The First Year – GLCA Boston Summer Seminar, June 2015

Many thanks to all our researchers, archivists, and speakers for a memorable three weeks! ~The BSS Team

Many thanks to all our researchers, archivists, and speakers for a memorable three weeks!
~The BSS Team

A week has gone by since our celebration evening at the conclusion of the first GLCA Boston Summer Seminar.  Our research teams from Hope College, College of Wooster, and Kenyon College are now our first group of alumni, class of 2015.  Starting later in July, we’ll be posting guest blogs from our alumni about their discoveries in the archives and their experiences in Boston.  Stay tuned!

Our teams arrived in cold and rainy weather, but got right to work, and the skies soon cleared.  The Hope team conducted research on 19th and 20th century ballet history in the Theater Collection at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, while the Kenyon and Wooster teams investigated antebellum food history and race and gender in the history of education at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS), our host for the seminar.  We gathered every Tuesday and Thursday evening around a large table at the MHS for a light supper and to hear a wide range of speakers:  biographers, historians, a social media expert, and the director of economic policy in the Boston Mayor’s office.  We talked to each other about what had been found in the archives, and with each successive day and conversation, the research projects got more complex, nuanced, surprising.  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 seem 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.

The happy faces in the photograph above give a sense of the feeling in the group – glad to have a chance to do this sort of work and glad to be doing this sort of work together in Boston.

Putting together a seminar like this requires the enthusiasm and diligence of many people.  Thank you to our host, the MHS, and to our seminar archivist, Anna Clutterbuck-Cook.   Thank you to our partnering archivists and institutions:  Giordana Mecagni 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 Kathryn Hammond Baker at the Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library of Harvard Medical School.  I want to extend a special thanks to my planning team – Anna Clutterbuck-Cook and Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook, our webmaster.  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.  Thanks most of all to our fabulous, hard-working, fun-loving research teams:  Julia Randel, Hannah Jacobsma, Genevieve Janvrin from Hope College; Kabria Baumgartner, Jared Berg, Katie Walker from the College of Wooster; and Patrick Bottiger, Sam Gillespie, and Claire Berman from Kenyon College.

Oh, and June 2016 will be here before we know it.

~Natalie Dykstra, BSS Director  

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Boston Tips: Weekends In and Around Boston

Boats and islands in the Boston Harbor (2007).

Boats and islands in the Boston Harbor (2007).

We know you all have ambitious research goals for your three weeks in Boston, but it’s important to remember that regular breaks from your work will make you a better researcher! That’s part of the reason the BSS team haven’t scheduled any seminar activities for the weekends you’ll be here in the city. Below are a few suggestions for places and events in Boston and beyond that offer a change of pace from the archives. Continue reading

Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

John Singer Sargent, Chiron and Achilles, 1922-1925, MFA Boston

For a city of 645,000 residents, Boston has a remarkably rich collection of cultural institutions, many of which you’ll want to visit.  I remember when I first started coming to Boston to do research, I’d go to one or two museums during my summer, but I’d go several times to get a strong feeling for the place. But that’s me – I like to sink into places.  To give some highlights, I’ve gathered a short list in no particular order.  Of course, it’s incomplete – there’s so much to see and do here, but here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), located on the Fenway, is not to be missed. Right now there’s a wonderful show open through August about the great Japanese master, Hokusai.  The MFA has the largest collection of Japanese art anywhere outside of Japan, collected by a small group of enterprising Bostonians besotted with that country’s art and culture just as it was opening to the West.  Check out the MFA also for its collection of ancient art (I love the room on Homeric art) and its dazzling collection of American art.
  2. Next door to the MFA is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, an Italian palazzo first opened in 1903 by its eponymous founder.  All the art you see was collected by Mrs. Gardner on her many travels around the world.  She also stipulated in her will that no part of the collection could be moved, so visitors now see the art in the arrangements she intended.  Spending time in the inner courtyard, lush and cool in the summers, is worth the price of admission, and the restaurant lunches at Café G are very tasty.
  3. The three main museums at Harvard University (the Sackler, Fogg, and Busch-Reisinger) are now called the Harvard Art Museums, newly reopened after a six-year redesign by the brilliant Italian architect, Renzo Piano.  The museums are right near Harvard Square and the Harvard T stop, in case you want a bit of museum-going to go with your lunch and shopping.
  4. The Boston Athenaeum, which is located at the top of the Common near the State House, is not so much a museum as a library with a fascinating history.  Opened in 1807, it is one of the oldest extant membership libraries in the country, but its first floor and galleries are open to the public.
  5. Right next door to the Athenaeum is the Boston-campus of the Museum of African American History, which provides a free walking tour of a large collection of historic sites relating to African American life in the city prior Emancipation.  Not to be missed.
  6. There’s more remarkable art to see in the Boston Public Library (open to all visitors), especially John Singer Sargent’s sumptuous murals on the third floor.
  7. On Copley Square facing the BPL is the masterwork of American architect, H.H. Richardson:  Trinity Church.  It was recently voted one of the top ten most important buildings in America.  Enough said.
  8. Finally, Boston has a rich political history, going back to the Revolution and through the Civil War.  In the 20th century, the Kennedy name was dominant, and there are now two fascinating Kennedy museums to explore:  the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum and the newly opened Edward M. Kennedy Institute next door on Columbia Point, near to the UMASS Boston campus.  You can’t go wrong going to both on a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a wind off the bay.  They also host fascinating speakers/special events, so check out their calendars for June.

Other places/things to do:  stroll through the Boston Public Garden and Boston Common, where Emerson and Thoreau could be seen walking; take a swim in Walden Pond near Concord, a short train trip away; go see the Boston Red Sox play in Fenway Park; and, of course, there’s much, much more.

~Natalie Dykstra

Boston Tips: Coffee

Now that we have all our teams in place, we felt it was important to start sharing some tips and tricks about Boston. One of the first — as far as I’m concerned anyway! — is where to get good coffee.

If you haven’t been to Boston before and you’re a coffee fan, then welcome home: this town is obsessed with the perfect bean. A lot of the shops on this map double as small cafes so you can get a quick breakfast, lunch, or late afternoon snack while you’re at it. Most Boston coffee shops feature free wi-fi — it’s always worth checking the shop’s website to make sure — and I haven’t found one yet that doesn’t make some sort of provision for seating. Given that June is generally pretty nice weather around here, you can almost always count on some sort of outside seating, too.

~Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook