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!
By Jodi Goodman, Head of Special Collections
New Bedford Free Public Library
This photo of the Cape Verdean Beneficent Association, New Bedford, is in the recently added Oliveira Photograph Collection (New Bedford Free Public Library), which highlights New Bedford’s Portuguese community in the early twentieth century.
Established in 1916, the Cape Verdean Beneficent Association (Associação Beneficente Caboverdeana) in New Bedford, Massachusetts is the oldest Cape Verdean organization in the United States. It emerged to support members with companionship and emergency financial assistance.
Cape Verdeans, an Afro-Portuguese immigrant community, came to New Bedford in the 19th century aboard whaling vessels which made regular stops at the Cape Verde islands for supplies. The largest concentration of Cape Verdeans arrived between the 1880s and 1920s. Entrepreneurial in spirit, Cape Verdeans found work in the packet trade. Some bought old sailing vessels and outfitted them as packet boats, sailing to the Cape Verde islands with supplies and returning to New Bedford with new immigrants. In New Bedford, Cape Verdeans worked as longshoremen, fish processors, and merchant seamen.
The majority of Cape Verdeans in the United States have settled in Southeastern New England. Many will be celebrating Cape Verdean Recognition Week in New Bedford from June 28-July 7, 2019, culminating in the Cape Verdean Recognition Parade July 7 at 11:00 am.
Too many people think history is as dry as dust. All dates and wars and people in funny clothes with funnier hats. Show them their street 100 years ago or a 50-year-old yearbook for their high school and you have their attention. Ask them if they can identify a house on their street or its former owner and you have a Watson and the game’s afoot.
With the Granville Public Library’s collection digitized, Dick Rowley took advantage of other services offered by Digital Commonwealth. He took an Omeka workshop on creating online exhibits. The Granville Historic Image Library is the result. The images are the main attraction, but there’s also an ongoing project to upload the Catalog of Historic Document Collections and Books from the Granville Public Library’s Historical Room with links to already-digitized versions of the Historical Room collection on websites like Internet Archive.
Dick also started posting Mystery Monday and Flashback Friday photos to the Granville Forum on Facebook. He encouraged Forum members to contribute information and photos. He got both. Posters identified one old house as the original Baptist church that was moved across the street, so the new church could be built. Even better, this wonderful wedding photo shows multiple generations of Granville residents at the wedding of Helen Alvina Hansen and Charles Louis Drolett, Jr. Dick reports the photo owner had no idea who the people in the photo were. By posting it, Granville’s “village elders” were consulted and able to identify everyone. Amongst the “elders”? One of the little girls in the photo.
Find A Grave is one of the most popular websites for genealogists and local history buffs. Dick has used the website to spread the wealth of resources in the Granville collection. A distant relation will be thrilled to find a photo of Nathan Fenn on his Find A Grave page. Although, my favorite has to be the Weekly Report on the Conduct of… Melissa Phelps. What a delight for any descendant of Melissa Phelps Gaines to discover this gem.
Some of the stories are more poignant. In trying to locate the oldest house in Granville, Dick was sent a photo of a 1934 copy of the Granville Center News. The News is a story in itself. It was published by Newton kids who summered in Granville. They report on a resident of the purported oldest building, Chapin Brown, who was “slightly crazy”. A little research uncovered the man had served in the Civil War. Post-traumatic stress disorder? Perhaps. We don’t always get the full story, but a lot more of Chapin Brown’s has been restored because someone asked about the oldest house in town.
A more inspirational story comes as a result of Dick’s collaboration with the Woodlands Cemetery Association (WCA). This is my favorite. The Granville Historic Image Library, Historical Room, Granville Public Library provides the images and the WCA provides the profiles of the interred in their newsletter. Susan A. Phelon Barber was born and raised in Granville. She was educated in Westfield and became a teacher. She moved to Maine to study nursing and joined the U.S. Army nursing corps during World War I. She served in Europe until 1919. She then moved to Los Angeles to serve as a private nurse. Eventually, she returned to live in Granville and work as a nurse in Westfield. She married a high school classmate in 1930 at the age of 45.
These remarkable people lived in a small town, but hardly had small lives. If they were lost for a while, they have now been restored. You can do the same for your small Massachusetts town and Digital Commonwealth can help. Give us a call. Let’s restore some more stories.
A year ago, I got the listing of new collections added to the Digital Commonwealth. I expect the Boston Public Library and UMass/Amherst to have extraordinary collections on Digital Commonwealth. I am much more impressed when a small institution, like the Granville Public Library (GPL), uploads a collection that is impressive in its depth and breadth. So naturally, I asked how this happened.
Mary Short, director of GPL, directed me to Dick Rowley, dedicated volunteer and raconteur. It has been a fun and educational year of discovering where Granville started and where they’ve gone. Dick has done all he could on his own, through crowd sourcing and with partners to restore the story of Granville’s history. My apologies to all concerned for my tardiness in posting this report.
Dick and his cousin, Thom Gilbert, were researching family history independently. They decided to meet up halfway between Dick in Connecticut and Tom in eastern Massachusetts in Granville, the family’s old hometown. They had discovered that the family had a connection to the Noble and Cooley Drum Company in Granville. (See payroll book, right.) This led them to the Noble and Cooley archives. That is, if you define archives as boxes and boxes of materials in no particular order.
Luckily, Dick and Thom “stumbled” onto the Massachusetts State Historic Records Advisory Board Roving Archivist program. If you are starting from scratch in organizing your historic collections, Dick says this is the program for you. Rachel Onuf was extremely helpful in getting the Noble and Cooley Center for Historic Preservation (NCCHP) on the right track. (Rachel has moved on and Sara Jane Poindexter is the current roving archivist.) Dick’s first experience with Digital Commonwealth (DC) was with the digitization of the NCCHP collection. They started with the company’s catalogs, which were a big hit with collectors, including Jay Leno. They went on to add correspondence, employee records, etc. And were they able to confirm the family connection with Noble and Cooley? Long lost payroll records dating back to 1890 were discovered showing that many ancestors had worked at the drum shop at one time or another, some from the age of 15.
Like any good genealogist, Dick and Thom became interested in the local history that went along with the family and corporate history they had already discovered. They realized for Granville history they should ask at the Granville Public Library. And there they came across a treasure trove of photos – of Granville people, places and things cared for by Rose Miller, long-time curator of the library’s Historical Room.
Dick recommended GPL contact Digital Commonwealth to digitize the collection. He was able to vouch for the helpful and patient staff. Dick had nothing but compliments for Nichole, Jake and Eben. All of whom he said went over and above the standard service. Still, GPL was hesitant to ship its original documents. The DC staff drove out to pick up and return the collection it, so GPL could relax.
GPL was even more reluctant to part with its photos. Dick offered and came through with a system whereby he digitized the photos using his personal camera, a home-made stand and extra lighting for the best TIF format images possible. Then he sent a USB drive to Digital Commonwealth. Although they were working with photos of photos, Dick thinks the images DC harvested were pretty close to the “gold standard” for digital images.
Not being trained archivists, Dick and Thom didn’t know much about metadata. However, they got a crash course from DC staff as well as attending New England Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) training events. They were then able to send spreadsheets with basic metadata and DC “did the rest.” In the end, the collaboration was a great success on all fronts.
Dick believes that restoring the story of Granville has two parts. Part I, as we have discussed here, was the organization and preservation of the historical source materials. Part II is documenting the stories of these materials, but that’s a story for another post.
May is supposed to be the payoff for all those April showers. Only the showers kept coming in May. Digital Commonwealth was showered by harvested images from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (17,335 items), Boston TV New Digital Library (1,632 items) and the University of Massachusetts/Lowell (6,825 items).
Theophile Alexandre Steinlen is more than the cats for which he is most famous. But that didn’t stop me from using one of his sleeping cats to illustrate this post. (See left.) You’ll just have to go to the Boston Public Library’s Steinlen collection to see the rest.
Or go to the Malden Catholic High School class photos from 1936-2016. Everybody enjoys a good class photo, but let’s be honest. We enjoy the bad ones even more. Sorry, kids.
Written by Anne Berard, Reference& Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library
Peter Simon, prolific photographer, author, chronicler of Martha’s Vineyard, and brother of singer Carly Simon, died in November 2018. Digital Commonwealth (via the Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst) holds more than 5000 of his photographs captured over a long, eclectic career. Simon came of age in the 1960s. Serving in the Boston University News Office, he covered the tumultuous Vietnam War protests and the burgeoning music scene all around him. This lifelong love of music and musicians, especially reggae and Jamaican artists, isn’t surprising given that the Simon family, of Simon & Schuster publishing renown, was musically gifted. Richard Simon, the father, was a pianist, Andrea, the mother, was a singer, daughter Joanna Simon was an opera singer, and Carly and her sister Lucy performed as The Simon Sisters.
The images in this voluminous collection span various decades and cover both the political and the personal, the grand and the humble, with a similar eye. New England is depicted through Peter Simon’s lens at the Newport Jazz & Folk Festivals, anti-war demonstrations on Boston Common and at Harvard University, and a grape pickers strike at Stop & Shop Supermarket. Additionally, hundreds of photographs of the Beatles, Grateful Dead, the Doors, and Carly Simon/James Taylor concerts are here for the viewing and the nostalgia. Peter Simon wrote several books on reggae music informed by images from trips to Jamaica that show Bob Marley at home, billboards in Kingston, and musicians at work.
Throughout his life, Peter Simon photographed his passions, one of which is a love of animals. A series on cats reveals a gentleness and a sense of humor. Felines watch the Mets on television, paw over a piano, nurse kittens, and sit atop a warm radiator. In another shot, the Simon family Dalmatian stands front and center in an impromptu front door family portrait. Simon’s wife Ronni continues to own and operate The Simon Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. For more than 30 years, Peter Simon created an annual Vineyard Calendar. Many photographs of his beloved island can be found on Digital Commonwealth.
The Digital Commonwealth awarded free attendance to the annual conference this year to student, Maxwell Lisanti. We are happy to present Maxwell’s report on the conference today.
My Takeaway from the 2019 Digital Commonwealth Conference
By Maxwell Lisanti, MLIS Candidate ‘19, Simmons University
I am weeks away from finishing my MLIS degree and Archives Management concentration at Simmons University, and it was not until this 2019 Digital Commonwealth conference that I had had the opportunity to attend a professional conference. Not sure what to expect beyond speakers and name tags, I entered with an open mind.
Two presentations in particular stood out to me, as they followed similar currents of race, access, and archives. First, Eben English’s Luncheon Keynote Address, “Digital Commonwealth Repository Systems Update: Wooden Anniversary.” I have accessed Digital Commonwealth’s digital collections frequently in both academic and casual settings, and was interested to see how the collection had grown, and how it was accessed and used by patrons. What truly struck me was when Eben cycled through the top 20 most accessed items from the whole year (excluding the viral M.C. Escher collection). Most were innocuous – state maps, pictures from the molasses disaster, political cartoons – but there were two that stood out. At number nine on the list was a Ku Klux Klan application form from UMass Amherst’s W.E.B. Du Bois Papers. This sent a bit of a shiver throughout the room, and we whispered amongst ourselves, hoping to justify a reason for its popularity; surely it was academic or purely casual curiosity? The uncertainty behind the numbers was alarming, and Eben expressed about the same opinion.
The fourth item on the list, with 1,018 views, was a photo of a lynching in California from the Leslie Jones Collection at the Boston Public Library. Going off of the presence of this disturbing image (which was thankfully fully censored), Eben discussed the responsibility that we have as information professionals to provide users with context (this is something that I wrote in my notes repeatedly) for images like the Lynching Photo. A lack of context can turn people into “objects, rather than subjects.” Are we, as a majority white profession, reproducing inequality by acting as the stewards of these images? There is no way to determine who accessed an image and why; as we whispered about before, these reasons could be purely academic. But the risk that these images are being misused, or that a lack of context is encouraging that misuse, is and should be alarming. The solution to this issue, or one of many, is greater collaboration between libraries/archives and the communities that are represented in their collections.
I found that this theme was again repeated in Whitney Battle-Baptiste’s brilliant presentation, “Visualizing W.E.B. Du Bois: Bringing Archive into the Digital Age.” A large portion of Whitney’s work focuses on bringing young black middle and high school students into the W.E.B. Du Bois Archives at UMass and allowing them to interact with history that is rightfully “theirs”. Simply interacting with the items at the archive was enough to get many repeat visits from the students, and spark an interest in history, specifically black history. Whitney pointed out, quite correctly, that much of the representation of black people and black bodies in archival collections is through the lens of slavery and racist violence; images of slaves, slave rosters, lynchings such as the one shown in the Digital Commonwealth collections. Whitney spoke of the inherent trauma of accessing these violent and disturbing images as a black person, and how we as archival professionals need to be conscious of the material we have in our collections and, as Eben said, the context in which that material exists. Whitney encouraged us as information professionals to “be in dialogue” with the communities represented in our collections, and receptive to what these communities tell us.
Digitization has opened up the collections of many archives and libraries to the larger general public, and these two presentations energized me to continue to work towards using digitization as a tool to connect with marginalized communities and to create collections that are inclusive of new and necessary viewpoints.