By Andrew Begley

Archives Specialist, National Archives at Boston; Co-Chair, Digital Commonwealth Outreach and Education Committee

Over the last five to ten years, a number of archives and libraries in the Boston area have digitized rich collections of materials related to school desegregation and busing in the city of Boston. Collections at the Boston City Archives, UMass Boston, Northeastern University, Suffolk University, Boston College, and the Massachusetts State Library contextualize Boston’s 1970’s busing crisis and provide insight into the roles played by community organizations and local, state, and federal agencies. Northeastern University, which was instrumental in coordinating these digitization initiatives, provides a great entry point for exploring these records on its Beyond Busing: Boston School Desegregation Archival Resources site.

Until recently, one major collection that was not available digitally was the U.S. District Court case file for Morgan v. Hennigan. Held at the National Archives at Boston, this collection consists of 54 cubic feet of documents filed in the class action lawsuit brought in 1972 by the parents of African American children in Boston, alleging that the Boston School Committee violated the 14th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution by a deliberate policy of racial segregation in the Boston Public Schools.

Several years ago, National Archives staff reached out to Digital Commonwealth about utilizing its member digitization services to tackle the digitization of the Morgan v. Hennigan case file. While Digital Commonwealth was enthusiastic about the project, the sheer size of the collection posed some additional challenges. Harvard Library Imaging Services agreed to partner with Digital Commonwealth and the National Archives on the project, offering their new high-speed document scanning services to quickly and safely handle the digitization of the physical records. The result of the project would make the digitized records available through Digital Commonwealth, Harvard Library’s online collection, and the National Archives online catalog.

As with any large-scale digitization project, there were many steps in ensuring the successful completion of the project. Staff and volunteers at the National Archives worked on document prep and metadata creation. Security protocols were established to ensure the safe transportation and storage of the records offsite (after a few trips transporting records to Widener Library, I can now say that I’ve parked my car in Harvard Yard). Staff at Harvard Imaging Services created scanning workflows for the project, seamlessly combining high volume digitization on their conveyer belt style scanner with separate workflows for oversized and bound materials. Once scanning was complete, Harvard staff worked with the Boston Public Library and Digital Commonwealth on harvesting metadata and making the records available through the Digital Commonwealth site.

The digitized images went live on the Digital Commonwealth site earlier this month (they can be viewed here), and I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone that made this collaboration possible: Alfie Paul, Denise Henderson and the staff and volunteers at the National Archives in Waltham; Bill Comstock and everyone at Harvard Library Imaging Services; and Tom Blake and the metadata staff at the Boston Public Library. The Morgan v. Hennigan case file should complement and provide further context for the records on busing and desegregation digitized by other institutions throughout the Boston area, and hopefully this project will serve as a model for additional collaborative digitization projects in the future.

Cross & Dimmitt postcard ca: 1930-1945

Boston Public Library

The Tichnor Brothers Collection contains approximately 25,000 office proofs of postcards of the United States published by the Boston firm Tichnor Brothers Inc. These are color postcards with a linen texture dated ca. 1930-1945. The concentration is on American vacation places.

National Archives of Boston

 This series consists of the civil action case file (72-911-G) of Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James W. Hennigan et al., a class action lawsuit brought in 1972 by the parents of African American children alleging  that the Boston School Committee violated the 14th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution by a deliberate policy of racial segregation in the Boston Public Schools. Included are the complaint, motions, briefs, transcripts of hearings, Boston School Committee meeting transcripts, enrollment records, memorandums, letters and other correspondence, judgments, affidavits, depositions, interrogatories, and other records. Records are arranged by document number assigned by the court.


MHS1948_01_2074aDigital archives thrive on collaboration and the Medford Historical Society’s Civil War Photo Collection  bears that out in  an especially meaningful and inspiring way. This massive collection of more than 3600 well preserved albumen prints was amassed by General Samuel Crocker Lawrence who commanded the Lawrence Light Guard during the Civil War. He went on to serve as Medford’s first mayor.

A feature article in Tufts Now traces how these prints were discovered on a second floor of the Medford Historical Society Museum in 1990 and came to be given very special care from the society, Civil War scholars, then Tufts Digital Collections and Archives, the New England Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) and the Digital Lab at the Boston Public Library.

The range of images includes portraits of military officers and their wives, camp scenes, battlefields, cannons, cities in ruin and more. The work of notable Civil War photographers George Bernard and Andrew Russell and those who studied under Matthew Brady (the seminal Civil War photographer) are included in the archive. Not surprisingly, some are untitled and dated simply 1861-1865.  The collection is a valuable tool for researchers, students, teachers and history aficionados.



Boston Children’s Museum Scrapbooks from the American History Collection (1 item)*

Boston Public Library

Coast Guard Heritage Museum

Historical Society of Old Yarmouth Archives and Local History Collection (3,257 items)*

Jamaica Plain Historical Society

Doyle’s Cafe Memorabilia (24 items) *

*  items ingested into existing collection



John F. Kennedy

Before COVID-19 changed life and work as we know it, lots of new content was added to Digital Commonwealth including the voluminous photo archive of Dennis Brearley which chronicles the life of the City of Boston from the 1920s to 1970s.  From parades to protests, it’s all there providing the rich historical context that photographs can.

Boston Public Library

                                            Holyoke Public Library 

Children in their Sunday best

C.R. Wilhelm Collection (203 items)


Lillian Abdalian

Originally scheduled to take place Sunday, April 4, a program on the Remarkable Photography of Leon Abdalian at the Jamaica Plain Branch Library has been postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis.  While that talk will be re-scheduled at a future time, in the meantime we encourage you to visit Leon’s large body of work accessible via Digital Commonwealth.Born Leon Hampartzoum Abdalian in Armenia, Ottoman Empire in 1884, he came to the US as a 12 year old in 1896.

Leon, Lillian,and Marian Abdalian

The Abdalian family settled in Jamaica Plain, a subject of thousands of his later photographs.  A train conductor by day with the Boston Elevated Railway, Leon was largely self-taught and took photographs as a hobby which expanded into a busy sideline. His photos were published in The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Boston Traveler  and as a career highlight, in the March 1920 issue of  National Geographic magazine.

Besides his beloved hometown of JP, West Roxbury, Milton, Dedham, Lexington, Salem and Gloucester are featured subjects as our family groups in their living rooms, at picnics, weddings, and the Arnold Arboretum. The photos are clean and classically composed, and really fun to browse, especially when compared with the JP of today.

Leo J. Costello, 234 South St. Jamaica Plain

After his death in 1967, his daughter Lilian donated several hundred negatives to the Boston Public Library and his entire body of work was bequeathed to BPL in 2003, a gift of the Arnold P. and Lillian A.Clough estate.


The Digital Commonwealth Board and Conference Committee
invite you to register for:
A Virtual Conference Contextual Conversations:Representation and Digital Practice
Join us for an exciting day as we explore the issues of representation, politics, ethics
and other important aspects of digital collections
with an outstanding group of scholars
When: Tuesday April 7, 2020, 9:00AM-4:00PM  Where: Zoom Webinar
Advance registration is required. This event is FREE to all attendees. 
Once you register you will receive a Zoom link to the event.
Register for Virtual Event
Conference Schedule (subject to revision), changes will be posted to the website.
Conference Schedule
Elaine L. Westbrooks, Vice Provost for University Libraries & University Librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will be the Keynote Speaker.
Ms. Westbrooks is a Board Member of the Digital Public Library of America. Her keynote address is titled “Representing the Others: Preserving Evidence and Knowledge for Equity”. 
An annual update on the Digital Commonwealth Collection will be presented by Eben English, Digital Repository Services Manager at the Boston Public Library.
A lot of new content was added in February–must have been the leap year effect! There’s something for everyone with maps, manuscripts, prints and photographs all ready for research  and enjoyment. The Leon Abdalian Collection, containing the work of self-taught photogapher Leon Hampartzoum Abdalian reminds me of the Leslie Jones Collection.
Both men turned their lens’ on the people of Boston, Jamaica Plain West Roxbury and surrounding communities and brought ordinary people into sharp focus. Leon and Leslie, good eye!  Travel back in time with them via Digital Commonwealth.
Arnold Arboretum

Boston Public Library

Colonial and Revolutionary Boston (2 items)*

Early, Rare, and Exceptional Items from Special Collections, Rare Books (3 items)*
French Artists (1 item)
Coast Guard Heritage Museum
D.M. Rowland Collection (40 items) 
 Lawrence Public Library 
 Massachusetts Archives



Doll House Scrapbook
Card scrapbook

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.

Boston Public Library 

Boston Children’s Museum – Boston Children’s Museum Scrapbooks from the American History Collection (9 items)

Boston Public Library – Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts (Collection of Distinction) (1 item)

Boston Public Library–WHDH Collection (1 item)

Massachusetts Archives

Massachusetts Archives – Massachusetts Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission, Quabbin Reservoir, Photographs of Real Estate in the Swift River Valley, and of General Engineering of Quabbin Reservoir, 1927-1950 (2,795 items)


Feeding Orphan Hawks
194X_05_20 (1)

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.