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  

Final Celebration 6/18/15

Believe it or not, the Boston Summer Seminar has reached the end of our inaugural 2015 residency. Last night, participants and guests gathered at the Massachusetts Historical Society for final presentations. Our program is below and you can check out our live Twitter feed from the evening. More to come next week!

Massachusetts Historical Society. Photograph by Laura Wulf. Courtesy of the MHS.

Massachusetts Historical Society. Photograph by Laura Wulf. Courtesy of the MHS.

Meal catered by Clover Food Lab and Sarah’s Bakery.

Congratulations…Now What?
Anna Clutterbuck-Cook

Natalie Dykstra

Hope College Team
Julia Randel, Hannah Jacobsma, Genevieve Janvrin

Kenyon College Team
Patrick Bottiger, Claire Berman, Sam Gillespie


College of Wooster Team
Kabria Baumgartner, Jared Berg, Katie Walker


A special thanks to…

Our 2015 Host

Massachusetts Historical Society

2015 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

Daily Picks: Week Two

Welcome to week two of our 2015 Seminar! Hopefully you all had a restorative weekend and are ready to dive back into the archive.

June 8, 2015

Our research teams from Kenyon College and the College of Wooster have been hard at work in the Massachusetts Historical Society’s reading room.

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Patrick shared the following from an 1822 address by Nicholas Biddle:

Who is there even on this side of the Atlantic, who does not read with more pleasure the accounts of the agricultural meetings at Holkham, than of coronation at Westminster, or the assemblage of sovereigns at Troppau? Who did not feel more satisfaction at the exhibitions of Massachusetts or Maryland, than in the gaudiest displays of military power?

“May we all be as excited for agriculture as Nicholas Biddle was in 1822,” observes Patrick in his email.

Sam was hard at work Monday, watched from the corner by the portrait of Charles Sumner by Darius Cobb, 1877.

Katie has been working with a lot of personal diaries during her residency at both the MHS and the Schlesinger Library.

June 9, 2015

Can you believe we’re halfway through the three-week Seminar residency? Time flies when you’re lost in the archive!

McKim Building, Boston Public Library, 9 June 2015. Photograph by Genevieve Janvrin.

McKim Building, Boston Public Library, 9 June 2015. Photograph by Genevieve Janvrin.

While the BSS has five official partner institutions — the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Center for the History of Medicine (Countway Library), Houghton Library, Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections, and the Schlesinger Library — participants are welcome to branch out to other locations in the Boston area as their research demands. Julia Randel and Genevieve Janvrin (Hope College) spent some time at the Boston Public Library.

In the evening, we hosted the energetic writer John Stauffer (Harvard University) who spoke at length about the craft of historical storytelling.

Coming up, we still have Megan Marshall, Karilyn Crockett, and our final celebration showcasing the fine work being done by our 2015 teams. Stay tuned!

June 10, 2015

Our participants are hard at work in the archives, where Katie Walker has discovered the secret identity of the historian:

June 11, 2015

Today was a big day for BSS, as we had the Massachusetts Historical Society’s annual Strawberry Festival, a visit from the GLCA Director of Program Development, Greg Wegner, and an evening presentation by Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters (2005) and Margaret Fuller (2013).

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After Marshall’s talk, we gathered around some primary source materials that she used in piecing together the lives of the Peabody sisters.

June 12, 2015

Today, BSS students got a tour of the Houghton Library from Administrative Officer Dennis Marnon.

We were introduced to the history of Houghton Library, shown the Samuel Johnson collection, Emily Dickinson collection, and John Keats collection.  We also got a chance to look at their current exhibit on Alice in Wonderland before the formal tour began.

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Daily Picks: Week One

As our first Seminar residency gets underway here in Boston, welcome to the “daily picks” series! Each week, between June 3-19, we will be sharing a few daily snapshots of what our program participants are doing and finding here in the archives.

You can also follow along in real time at the #bss15 hashtag on Twitter.

June 3, 2015

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Following orientation on Monday, our teams got directly to work. Jared Berg (Wooster College) found a pamphlet arguing that “a man who likes to teach women is in real danger of infatuation.”

On Tuesday, across the river in Cambridge, the research team from Hope College got started at Houghton Library.  Later that evening, we hosted our first speaker, Laura Prieto (History, Simmons College), who shared her experiences working with visual sources in historical context.

June 4, 2015

It’s fun to see our program participants getting around Boston on public transit – they’ll be locals in no time!

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June 5, 2015

Only four days into the seminar, our participants have already reviewed an impressive range of archival material! At our Thursday evening gathering we got to hear from each of the researchers about what they have been working with and some of their preliminary observations.

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Katie Walker (College of Wooster) shared her experience working with the diaries of schoolteacher Elizabeth Dorr at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  Others spoke about deciphering 18th-century account books, making sense of undated photographs, pouring over 19th-century lithographic advertisements, considering the connections between utopianism and abolitionism, and documenting the relationship between national identity and food production.

The guest at our second evening seminar was history communicator Liz Covart, who shared her experience becoming a history pirate (seeking the treasure of historical stories) and the importance of communicating your discoveries with the wider world.

June 6, 2015

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On Friday morning, the group gathered at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, for a tour of the Center for the History of Medicine with Jack Eckert (Public Services Librarian) and Dominic Hall (Curator, Warren Anatomical Museum). The Center is one of our five 2015 partner institutions, and we were excited to introduce the participants to their rich medical history collections.

Eckert introduced us to the research collections at the Center related to the assassination of President Garfield and the subsequent trial of Charles Guiteau. Hall took us up to the exhibition area for a small fraction of the Warren Anatomical Museum’s collection where we discussed using museum collections for historical research.

You can explore material from the Center online at OnView. The history of science and medicine is a growing field, and we look forward to continuing to partner with the Center for the History of Medicine on future Seminars.