2018 has been busy. Not only are we busy with our normal workload, we’ve joined the ranks of people managing the affairs of elderly parents. However, we did take a break from sorting my mother-in-law’s tangled financials so that we could enjoy a summer vacation. My husband expressed no preference for a destination so I used the opportunity to turn our vacation into a research tour for the setting of my current work in progress: 19th century Massachusetts!
I’m a West Coast native so I don’t know much about the East Coast. However, New Englanders are big into preserving history, which means plenty of resources for interested researchers. This short series of posts will describe my experiences at the places I visited, starting with the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS).
Massachusetts Historical Society
Resource Type: Archives
Finding and making photograph copies of the following:
- maps and photographs (interior and exterior) of 1860s-1870s Boston
- information regarding 19th century industry, machines, mechanics, and patents
- references related to middle- and working-class social customs in 19th century Boston
Unexpected Find: pamphlet of the Mechanic Apprentices’ Library Association from February 22, 1870
What to expect:
The MHS is housed in a historic building and has a number of impressive antiques on display, but it is definitely an archives, not a museum. Their check-in process is not as intense as the National Archives, but you do need to register, stow your belongings in a locker, and adhere to their rules.
The archives is accessible to the public and does not charge a fee, but researchers must open an account on MHS’s (free) online request system Portal1791 to access materials. Researchers must first search for materials through MHS’s online catalog ABIGAIL, and then place requests (for up to 25 items at a time) through Portal1791. It took me a while to figure out how to navigate and narrow my searches on the ABIGAIL database. If you only have a limited time to visit MHS, definitely do your catalog search and place requests well in advance of your visit.
Materials are viewed in MHS’s research room. Wifi is available, but the signal varies in strength throughout the building. Laptops and cameras are allowed, but MHS doesn’t have handy camera stands like National Archives does so be prepared to hold your smart phone or tablet over all the documents you want to photograph. The research room is monitored by archives staff who check in and check out materials (researchers are only allowed to handle one thing at a time) and who make sure everyone is following the rules.
And they DO watch. At one point, I took off my jacket because the room got too warm, and the research room staff told me to put in my locker (hanging an extra garment on the back of your chair is a no-no.)
Because of its vast collection, the MHS is a bastion for academic research. As such, it exudes a professional atmosphere. So if you go here, don’t expect a lot of personalized service or casual chitchat with the research room overseers.
Next up: the archives at Historic New England.