We have no newly-added collections this month (the dreaded technical difficulty prevented this), but we do have formats that you may not have checked out yet. Go to the Explore tab on the Digital Commonwealth home page and select Formats. These are arranged by the numbers, so Photographs are at the top of the list followed by Letters/correspondence and then Documents.
But scroll down and you soon come to Film/video. Of the 28,400 items here, 23,135 are from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting Collection. This collection of public media was amassed by WGBH and the Library of Congress to preserve at-risk materials. There are also tapes from local TV news programs and Boston City Council meetings.
Next on the list are Objects/artifacts. These range from clothing/costumes to furniture to jewelry to samplers. Some items are unique, like the Aeolian harp from Historic New England or the Native American beaded pouch from the Perkins School for the Blind’s Tad Chapman Collection.
Proceeding further down, we come to Audio recordings (nonmusical). These are easy to spot by their speaker icon (right). Most of these are also from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting Collection, but there are several local oral history collections, too. What about music? Well, keep scrolling. That’s listed as Music (recordings). While some of these also have speaker icons, some are pictured with images of old-fashioned audio cassettes.
Digital Commonwealth: it’s not just pretty pictures.
David Akiba, a local photographer and teacher, passed away on August 24, 2019. The Boston Globe published a front page appreciation of his work and career on October 6. After reading it, I, like many, felt the loss of an uncommon talent. We at Digital Commonwealth are very proud that we host over 100 of Mr. Akiba’s photographs. The Globe quoted Mr. Akiba saying he “…liked the railroad yards…” and spent time in “…half-destroyed urban parts of town…”
These interests and his role as mentor are represented by his participation in the Along the Elevated: Photographs of the Orange Line exhibit at the Boston Public Library (and now on Digital Commonwealth), which paired professional photographers with students. Each pair was given the assignment to chronicle the elevated Orange Line public transit just before it was demolished.
If you spent any time riding the elevated Orange Line or living under it, you’ll want to take a look at what David Akiba captured with empathy and art.
Scenes from the yachting life of the early 20th century in Marblehead come alive through the Herman Parker Collection of Glass Plate Negatives (Parker Collection). These images, along with the voluminous Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Negatives (Cousins Collection) were recently added to Digital Commonwealth by the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). We spotlighted the Cousins Collection in a previous post and both collections are well worth perusing.
Herman Parker and his wife Lillian (Percival) were listed in the Social Register of Boston and were active in the active yachting scene in Marblehead which kept and still continues to keep Marblehead Harbor hopping. Parker was an architect and clothier in the Boston based Macullar Parker Company. His side pursuits included sailing and photography.
A defining feature of Parker’s photographs is the sense of movement and immediacy he managed to capture– which given the challenges of the glass plate negative process is all the more remarkable. Schooners and boats on the open sea almost appear to be flying and the water churning. Yacht clubs are thriving and races are still going on in Marblehead. Current sailors should take a look at these vintage photographs.
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.
Written by Michael Lapides, Director of Digital Initiatives, New Bedford Whaling Museum
The New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World is one of only a few surviving American moving panoramas. Panoramas were a popular art and entertainment form that reached their peak in the mid-19th century. In many ways, they were predecessors to the massive popularity of World Fairs in the latter half of the century, most notably those of Paris, London, Chicago, and New York. Much like the extraordinary adventure writings of authors like Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, panoramas played to the spectacle of the exotic and the unknown to eager audiences.
Completed in 1848 the Grand Panorama was painted by sign painter Caleb Purrington (1812-1876) and Benjamin Russell (1804-1885), a self-trained entrepreneurial artist and whaleman. It is a grand and rare example of American panoramic folk art, created as a commercial traveling public spectacle.
Painted in water-based paint on cotton sheeting, the Grand Panorama is over 1,275 feet long and 8 feet high, separated onto four spools. Its journey begins in New Bedford harbor and travels the route typical of Yankee whalers in the mid-19th century, landing spectators in the Azores, Cabo Verde, Rio de Janeiro and numerous ports of the Pacific. At one time there was an additional section, but it was lost before the artifact came to the Whaling Museum 100 years ago. The Grand Panorama, as displayed on Digital Commonwealth, and on our dedicated website (https://arcg.is/1fv9mm), was “stitched” together from 240 separate photographs captured over the course of two years, after textile and paint conservation processes had been completed.
Those lazy, hazy days of August brought us some fascinating new collections. Appropriately, the Falmouth Public Library contributed over 2,000 postcards. If you’re missing the beach already, take a look. The Winsor School added close to 200 items from its Fine Arts Collection, including this Jacob Lawrence print of the school library (left).
The Brockton Public Library added 7 illustrations from the Shoe Industry in Brockton, Massachusetts. The Boston Public Library uploaded a few small collections plus over 2,000 photographs from the Richard Merrill Collection. Richard Merrill was fascinated by radio, which explains the interestingly titled photo below. Spreading New England’s Fame was a program on the old WNAC radio station in Boston.
Finally, the University of Massachusetts/Boston re-harvested over 12,000 items in 4 collections. Speaking of radio, the Lecco’s Lemma collection within the Massachusetts Hip Hop Archive is comprised of demo audio tapes for rap artists sent to the Lecco’s Lemma radio show as well as some audio tapes of the program. Not to mention the W. Arthur Garrity chambers papers on the Boston Schools Desegregation Case – always of interest to students and historians.
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.
One of our favorite contributors, Lawrence Public Library, added to several existing collections as well as added new collections in July. One of which is the Lawrence, Mass. Before Urban Renewal Photograph Collection. Lawrence hired a photography studio to document the first area targeted for urban renewal, so we have photos like the one of Bradford Street (Right) showing what was slated for demolition.
On a happier note, the Cambridge Historical Commission added 278 items to their Cambridge Photo Morgue Collection. Sometimes the captions only add to the mystery of the photos. One of my favorites is Cambridge “Sparks” and his radio scooter. (Below left)
July also saw contributions to existing collections at the Boston Public Library, Harvard Law School Library, a major re-harvesting from Amherst College and a new collection from the South Hadley Public Library. (Below listings.) We hope all Massachusetts cultural institutions will continue to contribute new and to existing collections. It makes for a better Digital Commonwealth, which, as you can see, is already pretty amazing.
Amherst College 23 new collections re-harvested; 3,290 new items added to existing collections
Boston Public Library The Liberator (Boston, Mass. : 1831-1865) – 261 items added to existing collection
Written by Anne Berard, Reference & Outreach Services Librarian, Milford Town Library
The Frank Cousins Glass Plate Photography Collection, containing over 2500 images, became accessible via the Digital Commonwealth in June. Simply put, it is incredible.
Frank Cousins (1851-1925), a merchant and architectural photographer captured streets and buildings of Salem, Boston and Baltimore. He reserved his most intimate building and street views for “The Witch City”, Salem, his hometown. Cousins operated a dry goods shop on Essex Street, called the Bee Hive and he was an integral part of the community. Ever the entrepreneur, he also sold prints and folios in the store.He photographed facades, doorways, stairwells, fireplaces, and other building details and left behind an impressive body of work including the only known images of some structures lost in the Salem fire of 1914. Cousins’ reputation and reach grew with the 1912 publication of Colonial Architecture, Series I,Fifty Salem Doorways.
The collection comes from the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. Meaghan Wright, Assistant Reference & Access Services Librarian and her colleagues spent months transcribing information for inclusion in the the metadata so valuable to researchers. The library also hired a digital projects initiative consultant, Jacqueline Ford Dearborn, to review plates with a lightbox and conduct a full rehousing project for the negatives.” The plates then traveled to the Boston Public Library’s Digitization Lab where their cameras brought the glass plate negatives to their new digital life we can now all access and enjoy. One of Meaghan’s favorite Cousins’ images shown above is the corner of Essex and Washington Streets. The Phillips staff is thrilled to have Cousins’ collection widely available, as their prints were previously for in-library use only.
Another of the Phillips Library collections of glass negatives, the Herman Parker Collection also became available in June. Nowhere near as encyclopedic as Cousins’ it takes us to the water. We’ll visit that collection in a future Spotlight On… post.
Digital Commonwealth uploaded several outstanding photograph collections in June. But it’s not all photos, there are maps from Phillips Academy in Andover and a painting from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum makes a splash with its inaugural contributions of photographs from the glass plate negatives of Frank Cousins and Herman Parker. Cousins’ larger collection began with photographic essays on Essex County, but soon expanded across the eastern seaboard of the US. Any fan of historic buildings will appreciate his elegant photos of exteriors and interiors, like the stairway inside the Governor Gore mansion (See top left.)
Parker also photographed Essex county, but focused on views from his home in Marblehead. I feel I could walk right in to the Views across Marblehead Harbor with boats (See bottom left.) at sunset photo – and I want to. What a great end to a summer day!