Digital archives thrive on collaboration and the Medford Historical Society’s Civil War Photo Collection bears that out in an especially meaningful and inspiring way. This massive collection of more than 3600 well preserved albumen prints was amassed by General Samuel Crocker Lawrence who commanded the Lawrence Light Guard during the Civil War. He went on to serve as Medford’s first mayor.
A feature article in Tufts Nowtraces how these prints were discovered on a second floor of the Medford Historical Society Museum in 1990 and came to be given very special care from the society, Civil War scholars, then Tufts Digital Collections and Archives, the New England Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) and the Digital Lab at the Boston Public Library.
The range of images includes portraits of military officers and their wives (pictured at right), camp scenes, battlefields, cannons, cities in ruin and more. The work of notable Civil War photographers George Bernard and Andrew Russell and those who studied under Matthew Brady (the seminal Civil War photographer) are included in the archive. Not surprisingly, some are untitled and dated simply 1861-1865. The collection is a valuable tool for researchers, students, teachers and history aficionados.
Every town has one. The general store where everyone discusses local politics. The church where the community has potluck dinners. The community center where the schools and amateur theater troupe put on shows. They’re gathering places that you can’t imagine losing because they’ve always been there. Until they’re not.
Someone retires, a weather disaster occurs, an owner gets an offer too good to decline and that local institution is gone. What can you do to preserve it? In Boston, the latest example was the closing of Doyle’s Cafe. Doyle’s was an institution in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, known for attracting politicians and generations of families. And for the memorabilia on its walls. When the decision was made to close, the owners held an auction of its contents.
As reported on the Irish Central website, Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library are teaming up to digitize any item purchased at the auction. So, if you are losing a local institution and you can’t add its contents to your collections, think about having them digitized. Chances are you have an image, maybe a map, that includes the institution, why not have a digital image of the furnishings, the banners, the costumes? Enrich the memories and your collections before they’re lost.
Is yours one of the 175 Massachusetts communities that have adopted the Community Preservation Act (CPA)? Then maybe you, like Bourne, should consider applying for CPA funding. The Bourne Enterprise on September 6, 2019 and Wicked Local Sandwich on September 9, 2019 reported that the Bourne Archives applied for $28,000 to train staff and volunteers and for new computers and software, specifically to continue to add material to Digital Commonwealth. Wait, aren’t Digital Commonwealth’s services free?
Yes, Digital Commonwealth’s services are free. And the Bourne Archives has contributed two collections to Digital Commonwealth already. But they want to do more and they know their staff and volunteers need training to do more research and data creation before sending materials to Digital Commonwealth. And who among us couldn’t use a new computer and up-to-date software? The point is if you’ve been reluctant to add new collections to Digital Commonwealth because your organization lacks these same elements,maybe a CPA grant is the answer for you, too.
Check if your community has adopted the CPA here. If it’s not, the Community Preservation Coalition overview will explain the steps it needs to take.
The Beacon Hill Times reported on historic iron fences in Boston central neighborhoods on August 22, 2019. In addition to explaining how to care for existing iron fences, the Times advised readers:
If a historic fence is non-existent, he [Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission] suggested looking for historic images at the South End Historical Society, backbayhouses.org, Historic New England, the Bostonian Society, Digital Commonwealth, and the City Archives. [Emphasis added.]
To prove that the Times and Joe Cornish are not misdirecting you, see fences (like the one on the left) on the Digital Commonwealth website – which includes images from Historic New England and the City Archives, too. You’ll find fences of iron, wood, concrete, you name it.
Thanks, Beacon Hill Times and Joe, for spreading the word.
Wicked Local Arlington reported June 28, 2018 that they were going to have a Throwback Thursday feature this summer. And where were they finding their Throwbacks? The Robbins Library collections on Digital Commonwealth. They were particularly taken with the photos from the Arlington Town Life series commissioned by the Robbins Library in Arlington from Norman Hurst. The series contains everyday moments of life in Arlington, like the children with basketball photo on the left.
Digital Commonwealth partners Weymouth Public Library and Lee Library Association were in the news last month.
Wicked Local Weymouth in an article entitled, Weymouth Public Libraries announces programs, reports on the Weymouth Public Libraries adding more digitized items from the Weymouth Historic Collections to the Digital Commonwealth. Highlights include more items concerning abolitionism and the Civil War, as well as maps of Weymouth dating from 1854 and 1880. The map from 1853 (left) is especially interesting because it marks the locations of houses with the names the residents. The items featured on Digital Commonwealth are a selection of the materials in the Weymouth Room and Local History Collections. Finding aids describing the contents of the collections in detail are viewable online here. Original materials are viewable in person by appointment. What’s available on Digital Commonwealth is viewable anytime, anywhere you have Internet access.
The Berkshire Eagle’s article, Lee Library Association: A history lesson, just a click away, extols the Lee Library Association’s efforts to identify, preserve and provide online access to its collection of photographs, postcards and prints. Over 25 years ago, local volunteers organized and categorized the collection over 5 years. When Mary Philpott, president of the Lee library, learned about Digital Commonwealth in 2013, she immediately signed up to begin what became a 4-year process of getting the collection digitized. Digital Commonwealth staff really appreciated all the hard work done by the Lee volunteers. The more data cultural institutions can supply, the faster Digital Commonwealth can process their collections. For the Lee Library Association the reward was that their historical collections were no longer “sitting in boxes”. Now everyone with an interest in Lee history can see them.
The Armenian Mirror-Spectator posted an article called, “Project Save hosts an afternoon of thanks for donors and supporters” on December 7, 2017. You may remember Project SAVE from our October 9, 2017 blog post when we highlighted them as one of our new collections from September. The article mentions, as we did, that Project SAVE had Digital Commonwealth digitize over 200 photographs from their collection as part of their effort to bring “awareness to our work beyond the Armenian community”. Project SAVE also is collaborating with the USC Shoah Foundation to create educational resources for students of genocides.
Consider adding your collections to Digital Commonwealth if you, too, want to expand your reach beyond your core audience.