May is supposed to be the payoff for all those April showers. Only the showers kept coming in May. Digital Commonwealth was showered by harvested images from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (17,335 items), Boston TV New Digital Library (1,632 items) and the University of Massachusetts/Lowell (6,825 items).
Theophile Alexandre Steinlen is more than the cats for which he is most famous. But that didn’t stop me from using one of his sleeping cats to illustrate this post. (See left.) You’ll just have to go to the Boston Public Library’s Steinlen collection to see the rest.
Or go to the Malden Catholic High School class photos from 1936-2016. Everybody enjoys a good class photo, but let’s be honest. We enjoy the bad ones even more. Sorry, kids.
Written by Anne Berard, Reference& Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library
Peter Simon, prolific photographer, author, chronicler of Martha’s Vineyard, and brother of singer Carly Simon, died in November 2018. Digital Commonwealth (via the Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst) holds more than 5000 of his photographs captured over a long, eclectic career. Simon came of age in the 1960s. Serving in the Boston University News Office, he covered the tumultuous Vietnam War protests and the burgeoning music scene all around him. This lifelong love of music and musicians, especially reggae and Jamaican artists, isn’t surprising given that the Simon family, of Simon & Schuster publishing renown, was musically gifted. Richard Simon, the father, was a pianist, Andrea, the mother, was a singer, daughter Joanna Simon was an opera singer, and Carly and her sister Lucy performed as The Simon Sisters.
The images in this voluminous collection span various decades and cover both the political and the personal, the grand and the humble, with a similar eye. New England is depicted through Peter Simon’s lens at the Newport Jazz & Folk Festivals, anti-war demonstrations on Boston Common and at Harvard University, and a grape pickers strike at Stop & Shop Supermarket. Additionally, hundreds of photographs of the Beatles, Grateful Dead, the Doors, and Carly Simon/James Taylor concerts are here for the viewing and the nostalgia. Peter Simon wrote several books on reggae music informed by images from trips to Jamaica that show Bob Marley at home, billboards in Kingston, and musicians at work.
Throughout his life, Peter Simon photographed his passions, one of which is a love of animals. A series on cats reveals a gentleness and a sense of humor. Felines watch the Mets on television, paw over a piano, nurse kittens, and sit atop a warm radiator. In another shot, the Simon family Dalmatian stands front and center in an impromptu front door family portrait. Simon’s wife Ronni continues to own and operate The Simon Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. For more than 30 years, Peter Simon created an annual Vineyard Calendar. Many photographs of his beloved island can be found on Digital Commonwealth.
The Digital Commonwealth awarded free attendance to the annual conference this year to student, Maxwell Lisanti. We are happy to present Maxwell’s report on the conference today.
My Takeaway from the 2019 Digital Commonwealth Conference
By Maxwell Lisanti, MLIS Candidate ‘19, Simmons University
I am weeks away from finishing my MLIS degree and Archives Management concentration at Simmons University, and it was not until this 2019 Digital Commonwealth conference that I had had the opportunity to attend a professional conference. Not sure what to expect beyond speakers and name tags, I entered with an open mind.
Two presentations in particular stood out to me, as they followed similar currents of race, access, and archives. First, Eben English’s Luncheon Keynote Address, “Digital Commonwealth Repository Systems Update: Wooden Anniversary.” I have accessed Digital Commonwealth’s digital collections frequently in both academic and casual settings, and was interested to see how the collection had grown, and how it was accessed and used by patrons. What truly struck me was when Eben cycled through the top 20 most accessed items from the whole year (excluding the viral M.C. Escher collection). Most were innocuous – state maps, pictures from the molasses disaster, political cartoons – but there were two that stood out. At number nine on the list was a Ku Klux Klan application form from UMass Amherst’s W.E.B. Du Bois Papers. This sent a bit of a shiver throughout the room, and we whispered amongst ourselves, hoping to justify a reason for its popularity; surely it was academic or purely casual curiosity? The uncertainty behind the numbers was alarming, and Eben expressed about the same opinion.
The fourth item on the list, with 1,018 views, was a photo of a lynching in California from the Leslie Jones Collection at the Boston Public Library. Going off of the presence of this disturbing image (which was thankfully fully censored), Eben discussed the responsibility that we have as information professionals to provide users with context (this is something that I wrote in my notes repeatedly) for images like the Lynching Photo. A lack of context can turn people into “objects, rather than subjects.” Are we, as a majority white profession, reproducing inequality by acting as the stewards of these images? There is no way to determine who accessed an image and why; as we whispered about before, these reasons could be purely academic. But the risk that these images are being misused, or that a lack of context is encouraging that misuse, is and should be alarming. The solution to this issue, or one of many, is greater collaboration between libraries/archives and the communities that are represented in their collections.
I found that this theme was again repeated in Whitney Battle-Baptiste’s brilliant presentation, “Visualizing W.E.B. Du Bois: Bringing Archive into the Digital Age.” A large portion of Whitney’s work focuses on bringing young black middle and high school students into the W.E.B. Du Bois Archives at UMass and allowing them to interact with history that is rightfully “theirs”. Simply interacting with the items at the archive was enough to get many repeat visits from the students, and spark an interest in history, specifically black history. Whitney pointed out, quite correctly, that much of the representation of black people and black bodies in archival collections is through the lens of slavery and racist violence; images of slaves, slave rosters, lynchings such as the one shown in the Digital Commonwealth collections. Whitney spoke of the inherent trauma of accessing these violent and disturbing images as a black person, and how we as archival professionals need to be conscious of the material we have in our collections and, as Eben said, the context in which that material exists. Whitney encouraged us as information professionals to “be in dialogue” with the communities represented in our collections, and receptive to what these communities tell us.
Digitization has opened up the collections of many archives and libraries to the larger general public, and these two presentations energized me to continue to work towards using digitization as a tool to connect with marginalized communities and to create collections that are inclusive of new and necessary viewpoints.
April was a dark and gloomy month weather-wise. Maybe that accounts for there only being three contributors this month. The Boston Public Library added 1873 items to the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee collection, bringing that collection up to over 5,000 items. Boston College re-harvested over 80 items. Lawrence Public Library contributed many small collections and one large one. The latter is the Lawrence High School Athletic Department collection of over 130 team photographs. You can see a very solemn 1881 football team on the left. Maybe it’s because they appear to have been forced to pose in their long underwear and watch caps. And that football looks more like a basketball. How things have changed…
Earlier this month, the Taunton Daily Gazette began a new, occasional series called Taunton: Then and Now. The Gazette is providing all the Now photos, but the Then photos come courtesy of Digital Commonwealth. I leave it up to you to decide if the no difference public library photos are more remarkable than the totally different post office buildings.
If you’ve been taking photos of your home town, try to find some Then photos of your town on Digital Commonwealth to match your Now photos. Don’t let Taunton have all the fun.
The best, totally unique item added to the Digital Commonwealth in March was the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s The grand panorama of a whaling voyage ‘round the world. The section above does not do it justice. The full panorama is divided into four sections. To get the full affect, you need to click on each section and then click on the image again to enlarge and use your cursor to travel the entire panorama. Believe me, the effort is worth it. It’s easy to understand why it was a popular exhibition when it toured the country from 1849-1851.
But, if whaling voyages aren’t your thing, there are more of those wonderful Medford Historical Society & Museum Civil War photos, pre-presidential photos of John F. Kennedy from the Rocco Paoletta Collection at the Boston Public Library, photos and maps from the Sharon Public Library and historical town records from the Wayland Town Clerk. As always, a little something for every taste.
LebTown, an independent media organization in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, has discovered Digital Commonwealth – big time! In a posting entitled, Wish You Were Here: Lebanon County postcards of decades past, LebTown uses over 20 postcards from the Boston Public Library’s Tichnor Brothers Collection. This collection includes approximately 25,000 office proof postcards from across the United States. LebTown, naturally, has extracted many postcards of interest to residents of Lebanon County. They advise any viewers to go to “Massachusetts Digital Commonwealth” for postcards for the rest of Pennsylvania and “other states”.
If you need a little inspiration for planning your vacation this summer, Tichnor Brothers concentrated on views of vacation spots. Take a look at California, the Grand Canyon, or Vacationland itself, Maine.
In February, the Boston Public Library was in an artistic frame of mind, adding to the American Artists collection as well as adding two new collections: Frank W. Benson (1862-1951) Prints and Drawings and Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) Prints and Drawings.
If you’re not in an artistic mood, the Harvard Forest Archives has added hundreds of maps. Holyoke Community College has uploaded the Frank N. Fowler Postcard Collection. The largest addition this month was the harvest of 1,230 items from Wheaton College’s Marion B. Gebbie Archives Image Collection, including the bagpipers at left.
Parade season is right around the corner. Time to get your kilts from the dry cleaners.
American companies took notice when French art posters became extremely popular in the 1880’s. A new lithography process had made economical printing of large editions of posters possible. American companies commissioned prominent illustrators like Edward Penfield, Will Bradley, Ethel Reed and Maxfield Parrish to create posters. There is no denying the purpose of the posters was to advertise performances, exhibits, magazines, books and other products to a growing middle class. If it also brought art to everyday life, so much the better. And so the American Art Poster entered its golden age, 1890-1920.
Edward Penfield’s poster advertising the April 1893 Harper’s magazine (above, far left) is generally credited as starting an American poster revolution. Unlike previous American posters, this one advertised intellectual – not commercial – product. It also was much more restrained and simpler than the French posters of the time. Penfield included his monogram on this poster. Later, Penfield and the other illustrators would sign their full names and printers would add their company names. Penfield’s posters also set the precedent of doubling as magazine (or book) covers.
Will Bradley’s beautiful Art Nouveau peacock (above, center left) is a change from his frequent depictions of women in windblown gowns. However, it demonstrates the color intensity and textural effects possible with the new lithographic process. This image also demonstrates the influence of Japanese block printing on the Boston-born Bradley.
The always fascinating Ethel Reed was born in Newburyport, studied art in Boston and became a leading poster artist before leaving for London. While still in Boston, she did illustrations for the local newspapers and a guide to Boston as well as book covers, like the Arabella and Araminta stories. (above, center right)
Maxfield Parrish’s Daybreak painting would go on to become the most popular art print of the 20th century. In contrast to the saturated colors of his paintings, Parrish started out with black and white commercial art. Some of those ads and Harper’s Weekly covers are here. The charmingly domestic Harper’s Weekly Christmas cover (above, far right) includes a color background for its black and white image.
With over 500 images, the Boston Public Library’s American Art Posters 1890-1920 is a collection you can visit and revisit, discovering new favorites each time.
January was a busy month for Digital Commonwealth, in no small part due to the New Bedford Public Library adding 4 new collections and substantially increasing two existing collections. All six include photographs that depict New Bedford’s varied history. The photo of Frank Lewis with baleen bundles (left) from the Earl D. Wilson Collection Photographs speaks to New Bedford’s whaling history.
Another substantial collection is the Barnstable Patriot Photograph Collection from Cape Cod Community College. This collection spans nearly 50 years of Barnstable and nearby Cape towns. The charming windmill (below) is one of many Cape views you can find in this collection.