Category Archives: Internship

Ambiance in Archives: How Surroundings Inform Content

By Katie Maura Burke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FRLA 45414 - upper draft June1930 - front-jpg635805960073723013
Image of ten employees of the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects in the upper drafting room at Fairsted in 1930. Courtesy of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please follow and like us:

Preserving the Past: An Active Internship at the NEDCC

by Rebecca Carpenter

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

Screen shot of the NEDCC website.

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

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

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

Digitization as Digital Preservation?

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

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

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

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

The Survey

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

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

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

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

I designed the preservation survey using Survey Monkey.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Please follow and like us:

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.

Please follow and like us:

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.


Please follow and like us:

#BlackHistoryMonth: My Outreach Internship in Archives

By Monica Haberny

In fall 2016, I completed internship early at the Boston City Archives (BCA). My project combined research, access and outreach. My goal was to identify and digitize interesting material related to African American history and women’s history in Boston, then create a few compelling posts for Black History Month (February)  and Women’s History Month (March). I loved this project so much I ended up writing one post for every day of each month (read my posts on BCA’s blog every day!) To read more about my experiences each week, check out the class blog for internships: Archives In Turn: Interns in Archives.

On my first day, Marta Crilly, the Archivist for Reference and Outreach, gave me a tour of the BCA and introduced me to the collections. During that first month, I began making connections and “discoveries.” I unearthed the story of Julia Harrington Duff–a teacher who fought for the rights of Irish-American, female teachers–in the teacher qualification records. But I also found info about Julia in the city documents, as she served on the Boston School Committee in the early 1900s.

In September, I encountered a few research dead ends. I’d hoped to write an in-depth post on Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African-American woman to become a physician in the United States. Crumpler lived in and operated an office in Beacon Hill in 1869, and moved, with her husband, to Hyde Park in 1880. Searches for her tax records (using her maiden name, her husband’s name, a mention of a black doctor, female doctor, or any combination) returned no information. But by the end of the month, I’d made progress in other areas. I wrote a compelling post on William Monroe Trotter, a newspaper editor and civil rights activist, listed in Hyde Park’s graduation exercises from 1860. I wrote posts on seven other African Americans who shaped Boston’s history.

Closing Exercises of the Boston Girls’ High School, 1918, Graduation Programs, Collection 0400.004, Boston City Archives.

In October, I utilized three tricks to help me track down people of interest in Boston’s past.

First, I searched for alumni of Boston Public Schools. I found well-known individuals from the high schools of South Boston, Girls’, and Hyde Park.  Some graduation records were missing, but it was helpful to know who attended which school. I used photos and documents from the schools’ records to enhance blog posts about alumni who went to those schools, like community and civil rights activist Melnea Cass who attended Girls’ High School. Cass remained remained active in many community projects and volunteer groups in the South End and Roxbury and helped found the Boston local of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Second, I used digitized photographs on BCA’s Flickr page as documents or sources of valuable information. The John F. Collins album  provided a wealth of rich material and allowed me to write about Bobbi Gibb and Katherine Switzer, the first women to run the Boston marathon, and many more topics and persons of interest.

The third trick I learned entailed using records of city officials to uncover material about individuals or topics. In November, Marta and I found folders in the John Collins’ papers that documented key events from the civil rights movement. These documents included Collin’s reaction to violent attacks on civil-rights demonstrators by state police outside of Selma, Alabama; letters from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) about housing inequality in Roxbury, and documents from the NAACP.  I learned that, in some cases, searching records from mayors uncovered far more information than looking for topics directly.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Mayor Raymond L. Flynn. circa 1984-1986. Mayor Raymond L. Flynn records, Collection #0246.001 Boston City Archives.

There were some surprises in my research. For instance, I found the eulogy for Melnea Cass and documents from Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s Special Olympics in Mayor Kevin H. White’s records. I also found significant material pertinent to women’s issues in White’s records.

Application from the Housekeepers League, January 7, 1913, Box 1, Petitions to use Faneuil Hall 1912-1914, Applications to use Faneuil Hall 4320.001, Boston City Archives.

My favorite aspect of my internship was the sleuthing it allowed me to do. For instance, I found the name, “Ida M. Hebbard” on an application to use Faneuil Hall from the Housekeepers League, a group for which she served as president. I discovered that the league consisted of wives and mothers who were concerned about the prices of household goods in the 1910s. Hebbard was an early advocate of consumer rights and led the group in boycotting goods to protest unfair pricing. Their potato boycott helped lower the cost of of potatoes from 70 cents to 35 cents a peck. The League advocated for the Bob Veal Bill, which prohibited the sale of calves weighing less than sixty pounds. Hebbard also called attention to violations in the way cold food was stored in Boston. Though extremely influential in Boston at the time, Hebbard is, today, barely remembered by Bostonians. The fact that I brought back her memory is something I’m extremely proud of.*

Grace Lorch(left) with Elizabeth Eckford (right), one of the Little Rock Nine. From clipping, Max Brantley, “Lee Lorch, a figure in Little Rock’s ‘57 crisis, dies at 98.” Arkansas Times, March 02, 2014, in Mayor Kevin H White records, Boston City Archives.

I  found inspiration in my research into the men and women of color in Boston’s history. I learned about the creator of the Drop-a-Dime hotline, Georgette Watson and the first Black female firefighter, Karen Miller. I also discovered the teaching record of Grace Lorch who was a white escort for the Little Rock Nine.

One of my favorite items and most interesting discoveries came from the Town of Dorchester records: the military enlistments from the 5th Regiment Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War.

Massachusetts had three African American regiments during the Civil War: the 54th Infantry Regiment, 55th Infantry Regiment, and the 5th Colored Volunteer Cavalry Regiment.  The 1989 movie Glory starring Mathew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman documents 54th Infantry Regiment–a Massachusetts military unit that was one of the first units in the Union Army composed entirely of African-Americans.  The records for the 5th Colored Cavalry are lesser-known but fascinating! Included among the enlistees from Dorchester were Stephen Jacobs and Betsey Smith. Jacobs and Smith enlisted together but his form said he had originally come from Virginia, whereas Smith’s listed her home as Africa. I found out that she went into the war as a private and left with the rank of private.

A list of some of the recruits for the 5th Regiment Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Cavalry. Lists of Recruits, March 1864, Box 18, Folder 118, Town of Dorchester records 1100.001, Boston City Archives

Marta told me that she had expected me to write two or three blogs per week for Black History Month and Women’s History Month, but by the end of my internship I had written a post for every day in February and March to honor the admirable men and women of our city in Black History and Women’s History Months.

While working at BCA, I monitored the research room, so I gained experience watching researchers and making sure everyone handled documents correctly. I also had the chance to answer some reference queries. I realized while doing these tasks that I really enjoyed acting as a bit of a detective for the public.

By working at the Boston City Archives, I learned how to become a better writer, what working in an archive entailed, and how to serve the public. I began to see myself there and enjoyed going there. While the idea of what career I want is still foggy, I do know that wherever I end up working needs to involve archives or some aspect of it.


* These are some published articles about Hebbard:

“Coal Dealers Put the Blame on Mine Men.” Boston Evening Globe, May 29, 1917.

“15,000 Women Banded in Fight Against H.C.L.” The Boston Globe,  May 12, 1917.

“Potato Boycott by Housekeepers.” The Boston Globe, January 27, 1917.

“To Start Probe of Cold Storage Foods.” Boston Post, December 5, 1916.

“Watch on Legislators.” Boston Post, March 17, 1917.

“Women Who Let Fight For ‘Bob Veal’ Bill” The Boston Globe, February 22, 1917.



Please follow and like us:

Fighting Fire & Segregation: A Semester at the Boston City Archives

By: Connor Anderson

Officers from the Boston Police Department standing beside school buses. Photo from the 1975 Hyde Park High School yearbook.

I decided to complete my internship at the Boston City Archives (BCA) in West Roxbury thanks in part to the experience I had there during our Digital Archives class in spring 2016. In that class, we worked with Marta Crilly, the Archivist for Reference and Outreach, to create exhibits for the class’s Omeka site, “Stark and Subtle Divisions,” which explores the desegregation of the Boston Public Schools.

My internship included many small projects but, primarily, I focused on digitizing materials from the desegregation collections housed at the City Archives, and inputting metadata onto their digital repository, Preservica, for future use. This project builds upon the work of Lauren Prescott, a recently graduated student from our program.

I started off in September digitizing materials from the Mayor Kevin H. White records, specifically feedback notes from the various “coffee klatches” the Mayor held throughout the city. Some of these notes mentioned the residents’ concerns about the busing situation. I then moved onto some materials from the Louise Day Hicks papers and the Fran Johnnene collection, two ardent opponents of desegregation, or “forced busing,” as they dubbed it.

A map of neighborhood schools with accompanying geocodes found in the Louise Day Hicks papers.

The Louise Day Hicks material featured interesting content that Marta thought researchers would love.

I was really hoping that I would have the chance to scan images while at the BCA. I am familiar with digitizing still and moving images from my internship in the audiovisual archives at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and I really enjoy working with that medium. So when I heard that there were some negatives in the Kevin H. White records that needed scanning, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. We encountered some setbacks and I ended up only scanning a few negatives. In hindsight, that’s good since there were many other projects for to do.

After working there a few weeks, Marta mentioned that some of the materials from the Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire needed scanning.

In November 1942, Cocoanut Grove, a night club in Boston, caught fire. The blaze claimed the lives of almost 500 people making it the deadliest nightclub fire in the world at that time. The Boston City Archives has three collections which contain material about the fire: the Boston City Hospital collection, the Law Department records, and the William Arthur Reilly collection. The materials are fascinating, with items ranging from death certificates to samples of the fabric that caught ablaze (see below).

A sample of fabric that caught fire at the Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire.

This detour turned into one of my favorite projects of the semester, and I learned more about the privacy restrictions of some collections. The biggest issue we faced with this material involved HIPAA regulations that protect the privacy of medical records. After consulting with an attorney for the City of Boston, we were cleared to publish the names and other information about the victims online, because (long before HIPPA was enacted) the Boston Post had already published the names in a “List of Dead.”

A page from the Boston Post featuring names of the victims of the Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire.

The materials in these collections reflect the fire’s immediate impact on the city and its long-lasting national legacy. For instance, the Boston City Hospital (BCH) records document procedures and treatments used on Cocoanut Grove fire victims. The approaches and practices used at BCH established a modern treatment of burn victims that hospitals across the country soon followed. The materials from the Law Department document the city’s creation of new safety and fire codes.  Many of the codes Boston created in response to Cocoanut Grove were later adopted nationwide.

After scanning materials related to the Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire, I returned to desegregation, this time focusing on yearbooks. I focused on two high schools in neighborhoods which busing significantly affected: Charlestown High and Hyde Park. I soon found out, to my surprise, that Hyde Park High School already enrolled a number of non-white students before busing started in the Fall of 1974. Charlestown High School, on the other hand, enrolled very few non-white students prior to the Fall of 1974. This began a troubling trend of white Charlestown residents sending their children elsewhere for school.

A Hyde Park High School Senior sporting some groovy hair.

In total, I scanned twenty-three yearbooks between the two high schools. Needless to say, the fashion trends of the 1960s and 1970s puzzle me after going through the yearbooks.

MODS metadata
Some lovely metadata using a MODS template by yours truly.

For each object I scanned, I needed to complete the metadata on that object as well. In my internship, I created metadata that provided detailed information about the digitized content. Marta set up a Google spreadsheet to organize all of my metadata, which was a huge help since I scanned almost 350 objects. The metadata I was responsible for were–Title, Record Identifier, Date Created, Creator Name, City, Neighborhood, Description, Collection Name and Number, Location of Originals, Type, Language, Conditions Governing Access, Conditions Governing Reproductions, Library of Congress Subject Headings, Description Standard, Pages.

Thankfully, the Boston City Archives has a set of controlled vocabulary to help with the process. I also found that a lot of the Library of Congress Subject Headings, dates, creators, and locations could be repeated. Still, it took me around 15 hours to complete all of the metadata alone during my internship.

I benefited a lot from my semester at the Boston City Archives. I learned technical skills that I will use in my future career and also got a view of how a municipal archive operates. Some of these skills include redacting documents, digitizing documents, different metadata formats, and working with a digital repository. There are many more that I probably do not realize I acquired yet as well. I am excited to take the valuable experience and these skills with me as I begin my career! To read more details about my experiences each week, check out the class blog for internships: Archives In Turn: Interns in Archives.


Please follow and like us:

Digging Into Digital Preservation & Outreach at Boston City Archives

By: Lauren Prescott

This semester I completed a digital archives internship at Boston City Archives with archivist Marta Crilly. Established in 1988, in an old school building in Hyde Park, the archives (now located in spacious location in West Roxbury), holds documentation of the history of Boston from the 17th century to present. Some notable collections in the archive include documentation of Boston’s role in the Civil War, immigration records, city council records, and Boston Public Schools (BPS) desegregation records. My interest in digital archives, as well as my experience in History 630, the digital archives class working with Boston Public Schools’ desegregation records, made this internship a perfect fit for me.


A report from the Massachusetts State Board of Education on the racial imbalance in schools, circa 1965.

In 1961, the NAACP met with the Boston School Committee in an attempt to get the committee to acknowledge the racial imbalance of Boston Public Schools. The School Committee refused to acknowledge the presence of segregation for over a decade. In the 1971-1972 school year, enrollment in the public schools totaled 61 percent white, 32 percent black, and other minorities comprised the remaining 7 percent. However, 84 percent of the white students attended schools that were more than 80 percent white, and 62 percent of the black pupils attended schools that were more than 70 percent black. Also, during this time, at least 80 percent of Boston’s schools were segregated.[1]

Eventually, the NAACP filed a lawsuit in Federal district court in 1972, known as Morgan vs. Hennigan. The case came before Judge Wendell Arthur Garrity Jr., who made his decision on June 21, 1974. He found that “racial segregation permeates schools in all areas of the city, all grade levels, and all types of schools.”[2] The court ordered that the school committee immediately implement a desegregation plan for its schools. Garrity’s decision met with a myriad of responses from hostility and protest to submission and acceptance. Parents, teachers, politicians, and even students voiced their opinion in various ways; many sent heartfelt letters to Judge Garrity and Mayor Kevin White.*

Digital Preservation

A letter sent to Mayor Kevin White urging him to ask Senator Barry Goldwater for help regarding desegregation and busing.

In the digital age, archivists face challenges of acquiring and preserving electronically generated records. In addition to this, archives are constantly under pressure to make their collections more accessible, through online finding aids or digitizing collections.[3] Some repositories use Institutional Repositories (IRs) for “collecting, preserving, and disseminating the intellectual output of an institution” in digital form.[4] Boston City Archives has recently begun using Preservica to keep their digital files safe and share content with the public. Preservica does not necessarily constitute an institutional repository; but, as digital preservation software, it keeps digital files safe and accessible for institutions. Preservica contains Open Archival Information System (OAIS)-compliant workflows for “ingest, data management, storage, access, administration and preservation…”[5] In addition, Preservica allows institutions to share this digitized content with the public.

Desegregation Records

For my internship, I began the process of digitizing the Boston City Archive’s desegregation records. Because the archive contains a plethora of desegregation records spread through numerous collections, I was not able to digitize everything. This semester I worked with the School Committee Secretary Files, the Mayor John F. Collins Records and the Kevin White Papers. Not every single document can be digitized, so I was responsible for choosing records that are important to understanding the desegregation of Boston public schools. In some cases, I digitized only a few documents in one box, and in others I was digitizing entire folders.

An important part of the internship involved writing metadata. Metadata is “data about data” and provides descriptive language about a record, “such as proper names, dates, places, type, technical information, and rights.”[6] Metadata constitutes a critically important piece of digitization; without it, digital objects would prove inaccessible and futile over time. If archives presented digitized images without identifiable information, researchers could not, with certainty, understand the context surrounding the document’s content!

I wrote metadata for each document and included information such as title, unique identifier, date created, creator, city, neighborhood, description, collection name and number, box and folder location, type, language, access condition and Library of Congress subject headings (LCSH). Inputting the metadata was easier than expected, thanks to last spring’s Digital Archives class.

An angry letter sent to Mayor Kevin White from a resident of South Boston who does not believe that the mayor should have “interfered” with the School Committee. The letter has been redacted.

Redaction of sensitive or private information constituted another major component of the internship. I primarily redacted letters written to Mayor John F. Collins and Mayor Kevin H. White regarding desegregation of Boston Public Schools. John F. Collins served as Boston’s mayor from 1960 until 1968. While he played no official role in the desegregation of Boston Public Schools or the subsequent busing of students in the early 1970s, Mayor Collins still dealt with the problem of racial imbalance during his term. Since many of the letters expressed hostile and, in some cases, racist views, the archivist decided to redact the names and contact information of the authors. Documents written by politicians, federal and local government employees and other public figures did not require redacting.

The majority of the documents I digitized came from the Kevin H. White Papers. Kevin White served as the mayor of Boston from 1968 through 1984; this period spanned the desegregation of public schools. Documents digitized from this collection included police logs sent the mayor’s office, departmental communications, statements from the mayor and a plethora of letters, both against and in support of the mayor.

I worked with the Kevin H. White papers last semester when I created an online exhibit for class, so I was familiar with the collection; but, I still felt surprised by some of the letters I read this semester. Many of the letters Mayor White received in the 1970s were hostile and racist. Mayor White did not just receive letters from angry Boston parents, he also received letters from people in the South who had already experienced desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as several letters from other countries.

Hand-drawn covers containing letters from fourth and fifth grade students at the Maurice J. Tobin School in Roxbury.

Letters written by children were my favorite documents.

Students of all ages had opinions of their own and even offered suggestions to Mayor White. Click here to learn more about students’ responses to desegregation and read a sampling of letters written by students at the time. Letters poured in to Mayor White’s office from students in Boston and all over the country. Most students were against busing, but mainly because they were afraid of potential violence. I digitized some letters from the advanced fourth and fifth grade classes at the Maurice J. Tobin School in Roxbury. The students were worried that the administration would remove advanced classes during Phase II of desegregation and wrote to Mayor White to express their concerns.

My internship at Boston City Archives was one of the best I have had throughout my academic career. Working directly with professionals in the field on an important project is gratifying. The purpose of the project was two-fold: digitally preserve documents relating to an important time in Boston’s history, and to share these desegregation documents with a wider audience. Not everyone can go to an archive and spend time doing research. The project to digitize Boston City Archive’s desegregation records is not over. I have digitized only a portion of the records and others will continue where I left off.


*For more information about the letters sent to Mayor Kevin White, see the finding aid to: the Mayor Kevin H. White records, 1929-1999 (Bulk, 1968-1983) at Boston City Archives; to learn more about the the letters sent to Judge Garrity, see the finding aid for the Papers on the Boston Schools Desegregation Case 1972-1997 at UMass Boston’s University Archives and Special Collections, in the Joseph P. Healey Library. This collection contains the chambers papers of Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. 


[1] School Desegregation in Boston: A Staff Report Prepared for the Hearing of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Boston, Massachusetts, June 1975. Washington: Commission, 1975, 20.
[2] Ibid., 71.
[3] Christina Zamon. The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2012, 39.
[4] Ibid., 45
[5] “Preservica.” How Preservica Works. Accessed May 13, 2016.
[6] The Lone Arranger, 47.

Please follow and like us:

Legacy in the Archives: Mayor Menino’s Office of Neighborhood Services

By: Ashley Kennedy-MacDougall

I began my internship at the City of Boston Archives in September 2015 under the direction of Marta Crilly, Archivist for Reference and Outreach. I was able to work on the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services series from the collection of Mayor Thomas Menino. Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino (December 27, 1942 – October 30, 2014) served from 1993-2014, and emphasized the importance of neighborhood development and city services to the neighborhoods such as trash removal, plowing, street sweeping, pothole repair. The Office of Neighborhood Services (ONS) was formed to ensure the needs of city constituents were heard and addressed. Each neighborhood of Boston was assigned a coordinator who was involved with addressing and aiding to resolve various types of constituent issues that often required coordination with other city departments such as the Inspectional Services Department and the Zoning Board of Appeals. The coordinators were also involved in the local neighborhood associations and other civic organizations of their area.

The records in this series consisted of paper materials collected by the neighborhoods’ ONS coordinators and included correspondence, meeting notes, minutes, and event plans, as well as materials from various city departments including the Boston Transportation Department, Boston Inspectional Services Department, Boston Conservation Commission, Boston Landmark Commission, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The correspondence, fliers, and meeting notes of various neighborhood associations were also included. The dates of the materials ranged from 1987 to 2013, with the bulk of the material falling between 1995-2013.

As Marta had explained to me when I began, some of the materials had been collected directly from the current coordinators’ desks at the end of Mayor Menino’s administration, so the level of organization would vary from box to box. The first order of business was to survey the materials and identify which neighborhood or coordinators they belonged to. This was not too difficult to discern because there were personal notes written on the coordinators’ personal letterhead intermingled with the records. I began processing the materials, which consisted of removing paperclips, flattening brochures or folded papers, re-foldering when needed, flagging for sensitive materials, photographs, or newspaper, and weeding duplicates or unneeded materials such as the coordinators’ handwritten notes and call sheets.

The processing experience differed for each coordinator’s materials – some coordinators were organized and had assembled their materials in labelled folders, other boxes contained piles of unfoldered, loose documents or unlabeled hanging folders. The boxes containing hanging folders required complete re-foldering and dating of the folders, and the boxes of loose materials required me to find an order in the materials and create folder titles and dates. While these materials required the most time to process, having to closely read and inspect the documents was especially interesting as it revealed how local government interacted with its constituents and vice versa.

Figure 1
Figure 1 – Loose materials prior to processing


Figure 1
Figure 2 – A box of processed materials


Once I had completed processing all the neighborhoods’ materials, as well series of street sweeping records, Zoning Board of Appeal records, and architectural plans, all of the boxes were brought out so that I could arrange them in alphabetical order by neighborhood, consolidate neighborhood materials together, and incorporate 7 boxes of previously processed materials from South Boston and Charlestown. This organizing was challenging because there was some overlap in neighborhoods and coordinators, and when there was more than one coordinator over the 18 year span I separated the materials where I could, but this was not always possible. Once the boxes were in order, I began condensing them, pulling materials from the next box into boxes that were not full. I then numbered them, incorporating the previously processed boxes, for a total of 30 boxes, not including the three boxes of materials that were pulled for destruction.

The next step was to enter the folders into Archives Space. This was my first experience with this software, but it was very easy to learn. I would start a neighborhood by creating a subseries which was named after the neighborhood, and assign a date range. The folders titles and date ranges were then entered under their neighborhood. This process also varied from box to box, as the folders I had made were already dated and were much faster to enter then the folders I had to date as I was entering. After entering the folder information I had to go back to each folder to assign it a location in the records room because unfortunately this info wasn’t able to be entered with the initial folder information, so that added time to the process as well. I also created a scope and contents note to the series, which gave an overview of the types of materials contained within the series.

I really enjoyed my experience at the City of Boston Archives. Getting hands on experience is so essential for an archives student because there are some experiences that can’t be relayed through text books. While sorting through the records when I first began was intimidating, after becoming familiar with the materials and the processing experience, I gained confidence in my abilities and knowledge of the series. In time I was able to date folders, pull materials for destruction, and organize the materials into folders with confidence. Gaining experience with the Archives Space software was also important and less difficult than I would have imagined.

I also learned a lot about Boston, local government, and Mayor Menino’s administration. Through these records, Menino’s legacy as a mayor who was dedicated to the growth and improvement of his city and its neighborhoods is reflected. One of the reasons I became interested in archives is the opportunity to learn something new every day, and this experience reinforced that.

Figure 3
Figure 3 – Photo of Mayor Menino at the Annual Kite Festival in Franklin Park, c. 1995
Please follow and like us:

The Boston 200 Collection: A Processing Experience

By: Laura Kintz

During the Fall 2015 semester, I had the opportunity to complete my required archives internship at the City of Boston Archives in West Roxbury. This was a wonderful learning experience that allowed me work on processing an important archival collection: the records of the Boston 200 Corporation, which planned and managed the city’s United States Bicentennial celebrations in 1975 and 1976.

Before beginning this internship, my processing experience was limited to the Spring 2015 Archival Methods and Practices course, in which we processed the collection of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. That project was very challenging because I worked mainly with photographs for which there was no significant original order; they were just unorganized, loose photos with very little, if any, identifying information. In addition, the JPHS did not have an established archival collections policy, so much of the work we did was from scratch. Processing the Boston 200 collection gave me the chance to work with institutional records that are probably more typical of the type of materials that I would work with in future processing projects at an established archive.

The Boston 200 collection specifically consists of the records of the Boston 200 Corporation, which planned and managed Boston’s United States Bicentennial celebration. The celebratory events took place mainly in 1975 and 1976, but the records that I processed date as far back at the late 1960s through the late 1970s. The corporation itself was in operation from 1972 until 1976. In its pre-processed state, the collection consisted of boxes of file folders most likely from filing cabinets or office drawers, with occasional miscellaneous materials in manila envelopes or just loose inside the boxes. The collection is divided into series based on the specific program areas of Boston 200. Of approximately 200 total boxes in the collection, I processed 20. I was able to condense the original 20 boxes into a finished product of 14 boxes. This included part of the Visitor Services series and all of the Neighborhoods series and the Environmental Improvements series.

Unprocessed box
Unprocessed box

My job was, in short, to make order out of disorder. The biggest part of this task was refoldering, since the original folders were not in very good condition nor were they acid-free, and acid-free folders are the standard for archival document storage. The folders already had labels, and in most cases I could just keep the same labels as my new folder titles. There were some exceptions to this rule; I occasionally encountered folder titles that did not accurately reflect their folders’ contents, and in those cases, I created new ones. The main reason for doing that is so that a researcher looking at the list of folders in the collection can determine which folders will be helpful; an inaccurate folder title would be misleading and waste the researcher’s time. To indicate that a folder title was of my own creation, and not the original title, I put it in brackets. In addition to the title, I also added a date range to the folder label.

Processed box
Processed box

Just as important as processing a collection is making it accessible. Towards that end, after completing the processing of each box, I cataloged it using the ArchivesSpace platform so that the collection will be searchable on the City of Boston Archives website. ArchivesSpace allows for the hierarchical entry of information that can be migrated into a finding aid. I entered folder information at the “file” level underneath the appropriate series within the collection. The most important information that ArchivesSpace captures is the folder title and dates, but I also added information related to the document type (always “paper,” except in the case of photographs) and the materials’ physical location in the storage room. This example shows my entry for a folder titled “Neighborhood History Series booklets” and dated 1975-1976, which I entered as a file unit under the Neighborhoods series.


The majority of the materials that I processed and cataloged were textual, but I did encounter some photographs as well. There were two general types of photographs: those that documented Boston 200 activities and those that did not. Photos in the latter category were related to things like advertising or proposals from potential vendors. This distinction is important because I handled these two types of photos in different ways. For the unrelated photos, all I did was insert them into mylar photo sleeves and return them to their original folders. When I found photos related to Boston 200 activities, on the other hand, I separated them out to add them to their own Boston 200 Photographs series. I gave each of these photos their own identifying number (or digital identifier), inserted them into mylar photo sleeves, scanned them, uploaded them to the city archives’ Flickr page, added identifying and copyright information, and entered them into ArchiveSpace (at the item level, not just the folder level). I also put the photos into their own folders with titles that corresponded to the folder that they originally came from. Most photographs that I encountered did not have any identifying information, but in the interest of time, I did not do much research to identify people or places were not recognizable. That is where the Flickr platform can come in handy; the site allows registered users to view and comment on photos, and users have occasionally been able to identify people and places in city archives’ photos that staff could not identify. Below is a screenshot of the Flickr page, as well as three examples of photos that I scanned and cataloged.

Photo in Boston 200 Photographs Flickr album
Photo in Boston 200 Photographs Flickr album
Woman posing with Early Music Month sign Credit: Boston 200 records, Collection # 0279.001, Photographs, Boston City Archives, Boston
Woman posing with Early Music Month sign
Credit: Boston 200 records, Collection # 0279.001, Photographs, Boston City Archives, Boston
Participants in neighborhood cleanup Credit: Boston 200 records, Collection # 0279.001, Photographs, Boston City Archives, Boston
Participants in neighborhood cleanup
Credit: Boston 200 records, Collection # 0279.001, Photographs, Boston City Archives, Boston
Boston Tea Party poster contest participant Credit: Boston 200 records, Collection # 0279.001, Photographs, Boston City Archives, Boston
Boston Tea Party poster contest participant
Credit: Boston 200 records, Collection # 0279.001, Photographs, Boston City Archives, Boston

While the overall experience of processing a collection was the highlight of my internship experience, I also gained insight into the wide variety of research topics that just one archival collection can represent, beyond those that might seem obvious. My initial excitement in being assigned this collection was that in Monica Pelayo’s Fall 2014 Public History Colloquium, we read a book called The Spirit of 1976 that discussed United States Bicentennial celebrations from a critical public history perspective. I was interested to see how this collection could fit into public history discussions of national celebrations. It certainly would be a valuable resource for research on that topic, but its potential is so much greater. Materials in the collection document the logistics of planning such a massive celebration, which could be used by someone studying, for example, the failure of Boston’s 2020 Olympics bid. The collection also documents the vast number of improvements made to the city’s tourism infrastructure, which could be used by someone studying the history of tourism in Boston. It includes materials related to significant historic preservation projects, which could be used by someone studying the history of the Freedom Trail or Black Heritage Trail and improvements made to the city’s historic sites. It also documents a turbulent time in the city’s history, and its records provide insight into urban renewal and race relations. The research possibilities really are endless.

The Boston 200 collection is a valuable asset to the City of Boston Archives. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to hone my processing skills with this collection and to further my understanding of the wide variety of uses for archival collections. I know that I will take what I have learned with me as I continue my archival career.

Please follow and like us:

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.

Please follow and like us: