“To celebrate outstanding artistic and cultural creativity by collecting, stewarding, and interpreting objects of art and culture in ways that increase knowledge, enrich the spirit, engage the mind, and stimulate the senses” This passage is the first sentence of the mission statement for the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), an internationally recognized art and cultural museum located just north of Boston, Massachusetts.
As a student of public history also pursuing an archives certificate, I knew from the start that I needed multiple internships to gain the professional experience. As a resident and lover of the North Shore area (the cities north of Boston, mostly in Essex County), I wanted to bring my skills in helping cultivate the history of my home. All of this cumulated into an internship at the Phillips Library, part of the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM).
Known as the PEM Library or the Phillips Library, this archive stores the millions of manuscripts donated throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century to promote the understanding of the culture of the North Shore and its community members. The archival collections vary from maritime shipping logs, business logs, unpublished books, maps of the New World before the establishment of the United States, and so much more.
Under the supervision of the head archivist for the Phillips Library, Tamara Gaydos, I got to get my hands dirty (not literally!) and process three collections, as well as write brand new finding aids for the collections: the Archibald Wheel Company Records and Edward A. Archibald Papers, the Martha Jane (Weston) Averill Collection, and the Almy, Butler, and Robson Papers.
Each collection varied in multiple regards: size, material, historical period, and level of necessary processing, to name a few. Each collection also brought new challenges I never faced before, and after all the new folders went into their new boxes and placed amongst the thousands of other archival collections, I left having learned more than I predicted before my first day.
The Archibald Wheel Company Records and Edward A. Archibald Papers was my first collection, and the easiest. The collection consists of business papers relating to the Archibald Wheel Company, a wheel manufacturer active between 1867 and 1910, and its founder, Edward A. Archibald, a Canadian immigrant who immigrated to Boston in 1852, started his wheel company in the late 1860s, patented a machine for creating a new wheel, the iron-hubbed wheel, and successfully served clientele across the United States until his death.
The Martha Jane (Weston) Averill Collection was my second collection and my first actual challenge. The collection consists of extensive genealogical research on multiple New England families conducted by Martha Jane (Weston) Averill (1838-1908), a Middleton woman, over the course of her life. These families include both local families, such as the Curtis, Putnam, and Wilkins families, and her own familial connections, such as the Averill, Gould, and Weston families. The documents collected by Martha on these families include legal documents, bills, receipts, accounts, family trees, and correspondence.
The Almy, Butler, and Robson Collection, my third collection, proved to be the greatest challenge yet because, besides previous research conducted by Tamara, there was little to no processing done in this collection; no one knew what was inside the hundreds of unopened envelopes (which I had the pleasure of opening!) The collection consists of documents pertaining to various members of the Almy, Butler, and Robson families, members of the founding family of the Almy Department Store (Salem, Massachusetts), and all of whom were related by blood or marriage. The collection consists predominantly of personal correspondence between family members and close friends; however, the collection also contains photographs, ephemera from travels, cards, drawings, shipping papers, writing samples both written by and about family members, court papers, tax records, and even baby hair! The collection contains documents in English, French, and German. Also accompanying the collection is a family tree to better understand the family.
Although these three collections by themselves do not change the course of history, they do stand their own ground as gateways into the lives of those who once lived in the communities some call home. The Archibald Wheel Company presents the story of an immigrant who lived the American dream of success. Martha Jane Averill set out to understand her family and her community’s story. The Almys, Butlers, and Robsons kept hold their familial correspondence, pictures, and papers to treasure their relationships. Altogether, these collections present various histories and stories that can be appreciated by a broad constituency of researchers and members of the public.
As an institution of knowledge, preservation of history, and the enrichment of the community, the Phillips Library holds itself to a standard of safe holding and presenting the tantalizing stories of those who once shared the same land as our present communities. To maintain community relations and to allow further accessibility, the Phillips Library digitizes its collections for all to treasure, and this includes the previously mentioned collections processed over the summer.
During the summer, while I sat in the corner processing these valuable collections, the Phillips Library staff secretly prepared for their journey to a permanent home for the archival collections. Only recently did the news break out that despite previous promises made to return the PEM Library back to Salem, Massachusetts, the Phillips Library instead planned to house its archives in Rowley, Massachusetts. This news shocked those who eagerly awaited the day that, after six years of housing in Peabody, the Phillips Library would return to its ancestral home in Salem. Instead, the building would become office space, as the collection moved to a new location in another town.
Angered Salemites gathered in the snow to protest. Some created and signed petitions to “Preserve the Phillips Library.” Thousands wait to see what will happen to both the beloved Phillips Library and the PEM Library collections. Yet, regardless of what happens, the issues that the PEM staff face now are part of the archives profession. Archivists must be flexible enough to carry out their work despite resource constraints and sweeping institutional decisions. As long as the wheels keep turning, community members keep researching, and families continue to preserve their stories, history will move forward.
Postscript: The Phillips Library has released a statement about its move. You can read it here.
Hidden in the lower levels of Pilgrim Hall Museum and camouflaged among the exhibit of the Pilgrim journey is a door leading to the archives. There is a series of makeshift offices, built of plywood and filing cabinets. This is where curator and archivist Rebecca Griffith spends her days.
Museums have held a place in Becca’s heart for the majority of her life. As a child, her family would often vacation in areas of historic interest, attending museums of various collections. There, Griffith would spend hours analyzing the artifacts, taking in every detail, carefully reading the descriptions and that sparked the start of her fascination with material culture. “I had always loved books and reading, and of course history,” she said with a smile. She credits and her undergraduate internship for solidifying the idea of archives as a career.
“I cataloged a book collection in this weird place in Philadelphia, it’s called Fonthill Castle, and it’s this very eccentric bachelor who built this concrete castle in the suburbs of Philadelphia,” she remembered fondly. There was an assortment of tiles he made from his business as well as his collection of incredible rare volumes form the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was these books that started Becca on the road towards becoming an archivist and inspired her to pursue graduate school.
Griffith attended Simmons College and earned a degree in Public History, wanting to continue to work with both paper documents and three-dimensional objects. It was there that she learned the skills to be able to interpret history for the public as well as archival and object handling. She put these skills to use with an internship at Pilgrim Hall Museum, which led to a full-time job with the departure of two directors, the curator, and the retirement of their archivist. Her title is Associate-Curator but she does the work of two departments, not only creating exhibits but also performing all duties with the museums archives. She credits good luck with her position as a fairly recent graduate as the competition for jobs in the field is very steep in this area, joking “you just have to be at a place and show that you’re useful so they’ll want you around and eventually they’ll start paying you.”
Rebecca began to remark on her current job at Pilgrim Hall, talking passionately on how she loves what she’s doing, the excitement and the activity never leave her a dull moment. She receives the most enjoyment out of learning about the history of the objects and documents she works with, stating that she learns something new with every acquisition. The Pilgrim Hall archives covers a broad assortment of documents, beginning with seventeenth century documents and ending with current donations from various clubs and organizations around Plymouth. “Archivally, we really took on the role of the Plymouth Historical Society [there isn’t one] and really just collected everything Plymouth related document wise.” She continued with their extensive photograph collection with the majority containing pictures from the 1800s.
Wanting to get an insiders opinion, I asked what her favorite item in their possession was, especially as they have such an extensive archival collection. She surprised me with a book not transparently connected to the Pilgrims at all. It is a 1614 edition of the works of Seneca, a Roman naturalist and a favorite of the Pilgrims. However, it wasn’t the subject matter of the book that constituted it as her favorite; it was the clear provenance of the book. The inside front cover catalogued the history of who owned the book previously and exactly how it came to the following owner, which included William Brewster. An artifact such as this is unique to collections as there are usually mysteries surrounding the objects. Griffith noted that although artifacts like this are great for a number of reasons, she enjoys uncovering the history of documents, adding that without it, the job would be very boring. And thankfully, the majority of artifacts in their collection have a mystery to them.
As Pilgrim Hall is the oldest continuously operating museum in the country, they have been collecting items for over two hundred years, and with that have seen a change in museums standards and record keeping. Griffith and her interns have attempted to piece together the history through museum records, combing through boxes to try to and find any information, which was time consuming as their records are not digitized. However, the interns have begun the tedious process of digitizing their photo collection and transcribing museum records for online consumption. There is no current program in place, but Griffith hopes to have it up and running by the fall of 2018.
Currently, Plymouth is gearing up for the 400th anniversary of the landing of Pilgrims which has left Griffith with little time for anything else. Pilgrim Hall Museums is currently in collaboration with Plymouth 400, a committee solely dedicated to the celebration, to create a community needlework tapestry showcasing the history of Plymouth. She hopes that this creation will not only be a commemoration of the event but a tangible artifact that will last for the next hundred years and beyond.
As the conversation about the upcoming celebration events dwindled, I asked Becca what the greatest advice she was given, hoping that she could pass on this wisdom to this up-and-coming grad student. She began with advice on publishing, saying to find a newsletter, journal, or magazine that will accept your work. “Pick something you’re interested in and get it published…get your name out there.” She said not to be discouraged at failure or rejection, whether it be from a job or journal- that it will happen and that’s okay. With each answer of no there’s a new opportunity waiting in the wings, and to remind yourself that you’re doing what you love to do, closing with the fact that “you’ve picked this particular field for a reason because it’s something that you’re passionate about. Don’t forget that.”
As she led me back through the exhibit and up the stairs we paused to look at her most recent exhibit on wedding dresses from the 1600s through 2010s. She reflected on it fondly, emphasizing the hard work and long days it took to complete it but highlighting the joy and feeling of achievement it gave her. As we said our goodbyes, I found myself replaying the words she had said about passion, clearly reflected in her work, and I felt a new sense of excitement and determination in me in regards to my own path. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be sitting across from an archival history grad student answering their questions and, hopefully, filling them with a zest for discovery and pride in their work.
A collaborative space for the Archives & Public History Programs, Graduate Studies in History, UMass Boston