Category Archives: Public History studies

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

By Nina Rodwin

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

Image of Hugh P. McGuire’s Duty Card

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

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

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

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

Image from the United States Census, 1940.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Putting Public History Into Practice: The Industrial School for Girls

By: Sarah K. Black

When I entered the public history graduate program at UMass Boston, my experience in the field of history was strictly academic. One can only imagine how anxious I felt when I received the syllabus for HST 625, Interpreting History in Public: Approaches to Public History Practice. Under the instruction of Professor Jane Becker and in partnership with Joe Bagley at the Boston City Archaeology Program, my colleagues and I were tasked with uncovering the history of those who lived and worked at the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls (ISFG) during the 1860s and delivering those stories to the public in a way that was both appealing and accessible.

ISFG map
Map depicting the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls, 1889.

The ISFG was established in 1853 by several women who sought to educate and train destitute young girls in the field of domestic service. Once deemed ready by the staff, the girls would be placed in homes to work as servants. Our class was required to connect our biographical sketches with artifacts retrieved during Bagley’s excavation of the site in Summer 2015, and construct a website to ensure our interpretations could reach the widest possible audience. I was extremely intimidated by the project because, unlike writing a paper, we were working with a client (Bagley) and producing a tangible product. Who knew that the ISFG project would become the most exciting, informative, and meaningful experience of my entire academic career.

There were two main phases of the project—the first of which required each of us to conduct extensive biographical research on one staff member and one student. But how do we construct narratives for women who spent much of their lives on the fringes of society? And what does the middle ground of meticulous research and writing for a popular audience look like? These were just a few of the many questions we had to grapple with when we began producing these histories. We had to learn how to effectively weave facts and relevant context into a story that was both informative and accurate, as well as include elements that readers could connect with.

Hasson card
Record of Margaret Hasson, an ISFG student  who later became “inmate #13430” at Bridgewater Almshouse. Courtesy of the Massachusetts State Archives. Photograph by author.

Like several of my classmates, the beginning of my research was defined by countless hours working with genealogy sites and other online resources. Once we made it through the initial frustration of uncovering subjects so elusive in the historical record, we found that each had a unique and captivating story to tell. Some narratives featured immersive details of mischief, international travel, and death, while others concluded with more questions than they started with.

While conducting my research, I was fortunate enough to travel to the American Baptist Historical Society, located at Mercer University in Atlanta. There I found a collection of letters written by the ISFG matron, Mary S. Daüble, while she served as a missionary in India. Whether working as a missionary in India or a matron at multiple institutions, Mary devoted her life to education and religious teachings. After some intensive genealogical investigation, I was able to shed light on Daüble’s life and experiences. I even located a blueprint of her home and added her to my own family tree on

Blueprint of Mary Daüble's house.
Blueprint of Mary Daüble and her husband’s house. Courtesy of the American Baptist Historical Society.  Photograph by author.

The story of Margaret (Maggie) Hasson was quite different. An Irish orphan who entered the institution at just 8 years old, Maggie found herself placed as a domestic servant in 10 different homes between 1860 and 1864. Mischievous to say the least, she ran away several times and even eloped with an African American Civil War soldier. After a police officer located and returned Hasson to the Industrial School for Girls, the school sent her to the Bridgewater Almshouse.

The second phase of the project was centered on group work. Our class was divided into three groups: website design and introduction, social media and marketing, and annotated transcription the ISFG’s 1860 annual report. As a member of the introduction group, I was responsible for contributing to the overall design of the website and drafting the text for the site’s landing pages.

Screen shot of ISFG website.

Once again, we were met with challenges: How do we create an interface that is both informative yet engaging? How can we stand out against the plethora of webpages that characterize the digital age in which we live? Just as it was difficult to condense hours of biographical research into 1000-word narratives, our team struggled with determining what information was essential for each of the site’s main pages. These sections had to be brief enough to capture and maintain the reader’s interest, but also paint the fullest possible picture of the school, the archaeological dig, and the project.

This experience gave my peers and me the opportunity to develop and improve skills in biographical research and historical interpretation in a digital age. We also learned the value of collaboration—not only with one another, but also with our professor, our client, and other cultural institutions. And finally, the project prompted us to retrieve voices that may have otherwise remained silent, gave us the chance to tell history from the bottom-up, and helped us to see the extraordinary value in uncovering the “ordinary.” The ISFG project proved to be the perfect introduction to turning public history theory into practice.

Sarah K. Black is earning her M.A. in History with a specialization in Public History. She currently also works as an editorial assistant for The New England Quarterly.

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In the News: Public History Program Helps Dorchester Uncover Its Past

UMass Boston News featured a story about the exciting work that our Public History program has undertaken this spring. Text from the following article was written by UMass Boston News writer, Anna Fisher-Pinkert.

When most people think of Boston history, the images that come to mind are the Old North Church, the brownstones of Beacon Hill, or the Old South Meeting House. UMass Boston history professors and students are working to expand our knowledge and understanding of the history right in the university’s own Dorchester neighborhood through two new projects.

“Building a People’s History of Dorchester.” a community event that occurred in April.

On April 22, Jane Becker, internship coordinator and history lecturer, and Monica Pelayo, assistant professor of history and director of the public history master’s program, collaborated with John McColgan, Archivist, Boston City Archives, to host “Building a People’s History of Dorchester” at the Dorchester Historical Society. The event was designed to encourage current and former Dorchester residents to take part in telling the story of their neighborhood.

Approximately 30 people attended this initial meeting, and contributed ideas for building a timeline of Dorchester history. For Pelayo and Becker, this is just the beginning of a conversation about how to help the community tap into their own history.

“What’s important about this process is that it comes from the bottom up, not from the top down,” Pelayo said.

She added that people don’t always realize that their family photos, documents, or keepsakes are potential historical resources for their communities. Pelayo and Becker plan to have more events in the future to encourage individuals and community organizations to participate in the project.

UMass Boston public history master’s students are also involved in revealing a piece of Dorchester’s history. This semester, students partnered with city archaeologist and UMass Boston alum Joe Bagley to tell the stories of women and girls who lived and worked at the Industrial School for Girls in the 1860s. The school was founded in the 1850s to train poor girls to work as domestic servants.

Online exhibit documenting the history of Dorchester Industrial School for Girls.

The history graduate students wrote about the women and girls at the school, and created a website to share their findings with the public. Much of the information on daily life in the school came from the objects uncovered by Bagley in a 2015 archaeological dig.

Exhibition Opening & Reception: Dorchester’s Industrial School for Girls.

Want to learn more about the rich history of Dorchester Industrial School for Girls?

The graduate students and Bagley will present their findings on May 10 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Massachusetts Archives and Commonwealth Museum.

Join us at this event–it’s free and open to the public.

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Sailors, Shopkeepers & Scientists: Women of Nantucket Succeeding in a Man’s World

By: Cheyenne Dunham

Women’s history month provides a time to look back on various female role models from our past–women who inspire us, make us think, and perhaps challenge us to question societal restrictions, as they did. These stories of empowerment, leadership, and success don’t always come from the most obvious places.

Nantucket 1792
Map of Nantucket, 1792.

Nearly 30 miles off the coast of southeastern Massachusetts lies Nantucket, a small and unassuming island that hosted an independent and progressive society in which women long played a vital role. In this place, women existed as prominent religious figures, business owners, educators, scientists, and adventurers before the voices of suffrage permeated the political and social dialogue of the late 19th century.

Nantucket thrived as a whaling port until the 1850s. This caused many of its male residents to venture out for years at a time, on voyages across the world, without the guarantee of returning to their home or loved ones. Subsequently, the women of the island were often left solely responsible for their family’s financial, social, and religious well-being.

Women of Petticoat Row circa 1895. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.
Women of Petticoat Row ca.1895. Courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association.

Women held a prominent presence in the public and commercial spheres. One group of women managed an entire section of the town business strip nicknamed “Petticoat Row.”

The island has always been relatively small. Its population peaks, both in its whaling days and current tourist seasons, at around 10,000. In the earlier years, this population total included many of those away at sea. Nantucket’s isolation and self-sufficiency, combined with its early history of political and ideological separation from the mainland, resulted in a unique environment where a woman’s capability and voice in society often equaled their male counterparts. In the Heart of the Sea, author Nathaniel Philbrick explains,

“Given the island’s place on a map, you might expect Nantucketers to be an independent bunch, and you would be right. …More than anything else, it is this place, ‘away off shore,’ that has determined who the Nantucketer is.”1)Philbrick, Nathaniel. Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, 1602-1890. (New York : Penguin Books, 2011): xiii, xvi.

Nantucket produced a wide range of interesting women and influential female leaders. One of the earliest of these notable women was Mary Coffin Starbuck (1645-1719),  the first woman to marry and have a child on the island.
Excerpt from Eliza Brock's Journal Created Aboard the Ship Lexington c. 1853 Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association
Excerpt from Eliza Brock’s Journal Created Aboard the Ship Lexington ca.1853. Courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association.

She was not only greatly responsible for bringing Quakerism to the Nantucket community, but she successfully ran her family’s trading post as one of the earliest authoritative businesswomen in the town. Unlike Starbuck, who oversaw the family affairs while her husband was away, some women chose to go to sea alongside the men. Two such women, Susan Austin Veeder (1816-97) and Eliza Spencer Brock (1810-99), kept detailed journals of their experiences  at sea which are now archived at the Nantucket Historical Association.

Photo of Painting by Mrs. H. Dassel c. 1851 Maria Mitchell Looking Through a Telescope Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association
Painting. “Maria Mitchell Looking Through a Telescope,” by Mrs. H. Dassel ca.1851. Courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association.

Outside of the island’s commercial world, women were just as influential in science, education, and social movements. Maria Mitchell (1818-89) was a brilliant scientist and librarian whose accomplishments included discovering a comet, becoming the first professional female astronomer, and eventually becoming a professor at Vassar College. Mitchell became well-known for her influence in astronomy and education on the mainland. However, her early years on Nantucket and her involvement in its progressive community greatly shaped her outlook and future. She attained unprecedented success in her field. By her own successful example, she promoted the potential for all women.  Throughout her life, she advocated for gender equality in any field and encouraged other women to strive for success.

Anna Gardner. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.
Anna Gardner. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Another Nantucket educator also fought for equality but in a different scope. Anna Gardner (1816-91) was a teacher at the African School on the island. Gardner left her position as an educator to protest racial discrimination that had been experienced by one of her students and to more fully dedicate herself to the cause of abolition. She eventually helped organize the first Anti-Slavery Convention on Nantucket and would continue her activism by fighting for both gender and racial equality with organizations such as the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society and the Association for the Advancement of Women, an organization partly founded by Mitchell.

These women represent only a few examples of the many incredible women that can be found throughout the island’s history. As time goes on, authors and historians will undoubtedly uncover more inspirational stories while attempting to interpret the unique role women played in shaping Nantucket since the 17th century. But what was so unique about this place that contributed to such a concentration of powerful figures? Whether it was thanks to situational necessity or progressive and inclusive thinking, this island has produced a legacy of individuals well-deserving of our consideration.

Cheyenne Dunham is earning her M.A. in History with a specialization in Public History. She earned a B.A. in History, minoring in Anthropology, from Eastern Washington University. Currently, her work explores Nantucket’s developmental history alongside the Pacific Northwest’s settlement. She is designing a digital exhibit connecting post-whaling industrial and population shifts on the Massachusetts island with the establishment and growth of Washington State in the second half of the 19th century.

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References   [ + ]

1. Philbrick, Nathaniel. Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, 1602-1890. (New York : Penguin Books, 2011): xiii, xvi.

Is It Mine To Tell?: Protecting Privacy in Public History Practice

By Ashlie Duarte-Smith

My first instinct as a public historian is to interpret and translate historical facts into a language that anyone can access–to carve out a navigable path for public consumption. Those instincts were tested when I accepted an internship for the National Park Service at the Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaiʻi. Privacy laws concerning Kalaupapa prevented me from knowing what my subject matter would be, so all I knew was that I wanted to create a short film. However, I found myself in an interesting predicament that forced me to reflect deeply on my professional responsibilities as an historian, and my personal responsibilities to any subject matter I may have. I thought, what gives me the right, as a historian, to make public any select portion of history? In my case, a dear family that I came to love as my own? I was in search of a project to propel myself forward, and yet it includes this family’s pain, joy, and trials? What do I need to know and prepare myself for in order to take on the responsibility of an oral history?

Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The town of Kalaupapa is located on the island of Molokaʻi in Hawaiʻi, and is a former “leprosy colony.” Thousands of residents of Hawaiʻi were forcibly exiled there from the years 1866 to 1969 when they were found to be “guilty” of having leprosy, today known as Hansen’s Disease. Originally an act under the Hawaiian Kingdom, the law continued into the 20th century, extending ten years after American statehood. The town is now a national park where the remainder of patients can live out the rest of their lives in peace, or leave if they wish. To protect the safety and dignity of its residents,

Pali or cliff faces above Kalaupapa, Molokaʻi.

Kalaupapa is off-limits to the uninvited, and receives a cap of 100 people per day, both tourist and visitor alike. The only way to get there is by prop plane, or a two-hour hike up and down a steep trail along a sheer cliff face–making it one of the most beautiful but isolated places in the world.

As a colony, Kalaupapa was meant to separate those who were suffering from Hansen’s Disease from the general population. The disease is actually a degenerative bacteria that dissolves the joints and breaks down the human body leaving sufferers, if untreated, deformed and dying. Thousands of families were torn apart over the years for the safety of the many. Even when a cure was determined in the 1941, the patients remained legally incarcerated until 1969. It was not until the National Park Service was invited to care for the town, the land, and its history in 1981, that those who wanted to preserve the patients stories were permitted to go and do their best.

During my internship, I became fast friends with a wonderful young woman who had also become an intern in the park. She shared stories about her life and memories of Kalaupapa, expressing her deeply rooted genealogy to the town and its people. Not only did she allow me to listen, but she also offered me the privilege to record her family’s history for my project. Their individual stories are long, multifaceted, and so complex that it gave me pause. Who was this history for? If it was only for my sake, and doing nothing for the greater good, then is it even my business to hear? To know? I am a child of Hawaiʻi, born and raised on the island of Oʻahu.

Duarte-Smith in Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Growing up there, I have come to realize that we are very protective of our history because it is often misrepresented or exploited. Even though I had never been to the island of Molokaʻi before this internship, I still hold a kinship with the people there. I was terrified when I decided to apply for a position there, because sadly there is still a stigma attached to Kalaupapa. There is a misguided fear of a disease that not many in my generation can really understand. But for my mother and grandmother’s respective generations, Kalaupapa was very real and very scary place. Certainly not a place for a child to know about when she faced no danger to go there herself. So, as an adult, and as the potential historian for a part of this history, I was scared, and continue to be uneasy about sharing what I am entrusted with.

Toward the end of my time in Kalaupapa, I became very protective of its people. I befriended many of the kōkua, the non-patients that help to run the town, and the patients themselves. I worked in their repository and archives where I witnessed through objects and documents the inhuman moments these people experienced. I also handled some of the physical artifacts that those events left behind. The enormity of my responsibility to these people–to my friends–struck me. I am now personally involved. I have a personal stake in the decision I make regarding my finished project, what I do with it, and to whom I reveal it. These are not just people I casually scheduled an interview with; they became my family. I ate meals and laughed with them. I cried and held them in my arms. Those actions seem so innocuous, but they are overloaded with meaning, especially for those whose touch was actually scorned for the majority of their lives. I want to protect them, but then I remembered that my subject encouraged me to do it, she trusted me, and most of all, everyone involved gave me their blessing.

Duarte-Smith (left) with Jessica “Kanani” Sanchez and Ivy Kahilihiwa.

Anything that I choose to do or to write about with this information is an invasion of my subjects’ privacy no matter what. I have to consider that; it is important. No matter how well meaning my intent, or how open my subjects are, I am entering a sacred place in someone’s life that was never intended for public knowledge. Before conducting my interview, I was terrified of messing it up. But my subjects told me that they were happy I was so visibly shaken. My confusion must have been easy to read because they all explained that my fear was good, it would keep me humble and respectful. There is a fine line between public and private history in this project, a line that is present in all aspects of historical practice. I think that as historians whose main focus is the education of the public, it is critical that we are conscious of that line and how we navigate it. We must remember that any history we partake of is an honor to record, and a privilege to share.

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Learning from the Clothes that Haverhill Wore: A Semester at the Haverhill Historical Society

By Rachel Sherman

During the Fall 2016 semester, I worked as an intern in both curatorship and collections management at the Haverhill Historical Society under Janice Williams. The Haverhill Historical Society serves as the historical center for the area of Greater Haverhill and the Merrimack Valley (Massachusetts). Occupying “The Buttonwoods” mansion originally bequeathed to the historical society in 1903, the Haverhill Historical Society collects and exhibits items relating to the area’s culture and history. These items once belonged to Haverhill residents and include numerous textiles ranging from quilts to costumes.

Figure 1: The John Ward House, owned by the Haverhill Historical Society. This house currently resides on the Buttonwoods Property. Picture taken by Rachel Sherman (2016).

From the beginning of my graduate career, I knew that I wanted to gain experience in a small historical institution like the Haverhill Historical Society. They needed the help. Now more than ever, historical societies need to be more organized, user friendly, and publicly accessible in order to stay relevant. Unfortunately, many of these organizations are run by small staff, infrequent volunteers, and the occasional intern. Despite this reality, the Haverhill Historical Society strives towards making themselves more accessible. This determination and dedication attracted me to intern at the Haverhill Historical Society.

My internship contributed the Haverhill Historical Society and their mission to modernize. They have been working on a ten-year long project to digitally catalog their collections, working to connect the items to Haverhill history. My job was to use their cataloging system, PastPerfect, to assess the condition of and digitally catalog a certain number of hanging costumes. I was also tasked with creating an informational “Intern’s Pick List.” The list includes costumes I felt were important to understanding Haverhill’s history and will be added to the Haverhill Historical Society’s website alongside the Curator’s Pick List.

Every historical institution, whether they are a small historical society or a large museum, has its own process for cataloging items; however, almost all institutions require the same general skills in approaching their items. From my experience, I present a small list of what I learned while interning at the Haverhill Historical Society.

Figure 3: Ninteenth century men’s robe, donated by the F.O. Raymond Estate. Fred O. Raymond Sr. lived and raised his family in Haverhill, serving as the Deputy Sheriff of Essex County from 1870 until his death in 1901. Object owned by the Haverhill Historical Society. Picture taken by Rachel Sherman (2016).

Always check the pockets: This is meant both figuratively and literally. During my investigation into a nineteenth century robe, I conducted my usual condition assessment, placed a new accession number tag, and proceeded to bring the costume back to its home. As I held the costume, I felt something in the left pocket I did not notice before. I carefully looked to see what was inside the pocket, and found a little envelope from the Haverhill Historical Society in the early twentieth century that also included written names. This fun little discovery helped me identify the history and the provenance of the robe. From

then on I checked every pocket I encountered. Look at every angle of what you are working on; you never know what you are going to find in the most obscure places. 

Dig a little deeper: Researching can lead someone down a rabbit hole, and through this internship I went down several! One such rabbit hole involved genealogical work. My first day of working with the collection, I cataloged a wedding dress belonging to an Augusta Merryman of Maine donated by a Mrs. Daniel Hunt of Haverhill. Curious about the relation between the two women, I turned to census records to see if the women shared a family. After working backwards through fifty years of census records, I connected the dots and found that Augusta Merryman (whose first name was actually Lydia) was Mrs. Daniel Hunt’s aunt. Therefore it helps to dig a little deeper into the records to find connections to the past.

Use every available resource: See everyone and everything as a resource. While cataloging a men’s suit, I came across the name William C. Glines. Upon researching the name, I quickly learned that Haverhill housed more than one William C. Glines. After a period of frustration, I decided to ask the curator for assistance. Meanwhile, Mary Ann, a fellow volunteer on the textile collection, overheard our conversation and chimed in about her own object. It turned out that not only did she know the Glines family, but that she finished working on an object donated by a William Cheney Glines, aka William C. Glines. From then on, Mary Ann continued to be a valuable resource for both understanding some of the Haverhill families I encountered in my research and in understanding fashion jargon.

Step outside of your comfort zone: Try something new. This internship allowed me to work hands-on with a collection that needed some TLC. From taking on a subject I knew little about, I learned not only collections management techniques, but also skills uncommon with a history-based internship. Through this internship, I learned basic sewing. Before, I could barely thread a needle, and now I can at least sew a label onto a costume. I advise anyone to step out of her comfort zone; you never know what you will learn.

Figure 2: Intern hard at work! Image taken by Janice Williams (2016).

Apply what you already know: This item should come to no surprise. While examining an early nineteenth century dress coat, the gilded brass buttons stood out among the navy blue wool exterior. Upon looking at the buttons, I noticed that each one featured a peculiar bald eagle. Although I do not know the history of buttons, I did know from previous undergraduate research that the eagle shared a similar motif to the furniture of the American Classical Style (1820s-1840s). This similarity aided in narrowing down the age of the buttons—the mid to late 1830s. It may seem silly, but I used my knowledge of aesthetics, compared buttons to furniture, and it paid off.

No matter your internship, whether it is working with a collection or other, the skills you learn from an internship apply to more than just the task at hand. From reading about my own experience, you, the reader, will hopefully gain a better understanding of what you may encounter on your own internship journey.


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Exploring Portsmouth through Craftsmen’s Eyes

By: Judith Marshall

I began my master’s degree at UMass Boston with a vague understanding of public history. I knew that it gave me the opportunity to pursue my passion for history outside of the academic world. However, I did not have any real experience doing public history and I was a little uncertain and nervous about my choice. I was quickly immersed into this world, gaining experience not only in public history but also in archives. At UMass I have had the opportunity to attend conferences, volunteer with public history projects, and collaborate with community organizations in course practicums. The most rewarding, however, has been my internship with Historic New England.

This internship has been an invaluable part of my public history education, giving me the ability to gain hands-on experience in the field. In spring 2015, I started my internship at Historic New England, an organization that aims to preserve and interpret New England architecture and material culture. I was eager to start this internship for a couple of reasons. First of all, I value their capacity to use historic houses as a means of interpreting everyday life in the past. Second of all, I appreciate their dedication to making New England’s culture engaging and accessible to the public—both through their historic houses and their wonderful public programs.

My internship project required that I research the men who were involved in building one of Historic New England properties—the Rundlet May House, a 19th century history home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire—and then write an interpretation proposal based on that research.

Rundlet May House, a federal-style house in Portsmouth New Hampshire, built in 1807.
Rundlet May House, a federal-style house in Portsmouth New Hampshire, built in 1807.

This project immediately interested me. Traditionally, historic homes have focused on the wealthy families who lived in them. However, recent public history practices have started to change how historic homes interpret regional histories. Some historic institutions have now begun to include the histories of marginalized populations, using the homes to discuss the lived experiences of enslaved people and servants. Researching and interpreting the lives of the men who built the Rundlet May House would be a continuation of this trend to include everyday people in the interpretation of historic homes. Serendipitously, James Rundlet, the merchant that built the house, left a detailed work schedule and account book. These documents offered me an accurate picture of the men involved, the supplies they used, the time it took them, and the wages they received. In other words, I had a fascinating window into the lives of the craftsmen.

After transcribing the schedule and account book, I researched the craftsmen, a challenging task. I knew relatively little about the craftsmen, besides their names and the fact that they were in Portsmouth between 1807 and 1808. This problem was compounded with the fact that so many men in New England had the same name, making the research particularly tricky. For instance, when looking for information about James Folsom, a carpenter who worked on the Rundlet May House in 1807, I found census records that included James Folsom I, II, III, IV, V, and VI. These records were even more difficult to discern when you include the fact that pre-1840 census records only documented the names of the head of the households. All other persons in the household, from a certain age range, were only numerically counted. It became difficult to determine which one of these James Folsoms was the joiner who worked on James Rundlet’s house.


James Folsom from Exeter New Hampshire (note: NOT the James Folsom who worked on the Rundlet May House) posted this message in the newspaper in 1812. Even he was annoyed with having the same name as so many others! “Owing to the frequent mistakes made by there being a number of persons of the name JAMES FOLSOM in this town, the subscriber, son of Benjamin Folsom, late of Newmarket, respectfully requests his friends and others having occasion to direct letters, etc. to him, to call and consider him by his real name. James B. Folsom.” Source: Constitutionalist (Exeter, NH), August 4, 1812. Volume: II, Issue: 7, Page: 1.
James Folsom from Exeter New Hampshire (note: NOT the James Folsom who worked on the Rundlet May House) posted this message in the newspaper in 1812. Even he was annoyed with having the same name as so many others! “Owing to the frequent mistakes made by there being a number of persons of the name JAMES FOLSOM in this town, the subscriber, son of Benjamin Folsom, late of Newmarket, respectfully requests his friends and others having occasion to direct letters, etc. to him, to call and consider him by his real name. James B. Folsom.” Source: Constitutionalist (Exeter, NH), August 4, 1812. Volume: II, Issue: 7, Page: 1.

The interpretive proposal, at first, felt like uncharted territory. I had some experience with public interpretation, but it was still relatively new to me. This part of my internship became the most rewarding and exciting aspect. Initially, I thought I would plan a house tour that examined each room from a different craftsman’s eyes. In each room I would give a biography about a craftsman and link his work to Rundlet’s house. However I thought that this would be a disjointed tour, with nothing linking the rooms together. I scratched the idea and I started to think about different avenues of interpretation.

During my research, I uncovered a wealth of information about the craftsmen themselves. I discovered that many of them had a robust political life, including some of who were elected municipal officers. I also learned that some were involved with societies such as the New Hampshire Mechanics Association. I wanted to find a way to include all these facets of their lives into my interpretation so I developed a proposal for a walking tour. I thought that a walking tour would be a great way to reveal the craftsmen’s lives to the public. I could discuss not just their work at the Rundlet May House, but also their political activities, the societies they belonged to, and the other houses they helped construct.

The walking tour gave me the opportunity to interpret history spatially instead of just thematically. While it is my instinct to organize historic evidence in thematic terms, so that each story flows smoothly to the next, this kind of narrative form is not logistically possible within the format of a walking tour. The organization of walking tours depends on the geographical location of a site; tour participants would not be happy to walk from one side of Portsmouth to the other just so I that could connect two complementary sites thematically. Looking at interpretation in terms of space meant that I had to reorganize my frame of thinking.

Before I knew it, the semester was over. Yet there was so much more I wanted to do with the tour. After all, I had only created a brief proposal. After discussing it with staff at Historic New England and my mentors at UMass Boston, I have decided to use my proposal as the foundation for my capstone project. This semester I am building on the work I did for my internship, conducting more research on the craftsmen and creating a full tour script. Most excitingly, I will have the opportunity to give a trial run of the tour. I am thrilled to see this project through to the end.

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Exploring New Paths And Forging Connections With The Past

By: Danielle Cournoyer

I decided early on while working towards my bachelor’s degree in history that I would go to graduate school. Although, at the time, I had no clear grasp on what my interests were and I had no real idea how to define or describe my ambitions or how I was going to turn them into a career. Then, after a simple Google search, I stumbled upon the National Council on Public History and finally had in front of me, a solid description of the vague career notions I had been chasing throughout my undergraduate career. Public history, the NCPH’s site describes, is the “ways in which history is put to work in the world.” Public Historians work to make “history relevant and useful in the public sphere.” After this discovery I felt inspired. Finally I could articulate my aspirations to reach out and help people learn and appreciate history.

Obtaining a graduate degree in a public history program affords me the critical opportunity to work in history outside of academia. I came to UMass Boston in the fall of 2013 with this career path in mind. My first Public History class, my first graduate class in general, was an introduction to the diverse and wide-ranging field of Public History and over the last two tears I have been able to simultaneously expand and hone in on my specific interests and career goals. This led me to a summer internship at the Nichols House Museum and exploring the ways to help the public make meaningful connections with the past.

Me visiting The Mount, a historic house museum and former home of Edith Wharton (August 2015)

Historic house museums are a unique way to experience the past. These intimate museums offer the chance to tell individual and personal stories in the context of a broader local and national history. The Nichols House Museum provides visitors with a look into nineteenth and twentieth century life Boston as well as sharing the unique story of the home’s last resident, Rose Standish Nichols. Rose, a suffragist, writer, landscape architect, and dedicated pacifist, was passionate about education and considered herself a “champion of global thinking.” She lived during a time when the world was changing at a rapid pace and she left her home as a museum after her death because she believed that experiencing different places, people and ideas could provide anyone with the understanding and insight needed for them to go out and positively influence the world. Today the museum welcomes visitors from all over the world as a means honor Rose’s legacy and to promote international friendship and learning.

During my internship at the Nichols House Museum, I had the opportunity to explore first hand the operations of a small but distinguished historic house museum. I was able to explore my particular interests and gain applied experience in building and shaping museum public and community outreach, to increase attendance and awareness of the museum and its pertinent history. One of the Nichols’ House Museum’s initiatives to connect the house to a more national or global narrative is through their Object of the Month Blog. This blog is also part of the museum’s wider pursuit to bring the museum into the digital age, to connect with their audience and build communities both online and off by sharing the story of one of the many pieces in the Nichols’ family’s collection and revealing its wider historic relevance. I also had the opportunity during my internship to help the museum find its voice online in a ways to increase their audience and make broader connections to the world outside of Beacon Hill through the researching and drafting of a social media policy.

For the Object of the Month Blog I chose to research the museum’s reduced version of “Diana of the Tower,” one of Rose Nichols’ famous sculptor uncle, Augustus Saint-Gaudens’, most successful works. Working on this post allowed me to connect the Nichols family’s story to the wider history of the American artists’ colony and beaux-arts movements of the late 19th century, as well as Gilded Age New York City and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition. This kind of larger story gives context to the world Rose Nichols’ grew up in and further broadens the scope of what can be learned through a visit to a tangible and seemingly intimate house museum.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ “Diana” on the second floor landing at the Nichols House Museum

During my summer at the Nichols House Museum I had the chance to collaborate with the museum’s small but dedicated staff. They have numerous ideas to expand their audience, programs, and funding, as well as ways to reach out and connect with the local community. The staff at the Nichols House Museum are taking part in a wider movement happening the field of Public History where we are beginning to rethink and reinterpret how traditional historic house museums can reach new audiences and remain relevant in today’s technology driven world.

The Nichols House Museum: Object of the Month Blog
August 1, 2015: “Who is Diana of the Tower?”

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Bio of a History Grad Student in Public History

Bio of a History Grad Student in Public History

By: Lauren A. Prescott

Lauren Prescott, November 2014 trip to Washington D.C.
Lauren Prescott, November 2014 trip to Washington D.C.

I grew up an hour south of Boston in New Bedford, Massachusetts. New Bedford was a major whaling and trading port in the 19th century and the home of abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass more many years. The history of my city greatly interested me and I was lucky enough to spend many afternoons at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in their summer program. As a child I found my history classes boring, but field trips to museums and historic sites were some of my fondest memories of school. Unfortunately, my history classes were lacking, and we were nothing more than date-memorizing machines for exams.

I entered UMass Amherst in the fall of 2008 as a math major. I had no interest in math, but I had always excelled in those classes. Although I loved history and would often be found immersed in a history book, I did not see a future career in the discipline (other than teaching). I disliked most of my classes, but remained as a math major for two years. At the time, I was working at the Science & Engineering Library on campus and had befriended many people in other disciplines. One person I became particularly close with was a history major and it was through him that I saw the career possibilities in history. Why stick with something that I had no passion for? Why spend all four years of my undergraduate career feeling unfulfilled? It was then that I made the decision to become a history major and took extra courses each semester to finish on time. Those two years were some of my hardest, as I still worked full time, but they were also the most interesting.

In my last year at UMass Amherst, I came across an introductory course to public history. At the time I had no idea what public history was, and simply took it for course credit. That introductory course and Professor Marla Miller opened my eyes to the career possibilities of a public historian. I immediately began looking at graduate schools that offered public history programs and came upon UMass Boston. So what is public history? Public history refers to the work that is done outside the academy, especially in regards to recreating and presenting history to the public. Public historians can be found as archivists, museum curators, historical preservationists and writers. My specific interests lay in childhood education. Public schools across the country have had problems with their history curriculum, and many students (like I did) do not find their history classes interesting or beneficial outside of school. Thankfully, the classroom isn’t the only place for kids to learn! Museums in Boston offer after school and summer programs for students of all ages. This type of interactive learning can make history meaningful and that is what I hope to do after graduation – to present history in a way that makes it meaningful for people, particularly children.

I am now in my second year as a graduate student and hope to finish my degree in the spring of 2016. I recently finished an internship with Mount Auburn Cemetery in December which I greatly enjoyed. For the internship I researched 19th century women activists interred at the cemetery for an upcoming web exhibit on Mount Auburn’s website. I wrote all of the text and acquired all of the visuals (photographs, documents, newspaper articles) for the exhibit. I spent a lot of my time doing research at various archives in the Boston area, especially at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library. The time I spent in the archives this past year gave me a great appreciation for archivists and I wanted to learn more about the profession, which led me to Professor Marilyn Morgan’s digital archives class this semester.

I am also beginning an internship this semester with the Arlington Historical Society in the collections management department. The internship will give me hands on experience working with their collection of over 4,000 objects. My previous internships focused solely on research and my internship at AHS will allow me to learn more about collections care and management, while also learning to use collection management software.

This semester the class will look at the desegregation of Boston schools in the 1970s – 1980s and create a digital archive highlighting items found in archives across the city. I am specifically interested in the students’ perspectives. Desegregation of Boston schools was covered in the media for years, and it frequently focused on the opposition to forced busing, parents who refused to send their children to school, and the violence that erupted across the city. But what about the students? How did they feel about school desegregation? How was their day at school impacted? Did the violence stop once the students stepped inside the schools? Were they able to create new friendships, or was there really all of this hostility? There was much more to students’ daily lives than what was portrayed in the media and I hope to bring their stories to light.

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