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.
This post was written by Patricia Feeley, BPL Collaborative Services Librarian.
Kimberly Reynolds, Curator of Manuscripts at the Boston Public Library, wanted to recognize the 90th anniversary of the deaths of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants and anarchists who were arrested and convicted of murder during the Red Scare of the 1920’s. The two men were executed on 23 August 1927. The conduct of the trial has been criticized ever since on legal and political grounds. Opinion is still divided over the guilt of these men.
The Aldino Felicani Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection is one of the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) Collections of Distinction. Collections of Distinction are among the most outstanding and renowned of the BPL’s collections. The collection contains correspondence, meeting minutes, trial notebooks, financial records, legal documents, photographs, and scrapbooks. Broadsides, the armbands mourners wore at the funeral, Sacco and Vanzetti’s commingled ashes and their death masks are also included.
It was the correspondence of the two men that Kim chose to commemorate this anniversary. Sacco and Vanzetti wrote more than 200 letters while imprisoned. They wrote about their innocence, the effects of imprisonment, and their gratitude for the work of their defenders. They also wrote to each other about their friends and family. The correspondence, she points out, has significant research value.
The Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection is one of the most used collections at the BPL. After the letters were digitized, Kim supplied links to researchers outside of the Boston area who were “thrilled” to have access to the men’s letters.
It only took 5-6 months to get this latest collection fully digitized. Kim says the DC team taught her “how to look at collections digitally, so” she can now “prepare manuscripts both physically and virtually”. And she plans to keep working with the team. Sacco-Vanzetti collection memorabilia, photographs and – Kim’s personal favorite – posters are up next on the digitization agenda.
“My metadata might get changed to more appropriately describe an item the way it needs to virtually,” Kim says, but, “I trust them completely.”
Just months before his execution, Nicola Sacco instructed his attorney to cease trying to save his life. Regardless of guilt or innocence, it is a strong, poignant letter. You can read it here:
This post was written by Patricia Feeley, BPL Collaborative Services Librarian.
Cynthia Harbeson, Head of Special Collections at the Jones Library, began her job in January 2015. Amherst greeted her with the snowiest winter on record and a digital website in disrepair. She resolved to make Digital Amherst great again.
Happily for Cyndi, Sharon Sharry, the Jones Library director, was a huge fan of Digital Commonwealth (DC) and the Jones Library Trustees were fully committed to increasing access to the Jones Library collections. Cyndi didn’t really have to sell anyone on the benefits of bipartisanship cooperation with DC.
In actual fact, Cyndi recognized that DC was a “wonderful resource” for her project and had the support of her director and trustees. Cyndi also realized DC’s harvesting of the Jones collections meant they would be available on the Digital Public Library of America, a bonus in Cyndi’s eyes.
In all, it took about a year and a half from initial contact to harvested collections on DC – and some of that time was spent getting Jones’ own digital website and metadata in order. The Jones Library decided to have its collections harvested rather than hosted because they planned to maintain the Digital Amherst site as their primary digital presence. They also wanted to be able to add to their website constantly on a small scale. Cyndi plans to notify DC when there are enough items to re-harvest for the wider world. She would not hesitate to contact DC again for a larger project. For the Jones Library, harvesting is the “best of both worlds” for the digital collections.
Cyndi found the DC staff “amazing” collaborators. Digital Commonwealth staff was great about getting her what she needed as well as telling her exactly what DC needed from her. Developer Eben English was her primary contact. She was impressed with how quickly and patiently he answered all her questions. With her metadata skills, Cyndi was able to do all the metadata clean up on Jones’ end. Still, she was surprised by how little Jones had to do beyond that to get the collections added.
The most noteworthy lesson Cyndi learned from her collaboration was the importance of standardized metadata to a shared project. She wound up changing some of her own metadata to match the standard DC uses and she is sure her metadata is stronger for it. For those lacking Cyndi’s skills, DC has a metadata team happy to help our contributors.
Cyndi is proud that the Clifton Johnson collection will have a higher profile. Clifton Johnson (1865-1940) of Hadley, Massachusetts was an accomplished literary figure with some 125 books to his credit. He was an acquaintance of many late 19th and early 20th century authors and editors, including William Dean Howells and John Burroughs. Johnson was also an amateur photographer who traveled widely. Cyndi is delighted that “now the world can find him” and calls his photographs “extraordinary”. This collection includes many photos of African Americans in the post-Civil War South. A subject you might not have thought to go to the Jones Library to research.
However, the one item that the Cyndi is happiest to see available “to everyone from anywhere” is the recording of Robert Frost’s speech at the dedication of the Robert Frost Room at the Jones Library in 1959. She rightly believes it is a special treat for Frost scholars and fans to be able to hear the man himself – as well as commemorating a significant event in the Jones Library’s history.
Poetry lovers also may appreciate images connected with Emily Dickinson, her family and her beloved Amherst. The family had a long connection to Amherst College, which is represented by some interesting photos, especially of faculty and students.
For the many University of Massachusetts graduates in Massachusetts and around the world, there are many wonderful images – photos, postcards, stereographs – of the old Massachusetts Agricultural College. Sure to be favorites are the outdoor skating rink (above) and the accompanying image of a tug of war game by the campus pond.
Cyndi has gotten feedback from the people she directs to DC that the photos look great. She also has gotten more image requests lately, but she can’t say if there’s a connection. Coming from an academic library to Jones, Cyndi has been impressed by “all the hats” she has to wear as a public librarian. It is safe to say one of her favorites is maintaining the very rich digital collection.