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 email@example.com.
Massachusetts Normal Art School opened in 1873 with the goal of educating art teachers to teach drawing at lower levels of education. The hope was that this effort would result in more architects for the growing country. Massachusetts Normal Art School became Massachusetts School of Art became Massachusetts College of Art and, finally Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt).
MassArt prides itself on having always been a progressive school. As a teacher’s college, it began with a majority female student body. MassArt also accepted African-American students early on. It was, and today is the only, publicly-funded art-only school in the country. Over the years, the mission has changed, but the creativity of the students continues.
Danielle Sangalang has only been at MassArt for a little over a year. After graduating with a dual degree of MA in history and MLS in library and information science with a concentration in archives studies from Simmons College, she obtained a history degree and worked for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the National Park Services and the Trustees of Reservations.
When she arrived at MassArt, the college had already digitized a physical exhibit of historical photos on campus life. She has since used Digital Commonwealth (DC) to digitized school yearbooks and just last month dropped off a collection of student handbooks.
Danielle had a great experience working with Digital Commonwealth. She appreciated the onsite visit which allowed her to float her ideas and listen to suggestions from DC staff. Together they decided to use the option of having her bound materials scanned by Internet Archive. Danielle was aware of DC from as long ago as her days at Simmons College. As a professional, she thinks DC is a great resource for “lone arrangers” like her, especially because it is free. She knew as soon as she started at MassArt that she wanted to begin to work with DC to digitize some of her collection’s treasures.
Danielle’s yearbook project began with an email July 19, 2016. A site visit was scheduled for September 7 and the first yearbooks were dropped off September 14. The entire project was done by December 12. As quickly as this went, Danielle wished she’d known ahead that she would be without the yearbooks for months. Some of the yearbooks were unique copies and she was continued to receive requests for scans while they were inaccessible.
It was worth it, though. Once the yearbooks became available, Danielle sent an all-campus email announcing the completed digitization. Staff and faculty responded quickly with their thanks and delight at being able to view the yearbooks online.
Danielle’s second project was MassArt’s Student Association handbooks, a collection spanning 80 years beginning in the 1920’s. This collection is Danielle’s pick for highlighting. The early years are both handbook –rules and regulations, the “MSA creed”, student activities – and directory – student names, addresses and telephone numbers. For anyone interested in the history of MassArt, they are a goldmine.
The 1937-1938 handbook, for example, offered students information on the glee club and yearbook committee, but also the magic and fencing clubs. Danielle pointed out that the magic club existed for 10 years. Who knew?
Danielle plans to continue to use DC as MassArt gears up to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2023. If DC didn’t prioritize collections from institutions who have not previously had a project done in the current fiscal year, Danielle would be submitting requests as fast as DC could do them.
Speaking of MassArt’s history, that once physical exhibit now digital collection on Campus Life is available on the DC website. The photos span late 19th century class trips to Lake Asquam in New Hampshire to a studio of students playing checkers in 1918 to mid-20th century fashions from the design classes.
A charming bit of MassArt’s history is Smock Day. Danielle only recently learned that Smock Day was the final acceptance of the freshman into the ranks of the student body. The seniors gave smocks to the freshmen to welcome them. It was a big deal: There were Smock Day class photos, Smock Day dances (Admission was free with Student Association membership.) and the school president gave a dinner in honor of Smock Day. Quite the welcome!
Photos of students’ work are not abundant. Danielle would love to have the final drawings students do to complete their degrees digitized. The drawings are loose and come in a variety of sizes, so they are not prime candidates for digitization. But come the day DC can handle them, Danielle will be there with her completed application.