Presidential Predicament: Developing a Self-Guided Tour at the Adams National Historical Park

By: Kurt Deion

When I first toured the Adams National Historical Park as an eight-year-old in 2003, it never crossed my mind that someday I would have the opportunity to help reshape the visitor experience there. Fifteen years later, that is what I am doing as a project intern.

The John Adams Birthplace Home. A panel-based, self-guided tour here will partially focus on John Adams’s transition from student to attorney and his early romance with Abigail Smith. (Courtesy of Kurt Deion, 2011).
The John Adams Birthplace Home. A panel-based, self-guided tour here will partially focus on John Adams’s transition from student to attorney and his early romance with Abigail Smith. (Courtesy of Kurt Deion, 2011).

Under the auspices of the National Park Service, the Adams National Historical Park maintains several buildings related to the politically-prominent Adams family, which are spread throughout Quincy, Massachusetts. These include the side-by-side saltbox birth homes of John and John Quincy Adams, the second and sixth presidents of the United States. The elder statesman spent his childhood at a plain, wooden structure on his parents’ farm at Penn’s Hill, and in his adulthood he moved to the neighboring house, where his son was born in 1767. This second home was where he established his burgeoning law practice, and where matriarch Abigail Adams raised their children alone when her husband was away supporting the American Revolution.

The John Quincy Adams Birthplace Home. Here, the tour will feature additional aspects of John Adams’ law career and his role in drafting the Massachusetts Constitution. (Courtesy of Kurt Deion, 2011).
The John Quincy Adams Birthplace Home. Here, the tour will feature additional aspects of John Adams’ law career and his role in drafting the Massachusetts Constitution. (Courtesy of Kurt Deion, 2011).

The Adamses uprooted from the Penn’s Hill farm in the 1780s and moved a few miles north to a residence that became known as Peace field. Naturally their belongings followed them, and short of disturbing the interior of the Peace field estate, in modern day the NPS is faced with a dearth of original furnishings to display at the birthplaces. At present, however, the ANHP is in the process of rethinking its historical narrative; in this context, the lack of artifacts at the saltbox homes creates an opportunity to refocus on the lives of the family members, such as John and Abigail. My internship responsibilities include identifying and prioritizing the stories that should be told at the birthplaces, via a self-guided tour.

John Adams. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart.
John Adams. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

Before I arrived at the ANHP, my supervisor had already outlined some general areas she wished me to investigate, such as John’s law career and his early romance with Abigail. Yet I was given much freedom within those parameters to prioritize particular stories at the birthplaces. In addition, because the Adamses were prolific writers, I had many primary sources as the foundation for content, for they left behind thousands of documents in the form of letters and diaries. And finally, the ANHP’s draft Visitor Experience Plan outlines their priority to implement the principles of inclusive history, which I learned about in the UMass Boston History MA program. My education at the university has emphasized the need to tell the accounts of groups marginalized by those in positions of power, which in the United States has historically been white Anglo-Saxon Protestant men. In my role at the ANHP, I must determine what stories are important that can also resonate with modern audiences regardless of age, race, and gender.

Abigail Adams. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart.
Abigail Adams. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

The correspondence exchanged between John and Abigail during their courtship and early marriage paint a picture of their thoughts as a young couple in 18th century Massachusetts. These letters also provide a good basis for any future research focused on Abigail’s maintenance of the farm in John’s absence, and her personal philosophies. I struggled more with discerning which of John Adams’s court cases to include in the tour. As I read through his annotated legal papers at the Boston Public Library, I found many of the lawsuits to be archaic and inaccessible in the 21st century. Some, however, revealed much about John Adams’s thinking about rights. In King v. Stewart, for example, Adams represented a loyalist whose home was ransacked in part because of his prospects as a Stamp Act collector. Adams also defended the British soldiers implicated in the Boston Massacre. These cases demonstrate Adams’s belief in the right to a fair trial and representation, even for those whose political allegiance differed from his own.

It was very rewarding to find those cases that resonate with current issues and principles of law. In Sewall v. Hancock, John Hancock was tried in for smuggling in Admiralty Court, which deprived him of a right to a trial by jury. As his attorney, John Adams argued that British Parliament was depriving American colonists of a right granted to their brethren across the Atlantic. This allowed me to draw a line from John’s experience as an attorney, to his resentment for the British Crown at the dawn of the Revolution, and also to his draft of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1779. When he drafted the document in his law office, it included the right to trial by jury. This and other protections, such as freedom of the press and prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments, were subsequently included in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I hope that the relevance of these documents in Americans’ lives today will help illustrate the importance and influence of John’s legal work.

Navigating Academic Conferences with Social Anxiety: The NEA Fall Meeting

By: Violet Hurst

On Friday, October 26th, I attended the New England Archivists’ (NEA) Fall Meeting at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. The theme of the meeting was “Our Common Code: Ethics in Archives,” and it gave archivists and allied professionals the opportunity to discuss archival ethics in three areas: appraisal and acquisitions, description, and access.

As a second-year graduate student in the Archives Track of the history program at UMass Boston, I wanted to attend the Meeting in order to learn more about current ethical issues in the archival profession. I looked forward to listening to panelists discuss their experiences and share their knowledge, and I was excited to hear the plenary address by the Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi. I was excited to being surrounded by a community of professionals who cared about such things as ethical issues, something that many professions overlook, or even actively ignore. But I knew that there was another, more anxiety-inducing reason that I, as a graduate student and soon-to-be job-seeker, was attending the conference: to network.

The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi. Photograph by Christopher Michel, 2016.
The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi. Photograph by Christopher Michel, 2016.

Since early high school, I have struggled with moderate social anxiety that flares up when I am confronted with unfamiliar, public social situations. At academic conferences, I feel a sense of inferiority as I am confronted with a sea of (seemingly) confident students and professionals. I find it difficult to start conversations with people whom I’ve never met, especially when there is the pressure to appear knowledgable, interesting, and in all ways hire-able. I feel overwhelmed by the constant need to be “on”– from when I’m making connections with professionals in the field to when I’m pouring myself a cup of coffee in the conference reception area.

Despite my anxiety, I find it both personally rewarding and professionally necessary to attend academic conferences like those hosted by NEA. At conferences, students like me have the opportunity to learn from the real-life experiences of archivists in the field. We are able to participate in conversations about the most current trends and issues in our chosen career. We can ask questions from those who have worked in the field for years, and we have the opportunity to learn from a rich diversity of people. Most importantly, we have the opportunity to introduce ourselves, for the first time, to members of the tight-knit archival community.

My name badge and program from the NEA Fall Meeting, October 26, 2018
My name badge and program from the NEA Fall Meeting, October 26, 2018

During my undergraduate education in history, I lived under the blissful impression that networking was something that only those entering the business and finance world would have to face. It was only in graduate school that I learned that networking is an inescapable aspect of entering the professional world that very few students are able to avoid entirely. Over the past year and a half, I’ve had to attend conferences, workshops, community events, and informational interviews that took me out of my comfort zone, and along the way I’ve formulated strategies to deal with my anxiety in these situations. I share them here in the hopes that they might help others with social anxiety navigate the academic conference.

1. Look for the familiar.

When attending an academic conference or workshop, there is a lot of pressure to spend the whole day making connections with new people and entering into new spaces. It can be useful to take a minute to remember that not everything about the conference is new and overwhelming. There is bound to be a face in the crowd you recognize, or a event space or setup that is familiar– or even a brand of complimentary tea that you like. Making yourself more comfortable in a new space goes a long way toward making you ready to interact with  new people.

Pavilion, John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, MA. Photograph by Violet Hurst
Pavilion, John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, MA. Photograph by Violet Hurst

At the NEA Fall Meeting, I was lucky enough to recognize several faces in the crowd from previous internships and from my graduate program. I was also very familiar with the building and the conference space at the JFK Library, having interned there from May 2017 to August 2018. These things made me feel like I was on solid ground and made me comfortable enough to engage with elements of the conference that were unfamiliar.

2. Learn the schedule.

Eliminating your uncertainty about the structure of the day is another way to make you more comfortable at a conference. At most conferences, a full schedule of programming is readily available in programs or handouts at the registration desk. Knowing in advance when breaks are and whether you will have to get up and move around for different sessions can help the day go more smoothly. I also like to look at the topics of upcoming panel discussions or presentations in advance in order to start thinking about things I may have to contribute to the conversation.

3. Take notes.

I never used to know what to say when starting a conversation at an academic conference. It can feel so unnatural or even awkward to walk up to someone you’ve never met and start a conversation. Fortunately, conferences provide you with plenty of material to talk about. I find that it’s useful to take notes about things that spark my interest during presentations and discussions. Then, during breaks, lunch, or other unstructured time, I can turn to someone and say something like “It was so interesting when ___ talked about ___. Have you encountered a similar situation in your work?” If I’m feeling really bold, I’ll even seek out a presenter to ask a question or have a discussion about the themes of a particular presentation.

Jennifer Bolmarcich of the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College delivers her presentation on "Heavy Small Collections" at the NEA Fall Meeting
I took a lot of notes in order to discuss Jennifer Bolmarcich’s presentation on “Heavy Small Collections” with my tablemates at the NEA Fall Meeting.

Despite my fears, I’ve found that most people are excited to talk more about their work and their experiences.

4. Don’t be afraid to take a break during breaks.

This may sound non-controversial on its face, but traditionally, breaks at conferences are considered the time to network. If you’re comfortable enough to network during breaks, go for it! But if you need to take some time for yourself, absolutely do that. Find a quiet spot to clear your head and decompress for a minute– even if that quiet spot is in your car or a bathroom stall. Taking time to recharge will make you more ready to go out there and network at other times, like during lunch or transition periods.

5. Hold onto perspective.

If you walk away from a conference kicking yourself for your inability to network, remember that it’s still good that you went. If all you do at a conference is listen and learn, you’ll likely walk away from the day with new ideas, perspectives, and questions that will make you a better professional in the long run. Perhaps you’ll even emerge with a better sense of which people and institutions are doing work that aligns with your interests.

It’s also important to remember that not all networking happens at the day of the event. You may meet presenters or participants at some point down the road (it’s a small [archives] world, after all), and you’ll be able to refer back to having heard or encountered them at a previous conference, workshop, or community event.

Special Post: Alumnus Edet A. Thomas Forthcoming Article

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 AffairsEdet’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

Abstract

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.

10 Tips for the Student Digitizer

By: Madeline Moison

Madeline Moison (Archives Track, '19) spearheaded a digitization initiative for an archival institution in Boston during the summer of 2018. In this blog post, she shares some of what she learned with her peers at UMass Boston and beyond. 

Today archival documents, images, and film are being digitized more and more for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, documents are just too fragile to be handled frequently, or they hold great value to researchers around the world, or they’re so valuable they need to be digitized to make sure a copy of the document exists somewhere. Whatever the reason for digitization, institutions often choose to hire part-time or term archival workers to carry out this work. Graduate students in archives programs, like the one at UMass Boston, might find themselves hired for this kind of work, and tasked with digitizing a collection over the course of a semester or term.

Illustration of digitization by Jørgen Stamp for https://digitalbevaring.dk/.
Illustration of digitization by Jørgen Stamp for https://digitalbevaring.dk/.

This can be daunting for someone who doesn’t know a thing about cameras, editing software, or image file types. It’s no substitute for training, or for reviewing relevant manuals, but here  are ten tips and tricks for students approaching digitization for the first time:

(#1)

A lot can be said about the right camera for the job. Not every camera will work for digitization. Depending on what the end goal of the project is you’ll have to find the camera and editing software that works for you. But for the most part you will be shooting images in RAW. RAW is a type of file like the all familiar JPEG. JPEG won’t work for this sort of work, because the images shot in JPEG are compressed versions of what the camera “sees”. This is great for a lot of photos of your beach vacation (when you don’t care about quality as much as you care about quantity). However, when it comes to digitizing, your priorities are a little different. RAW files are uncompressed, so essentially everything the camera “sees” is saved as is. These are wildly large files– so watch out!

(#2)

Why shoot in RAW anyway? Well, because RAW images show everything the camera “sees,” they are extremely detailed. The level of detail allows you to zoom in on the image and avoid the fuzziness that can happen when you zoom in on JPEG images. The closer you can get to capturing the original document in that photo the better.

(#3)

Bring headphones! You will be left alone to your own devices for hours at a time with just the large stack of papers, photos, and books you are digitizing. I would recommend downloading a few good history podcasts or maybe a true crime one to keep you on your toes in the quiet of the archive.

Headphones; glasses; laptop.
Image is in the public domain.

(#4)

Back up everything! I can’t say that enough. Who do you think you are not saving anything in multiple places? Getting a portable drive can be expensive– but you can even get some 64 GB flash drives. If you’re feeling high-tech, take the two minutes to get a Drobox account to store stuff, too. A word of warning: if Terminator has taught us anything, it’s not to trust those pesky robots. So, keep a hard copy of everything you do on any type of external drive anyway. Don’t fall prey to Skynet; they want you to lose access to the precious bits of human history you’re digitizing for future generations.

(#5)

What to do with these files now that you have them? Odds are these files look rough. You’ll need to edit them. It’s not as daunting as it sounds. You can get a Photoshop monthly subscription for as little as 10 dollars a month that should cover all your needs. I won’t explain the details of Photoshop to you here, but you can watch a few YouTube tutorials and in no time, you’ll be a pro. Lightroom CC is a type of Photoshop that is extremely user friendly when it comes to photo editing and is what I would recommend starting with. The main tools you’ll probably end up using in Lightroom are clarity, dehaze, temperature, and sharpening. They all do what it sounds like they do, but temperature is a key one. Using the temperature gage, you can adjust the yellowy tint your paper documents may have picked up in non-ideal lighting situations by adding the slightest touches of blue to the image. A word of warning: don’t edit the images too much. You can end up with a much grainier version of the image than you expected.

(#6)

Have two copies at least of those RAW photos you took. You shouldn’t be editing the only copy you have.

(#7)

Pack a good lunch. You’ll work up an appetite turning pages and taking photos. There is nothing worse than a deadly quiet reading room filled only by the sounds of your angry stomach. I’d recommend a lovely quinoa salad with pickled onions with a side of strawberries and Cheeze-its.

(#8)

Now that your images are looking edited and beautiful you can convert the RAW images into a different file format. TIFF is a good bet, but it all depends on the end results you and your archive are looking for. TIFF files are a sort of in-between option of RAW and JPEG files. TIFF images are slightly compressed but still retain a lot of detail, so they’re perfect for uploading to the internet. Everyone’s computer can handle opening a large number of TIFF sized images, but if you tried to work with many RAW images things would get very slow very quickly. You can buy a RAW to Tiff converter on the internet, or you can change them in Photoshop.

Now, I bet you’re wondering why I told you to shoot in RAW if it was just going to be turned into a TIFF image anyway. Well, you can shoot images in TIFF format, but the cameras that can do that are very expensive. If you have access to one go for it, but I’m assuming you don’t have a 3,000 dollar camera lying around.

This chart, by Scott Baldwin Photography, demonstrates how digital cameras process data when saving data as Raw files vs. JEPG or TIFF.
This chart, by Scott Baldwin Photography, demonstrates how digital cameras process data when saving data as Raw files vs. JEPG or TIFF.

(#9)

If you can, take the time to get to know the staff of the archive or repository you’re spending all this time in now. Odds are you’re an outside contractor doing a job funded by a grant and are new to the building. Talk about that cool new true crime podcast you just downloaded. If you already work at this place then it’s still good practice to know your coworkers, so get to it! It never hurts to network, especially if you’re going to be entering the job market soon!

(#10)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

BACK UP EVERYTHING!!

Always Night at the Museum

By: Jonathan Green

Sign on Canton Avenue marking the location of the Suffolk Resolves House and identifying it as the headquarters for the Milton Historical Society. Photograph by Jonathan Green.
Sign on Canton Avenue marking the location of the Suffolk Resolves House and identifying it as the headquarters for the Milton Historical Society. Photograph by Jonathan Green.

Since 2014, I have served as the resident caretaker of the Suffolk Resolves House (SRH) located in Milton, MA and curator for the Milton Historical Society (MHS). Over the past four years I have answered one question numerous times: “What is it like being the caretaker for a historic house?” Normally when I reply, I try to convey the fun and humor that I find in the position and simply say, “It is always night at the museum!” The truth, however, is a bit more complex. Serving as a resident caretaker requires constant awareness as to what is happening inside and outside the house to preserve the structure and its collections, while also ensuring that the house and grounds remain safe, functional, and attractive spaces for visitors. In applying for the position, I sought a new professional challenge, and I found exactly that.

Resident caretakers must embrace the phrase “other duties as assigned.” Initially I envisioned dedicating most of my time to collections management and interpretation. Instead, I spent the first few months getting to know the house, and occasionally its collections, by dusting, vacuuming, linseed oiling, polishing, clearing out wasp nests, and attempting to get a handle on the house’s mouse problem. Regardless of my professional interests and aspirations, the house always came first, and I had to be prepared to address problems as they developed.

Sure, it is a unique job, but serving as a resident caretaker is a lot like being a homeowner. A resident caretaker, like a homeowner, must focus on maintaining the interior and exterior of the house, as well as the objects stored inside it. Seasons and weather often dictate how and when certain things are to be done. For example, unfinished thresholds require linseed oil every other fall before cold weather sets in. Other duties like checking mouse traps and bait stations, emptying dehumidifiers—the SRH has three—and dusting and vacuuming the house and its collections occur daily, every other day, and weekly, respectively. As the phrase “spontaneous needs” suggests, this only represents a glimpse of required maintenance.

Front of the Suffolk Resolves House in August 2017. Photograph by Jonathan Green.
Front of the Suffolk Resolves House in August 2017. Photograph by Jonathan Green.

As with anything, however, there are exceptions; in this case two. First, the SRH serves as the MHS’s headquarters. As resident caretaker the MHS’s Board of Trustees acts as my landlord, which means they establish rules, approve expenditures, and determine when the house transitions from private residence to MHS function space. When my wife and I are away from the house longer than twenty-four hours, we have to notify the MHS board, so they can arrange to have someone check the house daily. Other rules include no pets, no children (i.e., dependents living with the caretakers), and the caretakers can only store personal belongings in the three private rooms—bedroom, den, and bathroom—and the kitchen. That adds up to just under 700 square feet- and the kitchen becomes a public space for events. Second, there is no compromise when it comes to what is best for the house and its collections. As resident caretaker my personal tastes regarding décor, ideal interior temperature, and desire (or lack thereof) to conduct maintenance do not matter. While at times the job can be demanding, it is always fun and immensely rewarding.

Emma and Jonathan Green decorating the Suffolk Resolves House in November 2014 for their first Christmas open house as resident caretakers. Photograph by Jonathan Green.
Emma and Jonathan Green decorating the Suffolk Resolves House in November 2014 for their first Christmas open house as resident caretakers. Photograph by Jonathan Green.

Nine months each year, my focus turns to public engagement. This happens several ways. Open houses are the most common, when we invite the public to view the house, grounds, and collections. For these events my fellow board members and I don our docent caps and field any number of questions about the house, the MHS’s collections, and Milton’s history.

For the 2017 Fireside Chats, Green invited Alex Dubois, Curator for the Litchfield Historical Society, and Tom Begley, Executive Liaison for Administration, Research, & Special Projects at Plimoth Plantation, as guest lecturers. In this image Alex ties Milton artwork and portrait painters into a broader discussion about the rise of American portrait painting.
For the 2017 Fireside Chats, I invited Alex Dubois, Curator for the Litchfield Historical Society, and Tom Begley, Executive Liaison for Administration, Research, & Special Projects at Plimoth Plantation, as guest lecturers. Photograph by Jonathan Green.

Fireside Chats in January and February are intimate events that welcome twenty guests to attend a lecture prepared and delivered by the curator at the SRH, complete with cozy fire and refreshments. The Fireside Chats bring together one or more objects from the MHS’s collection to tell a unique and engaging history. My favorite event, however, is the Fifth Grade Tours. In May and June, the SRH is one of several stops on tours that immerses Milton fifth-graders in the town’s historical landscape. After arriving at the SRH, fifth-graders engage in a hands-on Backyard Archaeology activity, and, without fail, these students ask stimulating questions and offer exceptional answers.

For example, when examining a lace-makers lamp we discussed how veteran lace-makers earned the right to sit at first light—right next to the lamp—while less experienced lace-makers sat further from the lamp. One student asked why the more experienced lace-makers needed to sit closer to the lamp. “Aren’t they better at it,” she asked. “So why do they need more light? Don’t the ones [lace-makers] who aren’t as good need more light?” Moments like this, when I did not have an answer, forced me to be the best educator I could by simply admitting I do not know but that I can find the answer. Public engagement like this is what sustains the MHS and is a key component of the caretaker’s responsibilities.

Collaboration. Is. Essential. In December 2014, this contractor repaired a cracked bullseye window pane in the back door of the Suffolk Resolves House.
Collaboration. Is. Essential. In December 2014, this contractor repaired a cracked bullseye window pane in the back door of the Suffolk Resolves House. Photograph by Jonathan Green.

Collaboration is essential. My first week in the position, the MHS president asked my wife, “Are you going to be able to help Jon with all the work? There is a lot of work that goes into this and he’ll need your support.” He was absolutely right. At times, the position can be labor intensive, which is why organizations hiring for resident caretakers frequently hire a dynamic duo rather than a solo caretaker. Plus, resident caretakers cannot know it all. This is why at times I feel something like a general contractor. When the HVAC system’s coolant line malfunctioned in the middle of July, I had to coordinate repairs with the contractor and arrange to have a board member meet the technician at the house because my wife and I could not get off work. You do not have to know everything to care for a historic house, but you do need to be able to troubleshoot, locate experts, and collaborate.

Though you may be doubting it, resident caretakers do have social lives. On average I dedicate about ten hours a week to my responsibilities as caretaker and curator. Most of the duties become part of a weekly routine, so we still go out on weekends. We are even allowed use of the museum spaces to host family and friends. Fun fact: my wife threw my thirtieth birthday party at the house. Just like there is life after thirty, there is life after the duties of caretaker and curator are complete.

After four years serving as resident caretaker and curator for the MHS, there is still never a dull moment. Whether caring for the house and grounds, the diverse collections, or interacting with the public, this job has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. The beauty of the position is that it regularly puts you outside your comfort zone, forcing you to directly confront new challenges by learning, adapting, creating, and collaborating. If that does not sound cool, remember that as resident caretaker, it is always night at the museum.

Jonathan Green received his MA in history (public history track) from UMass Boston in 2016. He is currently Assistant Director of Archives and Digital Assets Manager at Stonehill College.

Alumni Spotlight: Joan Ilacqua

When Joan Ilacqua graduated from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington with a bachelor’s degree in American History and Studio Art: Sculpture, she wanted to contribute to history in a hands-on way. She sought and earned jobs and internships at several national parks, including Yosemite National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, having graduated during the Recession, Ilacqua decided that seasonal jobs weren’t sustainable. She began looking for graduate programs in the Boston area.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 07 April 2007. Image is in the public domain.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 07 April 2007. Image is in the public domain.

“I got advice that I could either go to the ‘big name’ program and use that name as I was job hunting, or the ‘little name’ program and do as much as work as possible to network myself,” she recalls. “I chose UMass because it gave me the opportunity to make connections, to work with other young professionals, and to learn from other experts in the field all at a public university. I gained experience from both archives and public history classes that I continue to use in my outreach work today.”

When she entered UMass, Ilacqua initially focused on archives, but soon switched to public history. While in the program, she made good on her decision to make as many connections in the field as possible, working at the JFK Library, UMass Boston University Archives and Special Collections, and the Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She also interned at The History Project: Documenting LGBTQ Boston “because I had an interest in queer history but also because I wanted to volunteer for an organization that could not afford to pay an intern.”

Joan started at The History Project in 2013, and she remains involved with the organization five years later as co-chair of its Board of Directors. “I find it so fulfilling as a queer archivist to be able to contribute to documenting, preserving, and sharing LGBTQ history,” Ilacqua says, “and I’ve gained a wealth of management, fundraising, outreach, and events experience.”

Joan Ilacqua and other volunteers for The History Project: Documenting LGBTQ Boston
Joan Ilacqua and other volunteers for The History Project: Documenting LGBTQ Boston

In addition to sustaining the connections she made at The History Project, Ilacqua now works a the Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, an institution she first worked for as a graduate student. The Center “serves to enable the history of medicine to inform contemporary medicine and deepens our understanding of the society in which medicine is embedded.” Ilacqua’s initial role at the Center was as an oral historian, leading efforts to collect stories and other artifacts about the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. After the project ended, she continued to work on other oral history and outreach projects for the Center, including the history of diversity and inclusion.

Joan Ilacqua, Archivist for Diversity and Inclusion at the Center for the History of Medicine, 2018.
Joan Ilacqua, Archivist for Diversity and Inclusion at the Center for the History of Medicine, 2018.

In June of 2015, Ilacqua was promoted to Archivist for Women in Medicine. Just last week, on October 1st, the Center expanded the program’s mission to include documenting all people underrepresented in medicine, changing Ilacqua’s title to Archivist for Diversity and Inclusion. Among her many duties in this role, she will advocate for donations of archival materials crated by underrepresented leaders in medicine, establish new collections and acquire accruals to existing collections, build new relationships with potential donors, and promote the inclusion of underrepresented people in medicine through social media, lectures, exhibits, and events. Currently, she is working on an exhibit on the history of diversity and inclusion at Harvard Medical School in collaboration with the school’s Office for Diversity Inclusion & Community Partnership, which is the culmination of an extensive oral history project. The exhibit will be entirely digital in order to promote access throughout the campus community.

Of her position, Ilacqua says, “I find it incredibly rewarding that I get to help cement [records creators’] place in history by making sure that their stories and experiences are documented. Without original documents, and without representation, how can historians write history? I get to make sure that these stories and experiences are preserved.”

The Center for the History of Medicine preserves a diversity of voices in its archival holdings. Notable among its collections are the Miriam F. Menkin papers, 1919-2003 and the Equal Access Oral History Project records.  Menkin was a laboratory assistant to John Rock, the scientist who performed the first in vitro fertilization of a human egg in 1944. Her collection only exists because her files were included in the Rock papers, and were separated out once the Center’s processing archivist realized that she was the creator of the records. Menkin’s contributions to the understanding of human fertility wouldn’t be known if her collection hadn’t been saved. The Equal Access Oral History Project began as an attempt to collect the story of affirmative action at Harvard Medical School and grew to include the perspectives and experiences of faculty, students, and alumni about diversity and inclusion at HMS. This project is particularly poignant because these stories aren’t represented anywhere else in the Center’s collections.

The Countway Library of Medicine, home of the Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard Medical School
The Countway Library of Medicine, home of the Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, 1965.

Ilacqua’s passion for diversity and inclusion extends beyond the workplace. As mentioned, she continues to volunteer for The History Project. She is also currently serving a term on the New England Archivists’ Inclusion and Diversity Committee. She hopes that her work on that committee will “help build and maintain an inclusive environment at NEA…in a field that is overworked, underpaid, and often does not create pathways for diversity.”

Through her work at the Center for the History of Medicine, The History Project, and professional organizations, Joan Ilacqua has put her passions for public history, archives, and diversity and inclusion to good use.

Her advice to students seeking to break into in field?

Make as many connections as you can while you are a student. Go to conferences, present at conferences, go to networking events (Drinking at Museums is a great way to meet people and NEA regularly holds networking events), volunteer, get involved with museum and archivist Twitter, read archivist and public historian blogs, do informational interviews. People want to help students, so don’t hesitate to reach out to alumni or to professionals that you admire – the worst thing that can happen is that they say no.

To learn more about the Center for the History of Medicine, its collections, and upcoming events, please click here. Many thanks to Joan Ilacqua for her participation in our Alumni Spotlight series!

Remembering Jim Green and the Boston’s Working Peoples Heritage Trail

By: Madison Vlass and Adam Derington

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.

Amelia Earhart returns to Dennison House on Tyler Street where she is greeted by children of all nationalities.
Amelia Earhart returns to Dennison House on Tyler Street where she is greeted by children of all nationalities.
The Boston Public Library,
https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:6682zd38z

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.  

Soiling of Old Glory” depicting Joseph Rakes assaulting Ted Landsmark, a civil rights activist and lawyer, at Boston City Hall.  Photo credit to Stanley Forman/Boston Herald.
“Soiling of Old Glory” depicting Joseph Rakes assaulting Ted Landsmark, a civil rights activist and lawyer, at Boston City Hall. Photo credit to Stanley Forman/Boston Herald.

Adam’s group enjoyed finding the exact place of the famous photo, “Soiling of Old Glory” in Government Center. They discussed the

Remarkable riot picture taken on Boston Common during one of the most severe crisis known to Boston in history, the Boston Police Strike of 1919. The Boston Public Library,
https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:b8515n66f

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.

 

Special Post: Sarah K. Black in the News

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. 

Flyer for Sarah K. Black’s upcoming exhibit, “An Extraordinary Look at Ordinary Lives”

Keg to Cannon: Adapting Education Programs from the USS Constitution Museum to USS Constitution

By: Genevieve Wallace

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.

150416-N-XP344-048 CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (April 16, 2015) NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy SEAL Capt. Christopher J. Cassidy conducts an all-hands call with the crew of USS Constitution during a visit to the ship. Cassidy’s visit to Charlestown Navy Yard was part of an East Coast tour that included him visiting Boston and New York City public schools, the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, the Boston Museum of Science and the 9/11 Memorial. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Victoria Kinney/Released)
“All Hands” call, US Navy on the USS Constitution. Public domain image.

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.

Genevieve Wallace posing with 1812 Marine reenactors during the USS Constitution Museum’s annual fundraiser. October 18, 2017.  Courtesy of Genevieve Wallace.
Genevieve Wallace posing with 1812 Marine reenactors during the USS Constitution Museum’s annual fundraiser. October 18, 2017. Courtesy of Genevieve Wallace.

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!).

A Constitution shaped cake to celebrate the 220th birthday celebration for USS Constitution in the Boston Navy Yard. October 21, 2017. Photo by Genevieve Wallace.
A Constitution shaped cake to celebrate the 220th birthday celebration for USS Constitution in the Boston Navy Yard. October 21, 2017. Photo by Genevieve Wallace.

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.

Neighborhood Voices: An Oral History Internship

By: G. R. Peterson

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.

Fires blazed on and off for a decade in the 1970s, sometimes night after night, leaving behind vacant lots. Screenshots from the documentary Holding Ground: The Rebirth of Dudley Street by Mark Lipman and Leah Mahan, 1996
Fires blazed on and off for a decade in the 1970s, sometimes night after night, leaving behind vacant lots. Screenshots from the documentary Holding Ground: The Rebirth of Dudley Street by Mark Lipman and Leah Mahan, 1996

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.

Streets of Hope is one of the only book-length texts with historical information about the Dudley neighborhood’s disinvestment and later renewal through community efforts

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.

Blogpost author, Genny Peterson, right, interviewed Bob Haas for the Neigbhorhood Voices oral history project. Photo by Keiko Hiromi.
Blogpost author, Genny Peterson, right, interviewed Bob Haas for the Neigbhorhood Voices oral history project. Photo by Keiko Hiromi.

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.