Digital Commonwealth ushered the new decade in with new collections from the Massachusetts Archives relating to the Quabbin Reservoir and the Swift River Valley, Boston Children’s Museum Scrapbooks as well as some additional items to existing collections. Engineers and geologists will be fascinated by the depth and breadth of the photographs of the Quabbin Reservoir and the Swift River Valley in the Masschusetts Archives haul.
Fans of turn of the century and early 20th century postcards, greeting cards and advertisements will be charmed by the Boston Children’s Museum scrapbooks from the American History Collection. American History was a big part of the curriculum at the museum which was founded in 1913 by the Science Teacher’s Bureau. Each scrapbook is viewable either page by page or in spreads. The handwritten entries in some are really adorable.
Having been established in 1913 by the Science Teacher’s Bureau, the Boston Children’s Museum has grown in size, stature, and influence in those 107 years. What’s remained the same, however, is the mission to educate children about the world through exposure, interaction and observation.
In November of 2019, hundreds of lantern slides were added to Digital Commonwealth. This collection shows the early years of the museum, the second oldest of its kind.
Even before STEM became a commonly known acronym, the Children’s Museum was a pioneer in teaching about the natural world, offering lots of field trips and collecting specimens for identification and study. Jaunters Clubs filled with both boys and girls took their nets and jars and had a truly hands-on experience with the natural world.
Echoing the diversity found in nature, the early Boston Children’s Museum mounted exhibits teaching about other countries and cultures. Dolls and dollhouses from all over the world delighted thousands of kids. Many dolls were mechanical, sparking curiosity. Games and spontaneous play were encouraged. Visit the full collection of over 300 slides.
Let us give thanks for November’s new collections. And additions to existing collections. But I was most taken with two of our new collections: Boston Children’s Museum Lantern Slides and the Washington Historical Commission Collection.
Many of the lantern slides are hand-colored, giving unnaturally rosy cheeks to all captured in the image. I never knew the Children’s Museum started in Jamaica Plain, but you can see in the image at left that it was still there in 1940. Not that the museum was parochial – you’ll see Images of international exhibits on Egypt, China and Scandinavia for a few.
The Washington Historical Commission Collection is a wonderful collection of images, texts and ephemera. The Reward of Merit (Below right) is something I’ve never seen. Apparently, they were handed out by teachers to students. Who wouldn’t settle down to their studies if they were given certificates like this?
Every year there is a first substantial snow of the year. As I type this, snow has just started falling in Boston. Over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend, the prediction has gone from “up to 12 inches” to 6-12″, to 4-6″ to “wintry mix”. I have no idea how much snow we’ll get in the end. It definitely will make a difference if you’re in the Berkshires, Greater Worcester or south of the Pike.
Two things I do know: media forecasters will talk as if this is a never-seen-before event in Massachusetts and drivers across the state will drive like they’ve never seen snow before. Come on, people. We have snow every year. Some storms are historic, like the Blizzard of ’78 or the Blizzard of ’88. This time, though, the timing is everything. The Blizzard of ’78 occurred in February, in 1888 it was March.
This time it’s Thanksgiving weekend. One of the busiest travel days of the year. No matter how much snow we get, it couldn’t come at a worse time. So be smart, slow down, be careful and be safe.
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.
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
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.
April was a dark and gloomy month weather-wise. Maybe that accounts for there only being three contributors this month. The Boston Public Library added 1873 items to the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee collection, bringing that collection up to over 5,000 items. Boston College re-harvested over 80 items. Lawrence Public Library contributed many small collections and one large one. The latter is the Lawrence High School Athletic Department collection of over 130 team photographs. You can see a very solemn 1881 football team on the left. Maybe it’s because they appear to have been forced to pose in their long underwear and watch caps. And that football looks more like a basketball. How things have changed…
We’re very excited to present our newest promotion effort: Bookmarks!
We have two styles of bookmark designed to raise awareness about our wonderfully rich online resources. The Digital Commonwealth exists to advance the dissemination of collections from Massachusetts to a wider audience through shared resources and a single website. These bookmarks are a fun way to let libraries and other cultural institutions raise awareness about this resource with users.
If you’d like to share these with your users, we will send you stacks of bookmarks in either or both of the two designs. Please contact the Outreach Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org with your preferences.
Recently, Digital Repository Developer Steven Anderson and Web Services Developer Eben English presented at the Open Repositories 2014 conference in Helsinki and at the Northeast Fedora Users Group (NEFUG) meeting in Boston.
Open Repositories is an annual international conference that brings together people and institutions responsible for the development, implementation, and management of digital repositories to share information and strategies for long-term preservation and access. Steven’s presentation was entitled “When Metadata Collides: Lessons on Combining Records from Multiple Repository Systems.” It summarizes the practical challenges involved in combining diverse descriptions, authorities, and technologies into the shared Digital Commonwealth repository and highlights the imaginative ways Steven and Eben have addressed them with the help of the Digital Projects department. Watch the seven-minute presentation online. Move the slider to the 52 minute mark to start with Steven’s talk. (Editor’s note: the previous link has had intermittent connection issues. Please continue to try the link until it resolves correctly.)
During the NEFUG meeting, Eben and Steven gave a presentation titled “digital_commonwealth_presentation” during the Hydra session. Steven presented on slides, that can be viewed here, and Eben gave a 10 minute demonstrations of teh actual portal. Steven also gave a lightening talk (aka “Dork Short”) about metadata combination challenges.