World Armenian Congress from the Project SAVE Archives Banquet and Panoramic Photo Collection
World Armenian Congress from the Project SAVE Archives Banquet and Panoramic Photo Collection

Just in time for Armenian Independence Day on September 21, Project SAVE Archives Banquet and Panoramic Photo Collection added 222 items to Digital Commonwealth – including the nearby photo of the World Armenian Congress held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The place was packed!  I honestly don’t know how those people got served.

In addition, Needham Free Public Library has added over 3,000 house photos while Wellesley Free Library and Boston Public Library added more historical maps.


Boston Public Library

Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection – 5 items added to existing collection

Paintings and Fine Arts Collection – 5 items

Needham Free Public Library

Needham Historical House Collection – 3,199 items

Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives

Project SAVE Archives Banquet and Panoramic Photo Collection – 222 items

Wellesley Free Library

Wellesley Free Library Local Historical Maps – 19 items

Photo case for Portrait of a man
Photo cover

Historic Newton’s Early Photograph Collection has something for everyone who loves photographs: daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes, hand painted miniature portraits and cartes de visite.  You can see the fashionable cases of the day as well.  Many of Newton’s historically prominent families are included.  The poses struck range from the straightforward, all business portrait of Charles Redding, an African-American sailor who served on the famous USS Kearsage during the Civil War, to the dandified Stephen Winchester Dana Jackson in his fur-trimmed coat – and with a name that reads like the genealogical profile of a Boston Brahmin.

Sara Leavitt Goldberg, Archivist and Curator of Manuscripts and Photographs for Historic Newton (HN), took up her position about seven and a half years ago.  Always interested in photographs, she did a concentration in archives at Simmons College.  She then interned and consulted at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown.  Sara’s predecessor at HN, Susan Abele, began the photo project 10 years ago.  With assistance from Ron Polito, co-author of Massachusetts photographers, 1839-1900, she created a comprehensive inventory of the photograph collection that Sara has found invaluable.

Charles Redding
Charles Redding

Inventory and collection in hand, Sara wanted to make it more broadly accessible while protecting her materials.  HN is a small, public/private collaborative and did not have the budget to digitize on its own.  Sara

went looking for a few good partners.

Digital Commonwealth (DC) had been on Sara’s radar since Simmons.  Sara knew she wanted to talk to DC.  She also knew about Simmons College’s internship program.  Here were two sources of free, professional help for her project.  Sara recommends both to small cultural institutions with limited budgets and big digitization dreams.

The photo inventory done by previous staff was an essential part of the process.  Kelsey Sawyer, the Simmons intern, handled all of the HN metadata based on the data in the inventory.  Sara is convinced the more prepared your institution is before you send your collection to digitization, the easier – and faster – it will go.  She characterizes her experience as “remarkably flawless.”

 Stephen Winchester Dana Jackson
Stephen Winchester Dana Jackson

Sara contacted DC in January, DC visited in February, she dropped off the collection in April, the imaging was done in June and uploaded in August.  She got her collection back in September.  It “truly could not have been easier.”

Sara sent HN staff a link to the collection and everyone was impressed.  She is eager to show the images off to her trustees and museum council.

Her advice to anyone still on the fence about digitization: Take the time to get your descriptions done and done right.  She gives full credit to HN staff for their work on the inventory and metadata.  Next, find yourself a few good partners.  She can recommend two.

In summary, Sara says it was “well worth the price of membership” to have DC digitize her collection.  HN owns some collections in partnership with the city, so Sara has some negotiating to do before she can send more collections.  But send more she will.

Index map, Town of Wellesley Wellesley Free Library Local Historical Maps
Index map, Town of Wellesley Wellesley Free Library Local Historical Maps



The Swellesley Report of September 19, 2017 chronicled Wellesley Free Library’s addition of 19 local maps to the Digital Commonwealth – with a little help from the New England Document Conservation Center (NEDCC).  The maps of Wellesley and surrounding communities span the years from 1853 to 1999.  After NEDCC took high quality photos of the maps, the library went looking for a host who could make the maps “…accessible to the most people…” and chose Digital Commonwealth.

We must be doing something right because the Wellesley Free Library plans to continue digitizing its maps and adding to its collection.  Take a look at what they’ve added so far!

 from the Public Works Department Photographs collection
105 State Street, Boston from the Public Works Department Photographs collection

Strike up the band, fire the confetti cannon and release the balloons!  Digital Commonwealth is celebrating the half million item mark.  Thanks, in part, to the large and small collections below, Digital Commonwealth by the end of August was able to offer access to 529, 444 items.

On August 23, you could commemorate the 90th anniversary of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution by perusing the 285 additional items added to the Boston Public Library’s Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection.

Or you could remember your summer vacation trips around Massachusetts by comparing your GPS maps to the more than 400 1794 town plans in the Massachusetts Archives’ Town Plan Collection.  Wait, school is starting and your brain is working and you know Massachusetts only has 351 cities and towns.  What gives?  In 1794, Massachusetts still had a province in what is now Maine, so be careful when you look for Falmouth.  There are two of them.

Or you could play the “then and now” game with the City of Boston Archives Public Works Department Photographs Collection, one of twenty and including over 1,000 photos by itself.  My how you’ve changed, 105 State Street.

So whether you are partial to the early daguerreotypes included in Historic Newton’s collection or the Town of Rockport’s maps, there’s something for everyone in the 85 collections added in August or the over half million total items on Digital Commonwealth.  Enjoy!

Boston Public Library

Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts (Collection of Distinction) – 3 items added to existing collection

Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee (Collection of Distinction) – 285 items added to existing collection

Sir Muirhead Bone (1876-1953). Prints, Drawings, and Paintings – 577 items

Huntington family from the Historic Newton Early Photograph collection
Huntington family from the Historic Newton Early Photograph collection


Cape Cod Community College

Cape Cod Association Collection, 1851-1969 – 80 items


City of Boston Archives

20 collections – 3,750 records harvested


Historic Newton

Historic Newton Early Photograph Collection – 279 items



Plan of Greenwich from the  Mass. Archives Town Plans, 1794 collection
Plan of Greenwich from the Mass. Archives Town Plans, 1794 collection

Massachusetts Archives

Town plans, 1794 – 403 items


Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation

Laws, Regulations and Commerce Collection – 3 items

NCCHP Museum Collection – 2 items

Noble & Cooley Business Correspondence Collection – 2 items

Noble & Cooley Employee Collection – 7 items

Trade Catalog Collection – 4 items


Town of Rockport

Rockport Town Clerk, Street, Roads and Maps – 228 items


University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives

53 collections – 26,759 records re-harvested


Leominster Fire Department, Engine 1 from the Leominster Public Library
Leominster Fire Department, Engine 1 from the Leominster Public Library



Leominster Public Library got a little ink from the Leominster Champion for their 1915 Municipal Building (City Hall) time capsule digitization, which was among the new collections added to Digital Commonwealth in May.

If you have been in the news for your digitization project, be sure to send us a link so we can share the good news with all of Digital Commonwealth.

Robin Hood's Bay From the Sir David Young Cameron Collection (BPL)
Robin Hood’s Bay From the Sir David Young Cameron Collection (BPL)

Put on your comfy travel shoes, it’s time to play tourist!  If you can’t actually take a trip to faraway places, Digital Commonwealth has got you covered.  From Sir David Young Cameron’s delightful watercolor of Robin Hood’s Bay in England (Boston Public Library) to the postcard of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (Springfield College Archives and Special Collections) to the flier for the Willow Park Cure and Hygienic Institute (Westborough Public Library), you can find a virtual vacation destination to your liking among the additions to the Digital Commonwealth in July.

Boston Public Library

Sir David Young Cameron (1865-1945), Prints, Drawings and Paintings – 551 items



Willow Park  From Westboro Your Town-Your History Collection (Westboro Public Library)
Willow Park From Westboro Your Town-Your History Collection (Westboro Public Library)
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan From  the Smith Postcard Collection (Springfield College)
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan From the Smith Postcard Collection (Springfield College)


1 new collection and 109 new items added to existing collections

Springfield College Archives and Special Collections

Cliff Smith YMCA Postcard Collection – 98 items added to existing collection

Topsfield Historical Society

The Parson Capen House and the Captain Joseph Gould Barn – 4 items added to existing collection

Topsfield Maps – 1 item

USS Constitution Museum

War of 1812 – 78 items added to existing collection

 Westborough Public Library

“Westborough: Your Town – Your History” Scanning Day, 2017 – 97 items

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:

 Rope pull, undated from University of Massachusetts/Amherst
Rope pull, undated from University of Massachusetts/Amherst Photograph Collection

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

 Barre High School Spring '87 from the Barre Class Photos Collection
Barre High School Spring ’87 from the Barre Class Photos Collection

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.

Barre Historical Society

Barre Class Photos – 64 items

Boston Public Library

 Transgender symbol pin  from the Digital Transgender Archive
Transgender symbol pin from the Digital Transgender Archive

Anti-Slavery Collection -2,178 items added to existing collection

Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection – 10 items added to existing collection

Shakespeare Collection – 101 items added to existing collection

Digital Transgender Archive 

Seventy-seven collections – 1,587 items harvested

from NARA- Boston's Civil Defense Photos Collection
Improvising utensils from the Civil Defense Photo Collection

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

Operation "Alert" 1956 -Harvard, Massachusetts from Civil Defense Photo Collection
Operation “Alert” 1956 -Harvard, Massachusetts from Civil Defense Photo Collection

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.

Women's Activities and Conferences [1958-1960] from Civil Defense Photo Collection
Women’s Activities [1958-1960] from Civil Defense Photo Collection
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.”

Two sailors from the USS Masonfrom U.S. Naval District 1 Photo Collection
Two sailors from the USS Mason from U.S. Naval District 1 Photo Collection

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”.