Category Archives: Public History Student

Immigration in Public Education and Public History: A Brookline Non-Profit Makes an Impact

By: Katie Burke

When I entered a graduate program in Public History I was often met with a resounding “I hated History in high school!” from friends and acquaintances. I could actually relate in some ways. In History class there was often a sense that we were being fed regurgitated, cliché narratives that were, well, old. Without connecting to these stories, they never really came alive.

I spent summer 2017 as a graduate intern at the Brookline-based non-profit organization, Facing History and Ourselves. Facing History works with high school educators to develop lesson plans on the Holocaust and other instances of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism. Their goal is to promote awareness of these events, and help students use historical knowledge to make thoughtful and ethical decisions in their own lives.

My main project at Facing History and Ourselves allowed me to strategize effective ways to implement their resources into regional curriculums. I researched high school social studies standards for the seven states in which they are based, and worked with my supervisor, Dimitry Anselme, to match Facing History’s educational resources to each state. As I reviewed the required content, Dimitry encouraged me to make conclusions about how immigration history is taught in these states as well, in order to tie the project into my interest in immigration in Public History.

In the past, immigration history in schools has often fallen victim to a problematically stereotypic narrative. Students heard about European immigrants sailing into New York Harbor at the turn of the 20th century, with the Statue of Liberty in the distance, ready to embark on the “American Dream” in the “Land of Opportunity.” This overly-simplified narrative perpetuated a false nostalgia that prevented students from reckoning with the complex history of immigration in the United States. It also alienated students with the most recent ties to immigration when this narrative was a far stretch from their own experience.

Newspaper illustration of an ocean steamer passing the Statue of Liberty from the steerage deck, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1887

I was surprised to discover that many of the states’ standards outlined immigration history with nods to various ethnic groups and legislative acts. I did not remember this as a part of my own learning experience. However, immigration reporter Ted Hesson argues that, in practice, the actual teaching of immigration history is sparse or clings to the Ellis Island narrative. Additionally, state standards often stop shy of bringing lessons of immigration full circle to modern day debates. In today’s environment, where debates on immigration have become so contentious, it is important for students to be well informed on how immigration has impacted the past and present.

Facing History and Ourselves, along with a number of other organizations, have made efforts to help teachers utilize immigration history in their classrooms. Immigration has been a part of some of the major Facing History units, such as Race and Membership and Holocaust and Human Behavior. In some locations, Facing History also runs a hands-on workshop “Immigration in a Changing World: Identity, Citizenship and Belonging,” to guide teachers in creating a four-week unit that highlights the Chinese American experience from the mid-1800’s to the present. As with all Facing History lessons, these units are designed to use historical case studies to assist students to have greater worldly awareness about instances of genocide and persecution, and to make informed and conscientious choices in all their interactions in the present.

This immigration unit raises questions about American identity, and examines the tension between race, democracy, and citizenship. Students are encouraged to face their own prejudices while considering reasons that the Chinese and other immigrants have met resistance from many Americans. The questions are also a tool to help students make connections to the current debates and issues surrounding immigration today.

Photograph of Chinese American men and three children in traditional dress in Chinatown, San Francisco, between 1896-1911

I attended two days of Facing History’s immigration workshop and learned a lot from the comments of the teachers in attendance. Many wished to better serve their diverse student populations by offering broader narratives beyond the Ellis Island paradigms that focus predominantly on white immigrants. Others commented that they felt a responsibility to focus more on immigration history in response to a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment, especially towards Hispanic and Muslim immigrants, in the past few years.

Cover of Facing History and Ourselves’ educator’s guide to the documentary film Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

This workshop also revealed that Asian Americans have been hugely underrepresented in history lessons and popular culture. Many of the teachers at the workshop appeared dismayed that there was so much of the Chinese immigrant experience they did not know. This is perfect evidence that many of us adults received a homogenous immigration narrative, if any, while we were in secondary school. Now it is the responsibility of teachers and immigration public historians to make sure this does not persist.

As Dan-el Pedia Peralta, a professor at Princeton and Dominican immigrant wrote in a 2016 op-ed, “My hopes for immigration reform lie with the young. Their education is what’s next for reform, since the urgency of teaching about the immigration experience has rarely been so acute as it is now.” I would add that public historians also have a role to play in teaching about immigration outside of the schools. Both teachers and public historians have a lot to gain from Facing History’s approach to teaching immigration in this moment.

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Alumni Spotlight: Judith Marshall

By Violet Caswell

In the spring of her senior year at McGill University in Montreal, Judith Marshall opened her computer and searched that question that is nearly ubiquitous among history majors:

 

For students of history who do not want to teach or work in academia, this wearisome question is ever-present, made worse when relatives exclaim “History! What are you going to do with that?” at every holiday dinner. Yet, as she browsed the internet, Marshall found occasion for hope, not despair. History majors, she realized, could pursue careers in all kinds of organizations and institutions. As the possibilities stretched out in front of her, one path seemed particularly enticing: public history.

Judith with peer, Jacob Lusk, working with archival materials in a graduate history class.

After graduating from McGill, Marshall moved to the United States and enrolled in the public history program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Over the course of two years at UMass, she broadened her horizons and discovered that her interests were more diverse than she could ever have imagined.

“One of my responsibilities was to research the craftsmen and laborers . . . I didn’t think I would be interested in these men . . . but as I learned more about them and immersed myself in their lives, I became absolutely fascinated.”

“I had an internship with Historic New England,” she recalled, “and one of my responsibilities was to research the craftsmen and laborers who built a historic house in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I didn’t think I would be interested in these men—and they were all men—but as I learned more about them and immersed myself in their lives, I became absolutely fascinated.” Marshall’s intensive research allowed her to understand the craftsmen as dynamic individuals with robust political and social lives. Her capstone project, a walking tour of Portsmouth, showcased those lives and brought them to life.

After graduating from UMB, Marshall returned to informally advise incoming students at the History Department’s Graduate Student Symposium in September 2017.

With plenty of skills and experience under her belt, Marshall graduated from UMass in 2105 and entered the job market. She soon learned that a position was opening up at the Lynn Museum and Historical Society in Lynn, Massachusetts. After shadowing the Museum’s outgoing education and research specialist, she took over the position. There was only one problem: “I didn’t know anything at all about Lynn. Here I was training docents and working with our visitors, and I was just learning all of the history myself.” Marshall wasn’t intimidated by her task. With little determination and a lot of research, she eventually became well versed in Lynn’s history.

1911 postcard of Market Street in Lynn, Massachusetts, with a car of the Bay State Street Railway. Wikimedia Commons.

“It’s a little like being a teacher,” she explains, “Where at first, when you’re doing lesson plans and you’re teaching yourself along the way. But then it gets easier and easier.”

Now, Marshall serves as an excellent resource to her institution’s patrons. She works with any researchers who come to the Museum to look at its remarkable photograph collection, which spans from the nineteenth century to the present day. Although the Museum has transferred its archival holdings to the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, she routinely directs research requests and assists the public in any way she can.

Judith Marshall (center), Education & Research Specialist at the Lynn Museum, leading a tour.

There is no such thing as an average day for Marshall, whose duties at the Lynn Museum are broad in a way that is common for professionals working at smaller institutions. On any given day, she might be training docents, developing new exhibits, leading fleets of elementary school groups through the Museum or even trying to figure out why that fountain in the courtyard keeps leaking. “Small institutions can be like that,” she laughs.

Marshall says that juggling so many responsibilities can be a challenge, and that time management skills are essential to her success. Flexibility, too, is crucial– as is the ability to remain calm under pressure. When busloads of students arrive early for a field trip, or when buses are late to pick them up, Marshall has to improvise and find ways to entertain them for longer than anticipated.

Despite the occasional hiccups that arise, Marshall finds planning field trip programming to be one of her most exciting responsibilities. While she works with students of all ages, her most extensive initiative is with third grade groups. Because of Marshall’s planning, these Lynn public school students have the opportunity to participate in a field trip that much more dynamic than your average, forgettable one-day field trip.

When she first started the program, Marshall says, “I didn’t have any idea how to communicate with third graders. I didn’t know what they looked like or what they could know.” After careful research, she developed an age-appropriate program to teach Lynn students about their city’s history. She and her colleagues go into the classroom twice—one before and once after students visit the Lynn Museum—to reinforce the lessons that students learn. She also invites the students and parents to the Museum’s end of the year Open House to reinforce the students’ knowledge of the institution and to create new bonds with parents.

Judith, relaxing outside of her work at the Lynn Museum.

Through her work with the Lynn Museum, Judith Marshall has put her background in public history to good use, developed new skills, and brought history to life in Lynn, Massachusetts. Yet, her career trajectory was one that she never could have predicted, even as she graduated from UMass Boston.

Her advice to current students?

“Apply for jobs- lots of jobs. You never know what you’ll end up being interested in.”

 

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“Where is Cambridge From?”: Tackling Historic Research, Interpretation, and Programming for the Cambridge Historical Society

By Taylor Finch

In the summer of 2017, as a new programs intern, I caught the Cambridge Historical Society in the midst of a great institutional transition. With few resources and a staff of four, the CHS has spent the past few years struggling against its reputation as an antiquated institution. As such, planning for future programs takes all hands on deck, and my role as a programs intern soon evolved from the architect of a single event to one where I wore multiple hats as a researcher, community development representative, historical interpreter, and program creator.

Hooper-Lee-Nichols House, home of the Cambridge Historical Society. Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Society.

The Cambridge Historical Society (CHS) has been a community institution since 1905. The Society focuses on preserving, researching, and educating residents about Cambridge’s history. The Society has sought to diversify and expand to meet the changing roles of historic houses and their search for new audiences in the twenty-first century. Through their programs,  CHS seeks to focus on community partnership, shed light on the historical background of contemporary issues, and share the historical narrative of Cambridge with its community members.

To meet these goals, the CHS designates a ‘theme’ for each year’s slate of programs. I helped define, develop, and plan programs for their 2018 season– “Where is Cambridge From?” This theme offers opportunities to broaden Cambridge’s historical narrative to include often overlooked communities, cultures, and stories.  Our first task as an institution was to explore the meaning of the 2018 theme. What were we trying to find out? What historical stories were we hoping to share? How could we uncover those histories? Defining “Where is Cambridge From?” occurred across several staff meetings. Eventually, we found it helpful to outline some discussion questions on the subject that could steer the research and program selection process. We narrowed the focus down to: (1) Where do Cambridge residents come from? (2) Who considers themselves Cantabrigian? (3) What does it mean to be Cantabrigian? and, (4) What do these answers mean for the future development of Cambridge?

While wrestling with these questions about definition, we also needed to think about the practical goals of our small historical institution. The CHS needed programs that appealed to its current membership base, but could also attract new populations that the Society had previously ignored. We also needed to consider our limitations as a small venue and as a staff made up solely of white, middle-class, educated women.

We identified program goals that were in line with the institution’s new mission. Every program would link to Cambridge’s past, present, and future.  Each selected topic was designed specifically to challenge the institution’s authority over Cambridge’s history and the process of interpreting it. We quickly decided to seek out any community group, committee, or club that could provide voices from populations across Cambridge. Any community members willing to participate became part of our “Advisory Board.” Today, the board’ continues to grow, guide the society’s efforts, and share authority in creating Cambridge’s narrative.

One community group we quickly identified was the Caribbean-American population of Cambridge. The CHS decided to expand the narrative of Caribbean-Americans in Cambridge into a walking tour of the Port, one of the city’s historic neighborhoods. My task as the tour’s advisor was to condense the Caribbean community’s general narrative and supplement it with historical resources and materials. As I am neither a Caribbean-American or a resident of the Port,  I quickly recognized the importance of first-person narratives as a foundation for the tour. I relied heavily on community members and oral histories compiled in the book We Are the Port: Stories of Place, Preservation and Pride in the Port/Area 4, by Sarah Boyer. The book is made up of oral histories gathered by hundreds of Port residents. These oral histories offer first person accounts of Port residents’ experiences in the neighborhood and the Port’s meaning to them.

A map of “The Port”, or “Area 4,” in 1901. The map features several landmarks chosen for the walking tour, including the Boardman School. Courtesy of Harvard Libraries.

In order to establish an authentic narrative, community voices were paramount to our project. I set about establishing partnerships with members of the Port’s community. One of these individuals was Andrew Sharpe, a Jamaican-American whom I met at a Dorchester Historical Society/UMass event. Andrew’s organization, the Authentic Caribbean Foundation, focuses on celebrating Caribbean culture and history and interpreting them in contemporary issues. With the help of Andrew, Marian Darlington-Hope, and several members of the Caribbean community, we were able to bring together a committee who will oversee the “Stories from the Port” walking tour and discuss the continuing challenges the Caribbean community faces at a 2018 History Café.

The goal of CHS and our community partners was to provide a working narrative that showed inaccuracies and ignorances in the larger narrative of Cambridge and the United States in general. In our meetings, these Caribbean-Cantabrigians discussed how they don’t find their history in the popular historic narrative of Cambridge, New England, or even America. Their large population of residents and vast contributions are generally ignored by the western, colonial-centered narrative perpetuated in Cambridge – largely by the tourist industry.

Neighborhood children on Clark Street in 1901. Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Commission.

According to the Cambridge Historical Commission (an institution that has worked with the Caribbean community in the past)  some of the earliest Barbadians came to Cambridge against their will as slaves in the eighteenth century.  Though their freedoms and identities were stripped, these early Caribbean-Americans brought their culture and values to Cambridge. A century later, in the mid-nineteenth century, Caribbean immigrants to Boston and Cambridge brought with them education and skilled trades, but they faced discrimination in employment and educational opportunities. Still, they built lives for themselves, and raised children who became second, third, and fourth-generation Caribbean-Americans with dual identities. The role for the Cambridge Historical Society in this project, then, was to present an authentic history of Caribbean-Americans in Cambridge, recognize how they shaped Cambridge’s neighborhood, and serve as a platform for Caribbean-Americans to share their stories and discuss what they think it means to be Cantabrigian.

The objective for our tour was to capture ordinary, day-to-day life as a Caribbean-American in the Port and to rely as heavily on the recollections of community members as possible. As such, it was to be heavily informed by first-person narrative. We wanted “Stories from the Port” to show how a collection of individual experiences shaped the neighborhood and life in Cambridge. As such, each location was carefully selected for its historic value and practicality. I relied heavily on schools, places of business, and churches – the centers of day-to-day life. Each stop provided historical context for individuals’ stories, but mainly relied on quotations from the Port residents. To supplement these experiences, I found historic images and maps at the Cambridge Historical Society and Cambridge Historical Commission. These resources not only proved invaluable to the research, but also supplement the tour by adding visuals for its audiences. The end result was a blend of historic research and cultural interpretation that captured early life in the Port.

The Cambridge Historical Society provided me with an opportunity to be in the room where it happens. I was part of creating a shared historical and cultural narrative, which will go on to inform community members in Cambridge. Above all, my time as a programs intern showed me exactly how much effort, research, and careful planning goes into each and every initiative at a historic house. Sometimes it takes several months of brainstorming sessions, wide research, missed and made connections, and even the occasional shot in the dark to turn a question, such as “Where is Cambridge From?” into a platform for community development and discovery.

Taylor workshopping a walking tour of North Cambridge with CHS interns Joe Galusha (left) and Katherine Hobart (center). Courtesy of Lynn Waskelis.
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Think Like an Archivist: A Public Historian Processes the Washington Street Corridor Coalition Collection

By: Caroline Littlewood

Recently, the University Archives and Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston acquired the papers of the Washington Street Corridor Coalition (WSCC), a local organization committed to transport justice. The WSCC, a community group active in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, the South End, and Chinatown during the 1980s and 1990s, advocated for adequate replacement of the Elevated Orange Line along Washington Street.

The Elevated Orange Line on Washington Street south from Corning Street, ca. 1908. Courtesy of Boston City Archives. See City of Boston Flickr albums for more historic photos.

The group also facilitated community involvement in the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) planning and development process and orchestrated protests when MBTA service did not meet their community’s needs.

Flyer, produced by the WSCC, announcing a silent vigil to express a sense of community loss over the El’s closure.

Three decades after the Coalition’s founding, the WSCC records provide a treasure trove for researchers interested in community organizing, grassroots activism, and resident resistance to development.

Along with three other collections, the WSCC records were entrusted to the graduate students of Professor Marilyn Morgan’s Archival Methods & Practices class in spring 2017. On the first day of class, I was assigned to process the WSCC collection. I spent the rest of the semester preparing it for researchers and preserving it for the future. To do these things, I needed to produce a finding aid that described the contents of the collection and the value of the story it tells.

A carton of the Washington Street Corridor Coalition collection, in February 2017, before it was processed.

The first time I set eyes on my collection, I confronted a single cardboard box with dividers and papers and spiral notebooks and more papers. Next to the box was a pile of bound reports, inches thick. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, and I knew next to nothing about the WSCC. I had the urge to research my collection the way one would a person or artifact. But I couldn’t. Nothing had been written yet; the research materials weren’t in an archive or library. They sat in front of me, thousands of pages thick and unprepared for use by the public.

As a public history student and genealogist, I’ve learned how to interrogate a document from every angle, wringing every last drop of evidence. The urge to analyze is so ingrained, it’s practically instinctual. When faced with the WSCC collection, I wanted to pull up a chair and get to reading. However, I would not be assessing and describing every individual item in the collection. This would take too much time and prevent timely public access to the documents. It would be unnecessary and a waste of resources. Instead, I would be describing groups of documents.

To do this, I had to train my brain to work a little differently, to seek different kinds of information. Scanning each document, I had to consider intellectual content. Was it a letter, a memo, a map? Was there sensitive information? A date? What was it about? I also had to consider physical content. Did the document need to be photocopied, moved to the oversize folder, or rid of a rusty staple?

At first, this was an uncomfortable process for me. I couldn’t simultaneously assess the physical and intellectual content. But after practice, I began to see in a new way.

MBTA map showing the Washington Street Elevated route, as it existed from 1938 to 1975. Wikimedia Commons.

I scanned for the names and acronyms of key players, following the gist of their correspondence without reading every word, and understanding the general findings of reports without flipping through every page. By the end of the semester, I knew that the Elevated Orange Line train was a vital transport link which ran along Washington Street, through downtown Boston and neighboring communities.

When the MBTA moved the Orange Line to the southwest corridor and closed the “El” in 1987, community groups came together under the WSCC name to hold the MBTA accountable to their 1973 promise that they would replace it with equal or better service.

Excerpt of a publication concerning the replacement of the El.

I learned that the WSCC had launched an extensive letter writing campaign in support of Light Rail Vehicles and worked with other organizations to hold community dialogues about replacement options. I also knew that the MBTA finally replaced the old Orange Line with the Silver Line, a Bus Rapid Transit system the WSCC deemed neither better than, nor equal to, Orange Line service. And as the Silver Line expanded, WSCC activity waned.

Newspaper clipping reporting on the community reaction to the closing of the EL, 1987.

I was inspired and challenged by this collection. It was my first experience facilitating access to archival material, rather than mining the material, myself. The primary purpose of my investigation was to aid and encourage the investigations of others. This was a new goal for me, but, at the end of the day, it fit. As a public historian, I want to connect people to history and encourage historical thinking. Maybe, with a little more brain training, I can do this from within the archives, too.

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“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.

Reference

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

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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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