Update for the Boston Summer Seminar


“Barred Owl,” 1980, Public Domain

The holiday season invites a look back on the year about to end, and this year’s accounting has been harder for me than in past years for many reasons, not least of which has to do with the Boston Summer Seminar.  Last September, after our second successful summer (more here), I was informed by my grants officer at the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA), our sponsoring organization, that changes in funding on their side had inadvertently orphaned the BSS.  Going forward, they have no way to fund the seminar at the same levels and in its current form.  Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, our seminar liaison librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and I spent several months strategizing about what to do.  I also consulted BSS alumni. Administrators at my home institution, Hope College, worked mightily to find options.  Until earlier this month, I was hoping there would be some way to cobble together enough funding for another summer, so we could continue our work in the archives and our fascinating conversations.  Alas, this is not possible, at least not for the coming year.

So this is adieu to the BSS community – for now.  I have so many thanks to give: to Anna, to the MHS, to all our participating archivists and archives, and to our fabulous research teams of faculty and students.  I will keep the BSS website up for reference and as a record of what we have accomplished together.  For those following on Twitter, please know that in the new year I will be turning the BSS account into a professional account under my own name.

One more note:  Anna and I own the idea for the seminar, which means we may try to find another home for it in the future in a somewhat different form with another funding source.  We would be eager to hear of your interest going forward; feel free to contact Natalie Dykstra at ndykstra@hope.edu or Anna Clutterbuck-Cook at acook@masshist.org.

All of that is for the future.  For now, please accept our heartfelt thanks for making the seminar a success.  And we wish for you a productive and safe new year!


“Twas the Night Before Christmas,” Public Domain

Announcement for Boston Summer Seminar, 2017


Park Street, Boston ~ lostnewengland.com

We are saddened to report that funding uncertainties and challenges have come up for the Boston Summer Seminar’s 2017 session.  We feel strongly about the need to resolve those issues before we post our call for proposals and recruit our next teams.  Thus, the application page will not be updated until the 2017 program is confirmed.

If the program is running next year, the deadline for proposals will most likely be February 15, 2017. We will post program updates here as soon as they are available.

In the meantime, here are a few comments from our 2016 alumni:

  • “This was an extraordinarily valuable experience for the students and for me. So well thought-out and executed. Quite wonderful.”
  • “Keep doing what you’re doing – it’s working!”
  • “Professionally, this opportunity has jump-started a project I’ve been eager to develop…. As a mentor, I could not be more thrilled with watching my two students immerse themselves in every part of this program: both the intellectual and investigative work of digging through archives and the cultural opportunity to experience Boston.”

Our Second Year – GLCA Boston Summer Seminar, June 2016

Celebration Night, June 23.  Photo credit:  Laura Wulf, Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS)

A week has gone by since our celebration evening at the conclusion of the second GLCA Boston Summer Seminar.  Our research teams from Albion College, Denison University, and Oberlin College are now our second group of alumni, the class of 2016.  This fall, we’ll be posting guest blogs from our alumni about their discoveries in the archives, their scholarship, and their experiences in Boston, so stay tuned!

Our three weeks together began with a cool blue Boston sky and temps more like spring than summer.  The three research teams arrived bright and early on Monday, June 6, ready to dive deep into the archives.  And did they ever!



Albion Team: Corey Wheeler, Dr. Marcy Sacks, Elijah Bean.  Photo credit: Laura Wulf, MHS

The Albion team, led by Dr. Marcy Sacks, conducted research on 19th and 20th century African-American lives in the North, as part of their project on Northern Black Lives Matter.  They worked at the Northeastern University Archives, Houghton Library, Schlesinger Library, and Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS), our host for the seminar.


Denison Team: Rachael Barrett, Maggie Gorski, Dr. Trey Proctor.  Photo credit: Laura Wulf, MHS

The Denison team, led by Dr. Trey Proctor, investigated trade in the 18th and 19th century Atlantic world and did so by looking at the trading routes of rum, as outlined in documents at the MHS and the Peabody Essex Museum Library; the trading of pharmacy knowledge and products, as recorded in medical records at the Countway Library; and the travels of ship captains’ wives, who confided in diaries now archived at the Schlesinger Library.


Oberlin Team: Amreen Ahmed, Sabina Sullivan, Dr. Danielle Skeehan. Photo credit: Laura Wulf, MHS

Finally, the Oberlin team, headed by Dr. Danielle Skeehan, investigated the paranormal and other haunted subjects of the 19th century, decoding, for instance, fortune teller books at the Houghton Library and grappling with the meaning of mourning jewelry made of human hair, items which are archived at the MHS.

You can read more about the excellent research of each team here!

Our days were spent in the archives doing research, of course, but twice weekly we gathered together for a light meal around a large table in the MHS seminar room to talk with one another about archival discoveries.  With each successive day and conversation, the research projects got more nuanced and surprising.  One evening we went to the North End for a delicious Italian meal, then a walking tour of historic Boston, conducted by Boston by Foot.  For week two, we welcomed two speakers:  Dr. Kimberly Hamlin on Darwin and women’s rights; and Dr. Steven Berry on the many interpretive possibilities of ship logbooks.

I have a favorite line, written by Arlette Farge in her Allure of the Archives, about what can be found in the archives and how those documents can make the past loom very close:  “The archival document is a tear in the fabric of time, an unplanned glimpse offered into an unexpected event.”  During our evening conversations, we heard about some of those unplanned glimpses, celebrating what we’d accomplished on our last evening together on June 23.  As Elijah Bean, of Albion College, said so well that night: “who knew history could be THAT much fun?!”  It was hard to say goodbye.  We had bonded as a group, glad to be doing this work together in beautiful, historic Boston.


Dr. Marcy Sacks; Irina Klyagin, Houghton Library; Dr. Danielle Skeehan; Sabina Sullivan; Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, MHS; Amreen Ahmed. Photo credit: Laura Wulf, MHS

Putting together a seminar like this requires the enthusiasm and diligence of many people.  Thank you to our gracious host, the MHS, and to our MHS liaison librarian and archivist, Anna Clutterbuck-Cook.  Anna’s expertise makes the seminar both informative and smooth-running.  No one responds to email more quickly than she does.  Thank you to Laura Wulf for her spectacular photography – we all look better because of her talents.  A special thank you to our partnering archivists and institutions:  Giordana Mecagni and Michelle Romero at Northeastern University Archives; Irina Klyagin at the Houghton Library; Sarah Hutcheon at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Harvard University; and Emily Gustainis and Jack Eckert at the Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library of Harvard Medical School.  I also want to thank my student webmasters, Hope Hancock (Hope College ’16) and Cullen Smith (Hope College ’17).

I first had the idea of opening a door for Midwestern researchers to explore archives in Boston in the fall of 2013, and Greg Wegner at the GLCA, our generous sponsor, was supportive from the start, as were my colleagues at Hope College, particularly in the English Department.  Thanks most of all to our fabulous, hard-working, fun-loving research teams this year.  Bravo to you all!  We’ll be eager to hear from you in the coming months and to learn how you turned your archival research into projects, stories, and scholarship.  Please tell your friends and colleagues about us.  We’d like to keep the conversation going!

~Natalie Dykstra, BSS Founding Director, Professor of English, Hope College



Lake Michigan.  Photo credit: Natalie Dykstra

The Boston Summer Seminar will be on summer hiatus until early September, when we’ll be back again with our bi-weekly posts, beginning with a call for proposals for June 2017.  Stay tuned! In the meantime, scroll through and read more about the seminar, about our work together, and about inspiration in the archives.  And we wish you lovely, restorative summer days.

BSS 2016 Final Celebration!

final celebration

Thursday, 23 June, 5:30-7:30pm

Massachusetts Historical Society

5:30pm – Dinner is served, meal catered by City Feed & Supply and Sweet

5:45pm – Congratulations, Anna Clutterbuck-Cook

6:00pm – Welcome, Natalie Dykstra

6:10pm – Albion College Team, Marcy Sacks, Elijah Bean, Corey Wheeler

6:30pm – Break

6:40pm – Denison College Team, Trey Proctor, Rachael Barrett, Maggie Gorski

7:00pm – Oberlin College Team, Danielle Skeehan, Amreen Ahmed, Sabina Sullivan

7:20pm – Farewell & Group Photos

* * *

A very special thanks to…

Our 2016 Host

Massachusetts Historical Society

2016 Partner Institutions

Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library

Houghton Library

Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections

The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America


Great Lakes Colleges Association

Mellon Foundation

Our Second Week: What We’re Finding

Kimberly Hamlin

Prof. Kimberly Hamlin, Director of American Studies at Miami University of Ohio, talks to the Boston Summer Seminar about her fascinating archival research for her scholarship on Darwin’s theory of evolution, gender norms, and women’s rights.


We had a very productive second week at the Boston Summer Seminar!  Read all about the best archival finds so far from each of our research teams.

Albion College


Degrasse-Howard Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society

I am researching Northern Black lives in the aftermath of the Civil War. My main goal has been to find anything pertaining to the normal day-to-day life of a black person. One primary source that has been exciting to me is a letter to from Charles Lenox Remond to George T. Downing.  The letter was included in the Degraase-Howard Papers, which are located at the Massachusetts Historical Society. George T. Downing was a businessman and civil rights leader who lived in Newport, Rhode Island after the Civil War. Downing and his colleagues had aspired to start a newspaper (which eventually becomes very popular) called the Christian Recorder. In his letter, Charles Lenox Remond tells Downing that he wants to be a part of the paper to “place his life and children’s life above want and suffering.” He says he doesn’t have any money to chip in but would offer his help in any way he can. While the letter was a great primary source, it did not offer much insight into the day-to-day life of an average black person. However, it did make me wonder if the newspaper they discussed would have information on the daily lives of black people in the North. I was excited to find out that I was able to access the Christian Recorder through a database at the Schlesinger Library.  The Recorder ended up being helpful because it gave me plenty of interesting information on everyday black life in the north.

~Corey Wheeler



Luis Emilio Papers (Diary and Title), Massachusetts Historical Society

My team and I wanted an opportunity to explore the daily life of the Northern Black population following the Civil War to the end of Reconstruction period (1865-1880). There is a plethora of information regarding the Southern Black lives during this time period, so we wanted to find out more about Northern Black lives.  My findings thus far have been scarce but nevertheless intriguing.  The New England Freedmen’s Aid Society, which was founded in the North and funded mostly by Northerners, helps shed some light on the schooling system.  However, their main focus was educating former slaves and most of their work was done in the South.  I also uncovered some information about the 54th regiment, which was one of the first official African-American regiments in the United States and formed during the Civil War.  Their Captain was a white man who went by the name of Luis F. Emilio, and I got the chance to look at his diaries.  Unfortunately, most of what I am reading is the voice of White America, and as we expected, it’s very difficult to find the voice of Black people during this time period. However, that is not stopping our team, and we are finding some very fascinating information.

~Elijah Bean


Oberlin College

Sabina 1

Oracles from the Poets, Caroline Gilman, 1845, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Caroline Gilman compiles poetry quotes in her 1845 book Oracles from the Poets: a Fanciful Diversion from the Drawing Room, re-purposing them as tools of divination. As Gilman specifies in the preface, the book is used as follows: “The person who holds the book asks, for instance, what is your character? The individual questioned selects any one of the of the sixty answers under that head, say No. 3, and the questioner reads aloud the answer No. 3, which will be the oracle” (19). These answers are quotes in verse. The book was gifted to “Mary, from Aunt Lucretia,” in September of 1862 as inscribed within the front cover. Lucretia’s full name, Lucretia M. Fishe, is written in ink the top right-hand corner, with the addition of “-Percy” in pencil, suggesting that Lucretia married before giving the book to her niece. She likely no longer needed it, as the book is a tool for facilitating courtship as well as divination. The question categories are gendered with an eye towards romance, as in “What is the personal appearance of him who loves you?” Often the answers are wry, as with this couplet by Albert Pike: “A beard that would make a razor shake/ Unless its nerves were strong! (73).  Perhaps the gentleman in question would read the question to the lady, and she would be obliged to reply in this way, either making him uncomfortable or creating a joke between the two of them.

~Sabina Sullivan


amreen-1 fixed

Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist? Nettie Colburn Maynard, 1891, Houghton Library, Harvard University

One of the most interesting publications I’ve come across was Nettie Colburn Maynard’s memoirs, titled Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist? and published in 1891.  Nettie was a medium highly trusted by Mary Todd Lincoln, and by association, President Lincoln. As Nettie puts it, “If he had not had faith in Spiritualism, he would not have connected himself with it, and would not have had any connections with it, especially in peculiarly dangerous times, while the fate of the Nation was in peril. Again, had he declared an open belief in the subject, he would have been pronounced insane and probably incarcerated” (93). The spirits embodied by Nettie spoke to Lincoln of the state of the nation in the midst of the Civil War, especially with regard to the Emancipation Proclamation and the subsequent problems faced by freedmen. Although her involvement in the formation of abolitionist policies is not mentioned in most history books, it’s clear that Nettie Colburn has had an impact on the spiritual community in America.

~Amreen Ahmed



Henry Roberts, “Margaret Finch, Queen of the Gypsies at Norwood” (England Before 1790). Courtesy of Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum

There are a surprising number of “gypsies” in Harvard’s archives. They make fleeting appearances across genres and subject headings, stealing into the pages of nineteenth dissertations, plays, poems, newspapers, and trial accounts. They also, of course, appear as the supposed authors of quite a few “Fortune-tellers.” One of these authors is Margaret Finch, “Queen of the Norwood Gypsies,” and author of The little gipsy girl, or Universal fortune-teller, with charms and ceremonies for knowing future events (London 1816), The original Norwood gipsy; or, The fortune-teller’s sure guide, containing easy and simple rules on fortune-telling by cards, and by lines on the hand (Derby 1840), and The New Norwood Gipsy; or Art of Fortune Telling (London, 1840). These three texts establish Finch’s reputation as the “most remarkable Fortune-teller of modern times,” and provide an infallible guide to predicting future events, securing husbands, and close reading of moles, palms, marks, and spots. Her ability to dominate a nineteenth-century literary marketplace for texts that “unlock the secret Cabinet of Fate” is perhaps even more impressive considering the fact that she died in roughly 1740 at the age of 103 (or 108 or 109 depending on the account) and appears to be writing from the grave.

~Danielle Skeehan, Assistant Professor of English

Denison University


Journal of John Denison Hartshorn, 1752-1756, Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School.

For the past ten days I’ve sat in the Center for the History of Medicine at the Countway Library and looked at some really interesting materials. Take, for example, the Journal of John Denison Hartshorn: it was written from 1752-1756, and most likely ended with his death at the age of twenty. At this age, Hartshorn had done many things that the average twenty-year-old wouldn’t dream of ever having to do – he was an apprentice to an apothecary/physician. All of his daily goings-on he kept in his journal – a document that is now over 250 years old and that I got to hold in my hands. While it may not have been the most useful to my research, Hartshorn’s journal has definitely been one of the most interesting pieces of writing I’ve come across.

~Maggie Gorski


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Letter from Lucy Gray to Joshua Gray, November 29, 1815; Letter from Joshua Gray to Lucy Gray, December 7, 1815. Gray family correspondence. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

My portion of the project discusses how separation due to transatlantic travel affected marriage and family life. My most important primary source is the Gray Family Collection at the Schlesinger Library, which includes the family’s correspondence from 1812 to 1848. Joshua and Lucy Gray exchanged letters while he worked on merchant ships and she stayed home in Maine to run the family farm. Their sons later worked with their father; the collection also includes their letters. One highlight of my research so far is a pair of letters from late 1815. Lucy had been parenting a toddler alone for fifteen months. When Joshua told her his homecoming would be delayed, she responded: “my life… has been more like a widows than any thing.” Joshua wrote back that he “long[ed] to be at home” with her as well. Using these letters and others, I will discuss ways the family members expressed longing to see each other.  

~Rachael Barrett



Letter from Eliphalet Flitch, Kingston, Jamaica, to Mr. Thomas Boylston II, Boston, October 8, 1771. Boylston Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Consensus holds that by the eighteenth century, Rhode Island merchants were the only colonial North Americans regularly engaged in the African slave trade, sending primarily rum to West Africa for slaves for sale to British plantations in the West Indies or South Carolina.  A letter from Eliphalet Fitch to Thomas Boylston II, an important Boston merchant engaged largely in the transportation of sugar, molasses and rum from Jamaica to England and the trade of sundries/textiles from England to Boston, suggests that at least one Boston merchant was trying his hand at the Africa slave trade as late as the 1770s. An unnamed ship owned by Boylston had apparently arrived in Kingston with 212 slaves at some point in 1771, prompting Mr. Fitch, Boylston’s agent in Jamaica, to propose the establishment a North American slave trading concern with merchants in Rhode Island. Scraps of evidence suggest that Boylston sent as many as nine slavers to Africa for slaves between 1771 and 1773, but provide no concrete information on the nature or outcome of those endeavors.

~Trey Proctor, Professor of History


Our First Week

group photo.2

On the trail of Boston history after our Italian dinner in the North End.

The Boston Summer Seminar has begun!  Our teams from Denison University, Oberlin College, and Albion College arrived in Boston last weekend.  After gathering for a breakfast orientation on Monday morning at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS), we’ve begun the pursuit of our research topics:  Atlantic world trade, spiritualism and mourning, and the lives of northern African Americans after the Civil War. What a varied and talented group of faculty members and students!


Sabina and Amreen from Oberlin College at the MHS

“Archives are there for anyone who has curiosity,” said Sarah Hutcheon, archivist at the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, this morning during a tour of the archive for a group of our students and faculty.  “Archives are there to serve this curiosity; they are places to explore and question; they are centers of intellectual discovery.”

This week has been about getting to know each other and getting to know the archives. Last night we gathered in the North End for dinner, then took walked through downtown Boston on a blustery evening to learn about key events and people in Boston’s history, provided by the tour company, Boston By Foot.  Reading the city is an extension of reading historical documents in the archives.  By next Monday, we’ll have had tours of all five of our BSS participating archives:  the MHS, Northeastern University Archives, and three archives at Harvard University:  Countway Library, Schlesinger Library, and Houghton Library.   We can’t wait to share with each other all of our discoveries in the days and weeks ahead.

Schlesinger library

Behind the scenes with Julia Child’s cookbooks at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University.



Elijah Bean from Albion College and Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, MHS liaison librarian, on the way to lunch.


Our Speakers Next Week

We are delighted to welcome Kimberly Hamlin and Steve Berry next week to the Boston Summer Seminar, both gifted scholars and writers.

Hamlin hi resAssociate Professor Kimberly Hamlin is a cultural historian who focuses on the intersections of gender and science in the U.S.  Her book, From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America (University of Chicago Press, 2014) is the first monograph to focus on women’s responses to evolutionary theory and to analyze the US reception of Darwin through the lens of gender.   Her article “The Case of a Bearded Woman’: Hypertrichosis and the Construction of Gender in the Age of Darwin” (2011) earned the 2014 Margaret Rossiter Prize for outstanding research on women and science from the History of Science Society and the 2012 Emerging Scholar Award from the Nineteenth Century Studies Society.  She is currently working on a book about the life and times of freethinking feminist and suffragist Helen Hamilton Gardener, who, as the highest ranking woman in federal government, donated her brain to science in 1925 to prove women’s intellectual equality.  She co-chairs the History of Science Society’s Women’s Caucus and is past chair of the American Studies Association’s Science and Technology Caucus, which she co-founded in 2006.  She is an associate professor of American Studies and History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she also Directs the Program in American Studies and co-chairs the Gender, Science, and Technology working group.

Steve BerryOriginally from Nashville, Tennessee,
Stephen Russell Berry attended Vanderbilt University where he double majored in History and Fine Arts. He also holds a Masters of Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He earned his doctoral degree in the Graduate Program in Religion of Duke University under the supervision of Grant Wacker and Peter H. Wood. A 2003-2004 Boston Marine Society Fellowship and 2004-2005 New England Research Consortium Fellowship introduced him to the rich research collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, including his first foray into ships’ logbooks. He is an Associate Professor of History at Simmons College in Boston where he teaches courses in Early American and Atlantic World history. His first book A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life and Atlantic Crossings to the New World examines the religious culture and experiences of passengers aboard eighteenth-century sailing ships was published by Yale University Press in 2015. He and his wife Dana live in Maynard, Massachusetts with their two teenage children Ann Rees and Stephen, Jr.  He loves sailing, although he knows just enough about boats to be a danger to himself and others.

~ Natalie Dykstra, Seminar Director

Welcome to our GLCA BSS2016 Researchers!

Spring Landscape, John Twachtman, 1890

We are excited to welcome our research teams to the second year of the GLCA Boston Summer Seminar.  We’ll be gathering for orientation at the Massachusetts Historical Society on Monday, June 6.  Food and coffee will be available at 9 a.m.

We have three research teams coming from three GLCA colleges:  Albion, Denison, and Oberlin.  We also welcome our archivists from five participating institutions, who will join us from time to time for our activities and conversations.   Our two seminar speakers are truly inspiring – we’ll be recording their talks and posting them on our website, so stayed tuned!

A few thoughts before our work commences.  One of the delights of research is a feeling of entering another world.  Your imagination brims with characters, overhead conversations, incidents, places, and colorful details.  Time at your desk seems to fly by.  Yet it’s also true that much of our work is solitary.  Doing primary source research takes patience and time – a lot of time.  And the payoffs are often delayed until later.  Sometimes a sense of connection to others can seem remote.  I remember my first summer doing research at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  I’d received a summer fellowship to examine the nineteenth-century photographs of Clover Adams, who became the subject of my first book.  I remember not knowing what to wear each morning.  I knew what to wear to class and to teach, but what to wear to the archive?  (As it turns out, archives are fairly casual.  We do encourage wearing layers for cool reading rooms, however.  And Anna Clutterbuck-Cook requests that no one dry socks on top of the microfilm machine, as one patron did after a rainy morning.)  I also remember the deep pleasure of doing my solitary work side-by-side with others doing their work, then meeting up for lunch or coffee to talk about what we’d discovered.  Come to think of it, I suppose the vivid feeling of relief in not being alone in my work is part of what inspired the Boston Summer Seminar.

And so, at this year’s Seminar we’ll be doing our work together.  I know I speak for everyone here at the MHS and our other archivists: we can’t wait to get started!

~Natalie Dykstra, BSS Director