The Swellesley Report of September 19, 2017 chronicled Wellesley Free Library’s addition of 19 local maps to the Digital Commonwealth – with a little help from the New England Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). The maps of Wellesley and surrounding communities span the years from 1853 to 1999. After NEDCC took high quality photos of the maps, the library went looking for a host who could make the maps “…accessible to the most people…” and chose Digital Commonwealth.
We must be doing something right because the Wellesley Free Library plans to continue digitizing its maps and adding to its collection. Take a look at what they’ve added so far!
Strike up the band, fire the confetti cannon and release the balloons! Digital Commonwealth is celebrating the half million item mark. Thanks, in part, to the large and small collections below, Digital Commonwealth by the end of August was able to offer access to 529, 444 items.
On August 23, you could commemorate the 90th anniversary of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution by perusing the 285 additional items added to the Boston Public Library’s Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection.
Or you could remember your summer vacation trips around Massachusetts by comparing your GPS maps to the more than 400 1794 town plans in the Massachusetts Archives’ Town Plan Collection. Wait, school is starting and your brain is working and you know Massachusetts only has 351 cities and towns. What gives? In 1794, Massachusetts still had a province in what is now Maine, so be careful when you look for Falmouth. There are two of them.
Or you could play the “then and now” game with the City of Boston Archives Public Works Department Photographs Collection, one of twenty and including over 1,000 photos by itself. My how you’ve changed, 105 State Street.
So whether you are partial to the early daguerreotypes included in Historic Newton’s collection or the Town of Rockport’s maps, there’s something for everyone in the 85 collections added in August or the over half million total items on Digital Commonwealth. Enjoy!
Leominster Public Library got a little ink from the Leominster Champion for their 1915 Municipal Building (City Hall) time capsule digitization, which was among the new collections added to Digital Commonwealth in May.
If you have been in the news for your digitization project, be sure to send us a link so we can share the good news with all of Digital Commonwealth.
Put on your comfy travel shoes, it’s time to play tourist! If you can’t actually take a trip to faraway places, Digital Commonwealth has got you covered. From Sir David Young Cameron’s delightful watercolor of Robin Hood’s Bay in England (Boston Public Library) to the postcard of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (Springfield College Archives and Special Collections) to the flier for the Willow Park Cure and Hygienic Institute (Westborough Public Library), you can find a virtual vacation destination to your liking among the additions to the Digital Commonwealth in July.
The handwritten caption on this photo states, “Taken Ropepull day Sept. 18, 1895″. I don’t know if these mostly cheerful, mostly young men are rope pullers (tug of warriors?) or spectators. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst simply calls it, “Rope pull, undated”.
I was originally looking at the many photos of rope pulls/tugs of war (tug of wars?) in the Digital Commonwealth collection. UMass/ Amherst, Springfield College and Clark University all contributed photos. Concentrating on the variety at UMass/Amherst, you’ll find photos showing teams already in the campus pond, digging in on the shore and gathered triumphantly wreathed in the hard-won rope. But then I saw this one:
It shows us a near pyramid of men in a field. Take a closer look. They are sitting on hay bales. There is nothing other than the caption to indicate this is a team (or teams) of rope pullers or spectators. What it does show is hats, hats and more hats. There are top hats, stove pipe hats, bowlers, scally caps and hats I don’t even have names for. About the only style I can’t find is the currently ubiquitous baseball cap. The man without a hat is the exception. A couple of especially dandy students even have walking sticks.
In the third row, far left, a young man holds a small flag with the number 97 on it. I like to think he, if not most of this crowd, was from the Class of 1897. One person who was not is in the second row, about 5 in from the right, wearing a Lord Fauntleroy collar. I doubt he was on the rope pull that day. Some college fashion, however, is timeless. Look closely at the front, far right side. You’ll see a few students in school sweatshirts. Back in the day, of course, UMass was Massachusetts Agricultural College, hence the MAC shirts.
So, if your favorite college student is constantly outfitted in baseball cap and sweatshirt, he (or she) is simply following a long tradition. Take a photo of him and his friends – hay bales optional. In 100 years, it may deserve a closer look.
If you have a favorite photo as deserving of A Closer Look as this merry bunch, please let us know. Send your Closer Look or a link to your photo to email@example.com.
June is a traditional month for saying good bye to school friends and beginning on new and unknown paths. We are pleased to highlight this month’s addition of Class Photos from Barre High School provided by the Barre Historical Society, including the 130-year-old photo to the right. The Boston Public Library continues to add to established collections, which may see more use during the school year when old school friends meet again.
June is also Pride Month and the Digital Transgender Archive has uploaded seventy-seven (yes, 77!) new collections. I can’t list them all, so follow the link and explore the various paths to a history that may be new and unknown to you.
Whatever path you choose, wherever you wind up, may your journey begin with a visit to the Digital Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The National Archives at Boston (NARA-Boston) recently added a fascinating collection of Civil Defense photographs. The Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) had the two-fold job of preparing Americans for natural disasters and military attacks. Its heyday was in the Cold War years of the 1950’s. It may be best known these days for its (in)famous Duck and Cover animated film. However, the agency also assisted with natural disaster preparation. One of the nationwide exercises it ran was emergency mass feeding courses, which were useful for either agency responsibility. In an emergency, one might not have access to a full kitchen, so citizens were taught how to improvise utensils and how to cook without access to a kitchen.
Another exercise was Operation Alert. Instituted in 1954, these exercises were designed to test how well the nation responded to a virtual nuclear attack. The day after an exercise, newspapers published reports of
these virtual attacks. They would even detail the number of virtual cities hit, the number of virtual bombs that were dropped, and the number of virtual casualties. Pacifists in New York protested what they saw as the absurdity of preparing to survive a nuclear attack. Soon a group of young mothers joined the protest. The protests grew to include students and spread nationwide. Operation Alert was permanently cancelled in 1962.
You may notice browsing the collection, as I did, that women are prominently featured in the Civil Defense photographs. This is not by accident. The FCDA created a massive recruitment campaign targeting women. While women were mainly directed toward care-giving roles, you can see in the poster for Women’s Activities and Conferences that women also were expected to train to take up arms in defense of the country.
Alfie Paul, Director of Archival Operations at NARA-Boston, has been with the National Archives for 10 years and in his current position as director of the Boston field unit since February of 2015.
One of NARA’s main strategic goals nationally is digitization. So when Alfie assumed his position in Boston, he wanted to make digitization a priority in Boston, too. Like many of Digital Commonwealth’s members, he was hampered by a lack of resources to do it on his own. He recognized that using the services of Digital Commonwealth was a great solution for his organization – and for the people of Massachusetts, who he suspected were not aware of all that NARA-Boston offers. Or even that NARA has a presence in the state. However, no other NARA unit had worked out a similar partnership.
Alfie wanted to get all his facts straight before taking his proposal to headquarters. Digital Commonwealth welcomed Alfie and one of his archivists to visit the facilities and answered all his questions so he could speak knowledgeably to his superiors. In fact, Alfie did so much research and investigation that after his project was approved, nothing that occurred during the process of the project surprised him. The “only real challenge” was making sure the metadata was compliant with the way NARA catalogs its records. I know metadata compliance is a challenge shared by many of DC’s members – here’s proof it can be overcome.
In all, Alfie estimates it took two months from start to finish to digitize his materials. He is eager to add more. Boston historians will be thrilled if his “dream” of digitizing the Morgan v. Hennigan case file (Boston busing) – all 50 cubic feet of it – comes true. Alfie will keep sending records as long as DC “keep[s] doing what they do. It’s a fantastic resource.”
NARA-Boston has two collections on DC currently. Alfie is partial to the Photographs of the First Naval District collection. One of his favorites is of two sailors from the USS Mason, the first predominately African-American ship in the U.S. Navy. He’s already featured it on the NARA-Boston website.
Next up will be photos of the Watertown Arsenal. Stayed tuned.
The “best feedback” Alfie could get on his digitization projects is also the best feedback for DC: The Archivist of the United States “loves it”.
All those May showers brought us this month’s eight collections of perennials (new items in existing collections), new plants (new collections) and crops ready to reap (harvested). Whether you will be enjoying the fruits of your own or someone else’s gardening labors this season, save some time for these varied and fascinating collections.
Some images beg for a closer look. At first glance, this is a sad scene of a beached whale being inspected by curious onlookers. However, the caption reads, “La Baleine d’Ostende/Visitee par l’Elephant, la Giraffe les Osages et les Chinois.” Elephant? Giraffe? What exactly is going on here?
Why did an elephant, a giraffe, six Native American Osages and four Chinese people visit a beached whale in Ostend, Holland? (As it was then; now it’s Belgium.) And what of all those men (no women) in cutaway coats and top hats parading out of the whale’s mouth? In fact, we are dealing with early fake news. Oh, the whale did wash ashore in Ostend in 1827. H. W. Dewhurst gives an account of the whale’s arrival and its skeleton’s subsequent travels on exhibition in his 1834 book, The natural history of the order Cetacea. It’s the whale’s visitors who are “alternative facts”.
Early 19th century Europe had a fascination with the exotic: people, places, animals. Giraffes and their keepers toured Europe at this time. Six Osages traveled to France in 1827. The Chinese people in this photo are elsewhere identified as Jesuit missionaries. The Jesuits had a history of traveling between China and Europe. But none of them showed up to visit the whale at Ostend. They are here because the lithographer, Pierre Langlume, also had a taste for the exotic and brought them together in his print.
The unsurprising thing about this image is that it is from the New Bedford Public Library collection. New Bedford’s history with whaling makes this a natural item of interest. The surprising thing is that the library also owns a lithograph of the image and the photo may not be of that lithograph, but of another printing. Compare the two images for minor differences.
Finally, I leave it to you to tell me about the man on top of the whale within a circular enclosure. He has doffed his hat and is waving a flag. I can’t help but see a clown in a one-ring circus, but your view may differ.
Have you found or posted an image on Digital Commonwealth that deserves a closer look? Tell us which one and why or direct us to it by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.