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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
This month focused mostly on getting Northeastern University Library’s collections harvested. There are now 17 new collections from them, including a really wide variety of content! Don’t miss that, or any of the beautiful new items from the BPL’s collections.
This post was written by Patricia Feeley, BPL Collaborative Services Librarian.
For a 126-year-old organization, the Trustees of Reservations is not that well-known for its cultural heritage collections. People are often familiar with the properties they own – the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Naumkeag in Stockbridge, World’s End in Hingham or Dinosaur Footprints in Holyoke – but not the history they curate. It is easy to imagine that an organization with so much history and so wide a scope would have amassed an impressive collection.
Alison Bassett and Sarah Hayes were members of the Trustees before they began working at the Trustees’ Archives and Research Center (ARC). Alison had a background in documentary film that included researching in archives just like the one she now heads. Sarah’s background included a library science degree, cultural heritage programs and experience as a member of Digital Commonwealth’s Metadata Mob. In fact, Sarah worked on metadata for one of the Trustees’ collections as a Mobster before she was hired by The Trustees.
ARC staff knew what a terrific collection they had in their Archives and Research Center. However, it was hard for staff across the state to access easily and virtually unknown to the public. The decision was made to digitize records to preserve and promote them. The preservation work began before Digital Commonwealth (DC) was involved. But both Alison and Sarah agreed that DC would provide the next step in the process.
The Trustees wanted to have its digital collections available on a statewide site that mirrored its own statewide reach. Alison and Sarah stressed the value in having complementary Massachusetts historical collections to search on one site for images that enrich your own research when that just right image isn’t in your own holdings.
Neither is shy about why they love Digital Commonwealth:
The Digital Commonwealth staff is easy to work with and they do excellent work.
It doesn’t get much better than that. With a small staff, Alison was happy to take advantage of the larger DC staff, who could devote more time to digitization projects. For the recently added Appleton Farms collection, there were many photo albums that needed to be broken down before scanning. DC was able to do this and do it quicker than ARC staff. Alison and Sarah appreciated consulting with DC staff about which albums were most representative and which would be easiest to work with. It took about a year from first contact to seeing the Appleton Farms collection uploaded, but this was mainly due to workload issues at the Trustees.
The first collection is straightforward. Already, Alison has referred a staffer in western Massachusetts to the digitized Annual Reports. The staffer was thrilled to be able to do his own research and Alison was thrilled not to have to scan and send dozens of pages.
The most recent collection added, the Appleton Family Photo Album Collection, depicts the oldest continuously operating farm in America and the family that founded it in 1636. The property was turned over to the Trustees in 1998. The farm’s last heirs and residents were Francis Randall Appleton, Jr. (1885-1974) and his wife, Joan Egleston Appleton (1912-2006). Joan lived on the farm until her death.
Francis Appleton was a “gentleman farmer”. His home was still a working farm, but limited in its operations. Like many gentlemen farmers of the time, Appleton sent Christmas cards showing livestock (turkeys, cows, horses) and farm scenes. The farm also ran the Barberry Kennels for a time. One Christmas card shows that year’s litter of terriers, each one’s name beginning with the letter V. One of this line would go on to win Best of Class at the Westminster Kennel Club Show.
The largest of the three collections is the Photographs from Stevens-Coolidge Place. When the ARC staff first consulted with DC, they planned to start with a smaller collection. DC staff urged them to think bigger and this collection of over 1800 images was the result.
ARC chose this collection in part because it contained a wide variety of photographic formats (daguerreotypes, tintypes, cabinet cards, cartes de visite, albumen prints, cyanotypes, collodion prints, silver gelatin prints, 35mm color prints, and Polaroids.) It also contained great photos. The families were world travelers, so the scope of the collection is broad. Also, Stevens-Coolidge Place house is usually closed to the public, so interior photographs offer access not often available.
This is also the collection that included Alison’s and Sarah’s favorite items to highlight. Alison chose a wonderfully eccentric studio portrait of an unidentified woman dressed all in black. Unlike the many other photos of women staring dreamily off into the distance, this woman looks straight back at the viewer through her monocle. Yes, monocle. She has an ungloved hand holding a Great Dane in place by her side and a gloved hand holding a cigarette. At her feet lays her other glove and what the description identifies as a “whip”, but is perhaps more of a riding crop. Either way, it is an unusual photo.
Alison admits the photo is intriguing on its own, but the ARC has no information on who the sitter is or why she chose to be depicted this way. What delights Alison is that the one clue – the photographer’s name – leads to a different historical topic. The photographer was a woman.
Sarah also highlights a photograph that originally seemed unremarkable, but led to a greater historical understanding of the Trustees collection. It is a portrait of the Empress Dowager Cixi. A separate project cataloguing objects in the collection led to a find of some textiles that were identified as Chinese. Additional research connected these textiles to the Empress, who was known for promoting textiles created by Chinese women. Sarah appreciates that this richer history is made possible by having these images available where connections can be made by researchers.
Alison and Sarah urge other cultural heritage organizations to take the plunge and add more collections to Digital Commonwealth.
This post was written by Patricia Feeley, BPL Collaborative Services Librarian.
Jessika Drmacich was hired for the newly-created Records Manager & Digital Resources Archivist position at Williams College five years ago. Jessika’s career has included stops at Rolling Stone magazine in New York City and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge before landing in Williamstown.
Asking Jessika to pick a favorite digital collection is rather like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. Each is special in its own way and she doesn’t like to single one out. However, pressed to name collections that deserve more of a spotlight, and Jessika will name names:
The Ephraim Williams Project: Williams College has papers related to its first benefactor, Ephraim Williams, Jr., in various collections in the Williams College Library archives. Digitizing these papers allowed Jessika to create a virtual Ephraim Williams collection that allows students and scholars to view the papers in a single collection.
The Davis Center Posters Collection: This collection of posters showcases the inclusivity and diversity of Williams College. It shows the LGBTQ community that they are welcomed and even celebrated at Williams. Jessika believes this message of inclusivity is an important one for the college community.
Reily Scrapbook: Jessika knows the poignant story behind this item appeals to everyone. The scrapbook is leather-bound, containing photographs, newspaper clippings, ribbons, certificates, and ephemera primarily regarding Michael Reily’s activities in track and field, football, and wrestling from high school through college (Williams College Class of 1964). Michael died in July 1964 due to Hodgkins lymphoma, just a few months after graduating. According to his obituary, he had spent most of his last semester in the college infirmary. His “fondest wish” was to graduate with his class. The scrapbook was compiled by his mother after Michael’s death and donated to the college by his brother.
Shaker Song Books: These song books are part of the College Archives Shaker Collection. The larger collection benefited from a donation from Edward Wight (Class of 1907), who collected Shaker-related works in Troy, NY, close to the original settlement of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (Shakers). These wonderful song books from various Shaker communities include handwritten lyrics and musical notations. It is unlikely any of these tunes were ever reviewed by Jessika’s previous employer, Rolling Stone.
Jessika’s next planned project is digitizing Williams College yearbooks and the student newspaper, The Record.
It is obvious that Williams College has a strong commitment to and history of digitization. The college began digitizing collections in the 1990s. Williams started a records management program in 2012 and the Trustees passed a college-wide records management policy in 2016. Jessika can count on students and library staff to assist in digitization using the college’s camera, book and flatbed scanners.
With all that institutional support, why did she turn to Digital Commonwealth? Jessika believes “access is as important as preservation”. To reach a wider audience than the college website provided, Jessika knew she wanted Digital Commonwealth to harvest her digital collections, which she knew meant the Digital Public Library of America would harvest them, as well. This gives the Williams collections at least a national audience.
Jessika found working with Digital Commonwealth staff was very easy. She believes meeting the metadata standard was the key to a quick and successful harvest. From first contact to full upload only took five months. She also believes “everyone should know MODS and Dublin core”: library staff, students, volunteers, etc.
But there are always glitches. The wonderful Costume Archives collection was an early digitization effort that, unfortunately, did not meet today’s standard for metadata. Jessika and her crew had to find the original images, assign accession numbers and then re-do the metadata. When she had questions, she found the Digital Commonwealth staff very helpful.
Jessika recommends that public libraries beginning a digitization program consult an archivist with metadata experience as a first step. Happily for Massachusetts public libraries (or any Massachusetts cultural institution), they can call on the Boston Public Library’s archivist and metadata crew for free advice and assistance on their digitization programs. The BPL staff digitizes and harvests collections for Digital Commonwealth.
Jessika is constantly adding to the Williams College digital collections. She looks forward to learning the Digital Commonwealth harvesting schedule so even more of her collections become accessible to an ever larger audience as quickly as possible.