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.

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