Category Archives: writer resources

Research Ramblings: Massachusetts’ Archives and History Museums Part 5

The last stop in my Massachusetts research tour was Springfield, MA. About half my WIP takes place in this town so I had to come to take a look and, of course, drop by the city archives.

Springfield History Library and Archives

Location: Basement of the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, 21 Edwards Street, Springfield, MA 01103

Resource Type: Archives

Website: https://springfieldmuseums.org/about/museum-of-springfield-history/springfield-history-library-archives/

Personal Goals:

Finding and making photograph copies of the following:

  • maps and photographs (interior and exterior) of 1860s-1870s Springfield
  • information regarding everyday working class life, holidays, and traditions during the 1860s-1870s
  • information regarding the 19th century inventor featured in my manuscript

Unexpected Find: Springfield Directory and Business Advertiser for 1867-1868 and 1868-1869 (FYI,  this publication is a forerunner of the 19th century version of the 20th century white and yellow page directories

What to expect

Unlike Boston, which has a dizzying number of historical repositories scattered about, Springfield has just a handful. With the notable exception of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield’s Museums are clustered around a quad on 21 Edwards Street, and the archives is located in the basement of the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History. You must pay a fee to access the archives (see their website for details), and if you are a Dr. Seuss fan, you may want to opt to buy the all-museums ticket and allot extra time to see the Seuss Museum. Parking in the museum lot is free, however.

The people of Springfield have been quite good at preserving their history. Their archives contains an impressive collection of documents, photos, maps, ephemera, and books, and this place seems to be a popular stop for Civil War era researchers. However, unlike the Boston museums, their collection is not searchable online. As such, you will need to submit requests to archivists Cliff McCarthy and Margaret Humberston. Basically, you give them the topic or era you are interested in, and they will retrieve the pertinent material for you. It is not necessary to email requests in advance (the day I visited, the archives received two drop-in researchers), but I’d recommend it to maximize your time there.

By the way, Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Humberston were fantastic. I’d exchanged emails with Mr. McCarthy prior to my visit, and they had a heap of materials ready when I arrived. It included a DVD documentary of the inventor I was researching, and Mr. McCarthy was kind enough to let me use his desktop computer to watch it.

As you might guess, the atmosphere at the Springfield Archives is much more relaxed than the MHS. There are no lockers, and my husband and I were free to look through materials together. As we worked, we chatted with Ms. Humberston, and based off our conversation, she came up for additional suggestions for me, which included this location’s unexpected find: their collection of Springfield Directory and Business Advertisers. For a writer of historical fiction, these books are a gold mine. They’ve got everything from the names of all the city officials to omnibus schedules.

All in all, it was a pleasant and productive day of research in Springfield. Many thanks to Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Humberston!

And that concludes the recap of my Massachusetts archives and museum tour. Hopefully you’ve found it informative!

 

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Research Ramblings: Massachusetts’ Archives and History Museums Part 4

When I planned this research trip, the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation was not on my radar at all. Fortunately, as described in my previous post, my Beacon Hill tour guide enlightened me to its existence, and it just so happened that Waltham, where the museum is located, sat between Boston and my next destination Springfield. So by making a brief detour off the Massachusetts Turnpike, my husband and I were able to visit this gem of a museum.

The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

Location: 154 Moody Street, Waltham, Massachusetts

Resource Type: Museum

Website: http://www.charlesrivermuseum.org

Personal Goals:

Taking pictures and learning more about:

  • The equipment in early cotton mills
  • 19th century machine shops
  • The lives of 19th century factory workers

Unexpected Find: Museum staff turning on the belt and line shaft system in their machine shop exhibit so we could see it in motion.

What to expect:

If you visit this museum, make certain to follow the directions on their website. The museum is housed in what was once the Francis Cabot Lowell Mill, the first industrial cotton mill in the United States. However, in addition to the museum, other groups are also located in the large complex, so if you don’t want to get lost, check the website!

While the mill complex is pretty big, the museum itself isn’t that large. Hours are limited to four days a week, and on the Thursday we visited, Executive Administrator Elana Winkler gave a five-minute history of the mill/introduction to the museum to every visitor who entered. However, the museum apparently hosts events in addition to maintaining its exhibits.

Perhaps the Charles River Museum isn’t as vast as the Smithsonian, but it was packed with objects and information pertinent to my project. The Charles River flows just outside the building, and the museum contains a large model that shows how the river once powered the cotton factory. As Ms. Winkler was quick to inform me, most people associate America’s early cotton factories with Lowell, Massachusetts, but the Francis Cabot Lowell Mill in Waltham was the prototype for those mills. In addition to replicas of an early power loom and a hand loom that was rendered obsolete by the Industrial Revolution, there was also a wealth of information about factory workers and the business corporations that arose alongside manufacturing.

Textile production isn’t all that is on display at this museum. It contains a number of other exhibits showcasing various facets of American industry. Aside from the cotton mill exhibit, I was most interested in the museum’s late 19th century machine shop. In addition to a number of machining tools, it contained a 1920’s paper bag machine, which unfortunately was out of order at the time we visited. But even though that was a disappointment, we got to see something else that was just as cool. The machining tools are powered by a belt and line shaft system, which is usually off. However, when the staff heard that I was doing research for a 19th century inventor, they turned the power system on so I could see it in action. Thank you, Charles River Museum!

By the way, if you’re interested in their exhibits but can’t make it to Waltham, visit their YouTube channel. They’ve got lots of interesting stuff there.

Next up: The Archives at The Springfield Museums

Research Ramblings: Massachusetts’ Archives and History Museums Part 3

My previous post described my visit to Historic New England’s archives. However, Historic New England does more than maintain documents. It also offers tours of historic buildings and holds a variety of events throughout New England. Our visit to Boston just happened to coincide with its walking tour of Beacon Hill so I naturally jumped at the chance.

Historic New England’s Otis House Museum and Beacon Hill Tour

Location: 141 Cambridge Street in Boston, Massachusetts.

Resource Type: Museum and guided tour

Website: http://www.historicnewengland.org

Personal Goals:

Taking pictures and learning more about:

  • furniture and architecture
  • Boston’s historic neighborhoods

Unexpected Find: Learning about the Charles River Museum of Industry.

What to expect:

The tour began at the Otis House, whose original owner Harrison Gray Otis was instrumental in developing Beacon Hill. The Beacon Hill neighborhood tour fee included a separate tour of the Otis House, so of course we took the opportunity to see the Otis House interior.

The Otis House like many other mansions of its time, began as a home for a wealthy family but,  as the neighborhood changed, was converted for other uses, including a medical clinic and boarding house. However, in 1916, the predecessor to Historic New England purchased the property. The basement currently houses the Historic New England library and archives, but the remainder of the home has been restored to its glory when the Otises occupied it.

By the way, restoration also means keeping the house’s character as close as possible to the original. That means no air conditioning. And in July, it was sweltering in there. Yet despite the heat, the guide for the house tour kept up a lively narrative about the house’s first occupants and readily answered our questions about the various objects and furnishings from the turn of the 19th century.

The Beacon Hill tour was also hot and, on top of that, a bit of a hike. Beacon Hill is an actual hill, albeit an artificially raised one, and we went up and all around it, going from the Otis House to the Massachusetts State House to the Athenaeum and Congregational House to Boston Commons. However, it was definitely worth it as our guide, who’d studied art and historical architecture, was a trove of information. In addition to showing us how building styles changed as the Beacon Hill neighborhood developed, he pointed out the houses where historical figures such as Louisa May Alcott and John F. Kennedy once lived. He also answered our questions about objects like boot scrapers and cobblestone roads and took us down a bunch of tiny alleys that most passersby don’t even notice.

Apparently, Beacon Hill has gone full circle from the ritzy neighborhood to the slums and back to pricey again with the added charm of being a historical neighborhood. I guess people will pay top dollar for old fashioned houses on brick streets with gas lamps (which burn 24/7) even if those houses only come with street parking. By the way, according to our guide, those iconic red brick houses with black shutters were originally red brick houses with green shutters. Apparently, when Queen Victoria died, people were moved to paint their shutters black as a form of collective mourning. And then it stuck. However, folks have determined to revert to the true original scheme so you’ll see some green shutters among the black at Beacon Hill.

As for this resource’s “unexpected find,” that popped up after the tour ended. As our guide led us back to the Otis House, he asked why we were visiting the area. I explained I was researching a certain historical figure for a novel, and he knew who I was talking about! As such, he recommended I go to the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation because it has exhibits that are very pertinent to this person’s life.

It all just goes to show how help can show up in unexpected ways.

Next up: The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

Research Ramblings: Massachusetts’ Archives and History Museums Part 2

As mentioned in my previous post, I spent my summer vacation gathering information about 19th century Massachusetts from various places, and this post highlights my visit to the archives at Historic New England.

Historic New England Library and Archives

Location: 141 Cambridge Street in Boston, Massachusetts.

Resource Type: Archives

Website: http://www.historicnewengland.org/explore/library-archives/

Personal Goals:

Finding and making photograph copies of the following:

  • maps and photographs (interior and exterior) of 1860s-1870s Boston
  • 19th century Boston patent lawyer pamphlet
  • Boston almanac and guide for 1868, 1869, and 1870 (FYI, these “almanacs” are the 19th century version of the 20th century yellow page directories or the modern day Yelp.)

Unexpected Find: Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston by Nancy Seasholes, which details the development of Boston’s various neighborhoods and includes numerous historical maps and drawings.

What to expect:

This archives is housed in a historic building known as the Otis House located at the foot of Beacon Hill. However, unlike the home of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS), the Otis House is a museum that offers tours to the public (more about this in my next post).

Historic New England, like the MHS, is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the region’s history, but its focus differs slightly. While the MHS concentrates more on documents, Historic New England’s collection contains a broader range of objects, including furniture, clothing, and a number of properties. They don’t have as many photographs and documents in their archives as MHS, but the thing that sets their archives apart is their collection of ephemera, expendable paper items such as tickets, menus, advertisements, and programs.

The archives is located in the Otis House basement and is staffed by Archives Manager Cristina Prochilo and Senior Curator Lorna Condon. No fee is required to visit the archives, but you must make an appointment by calling 617-994-5909 or emailing Archives@HistoricNewEngland.org. You must also submit a request of the materials you wish to view in advance of your visit. Their collection can be searched online at www.historicnewengland.org/explore/collections-access.

Like the MHS database, Historic New England’s online catalog took some effort to learn to navigate. However, unlike MHS’s ABIGAIL, much of the collection can be viewed online (which can possibly save you the effort of a visit). Also, there is no limit to the number of items you request.

Compared to MHS, the atmosphere at Historic New England’s archives is much more relaxed. You simply sign in at the entrance, and then go to the archives room, which also serves as office space for the archives staff. There are no lockers; we just hung our coats at the same coat rack used by the staff. All of my requested materials was waiting for me in a big stack, and my husband and I were allowed to work together to photograph the material. By the way, laptops and cameras are allowed, but there are no handy camera stands like National Archives does so be prepared to hold your smart phone or tablet

The staff is quite helpful and friendly. We were told during check in that a special event was taking place that day so they unfortunately would not be able to spend much time with us. However, we still ended up interacting a good twenty minutes with them over the course of our half-day visit. When I explained the purpose of my visit, they brought out additional maps and reference books they thought might be of interest, including the unexpected find noted above. So if you visit their archives on a non-event day, I imagine you’d get the royal treatment from these folks.

Next up: Otis House Museum and Beacon Hill Tour

Research Ramblings: Massachusetts’ Archives and History Museums Part 1

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

Location: 1154 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02215

Resource Type: Archives

Website: masshist.org

Personal Goals:

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.

#MSWL: Editor and Agent Manuscript Wish List!

For writers who are querying manuscripts, there’s a new, very handy resource available! Hastag #MSWL was launched on Twitter the end of last month.  It stands for Manuscript Wish List and many great agents have weighed in on the type of stories they are currently looking for. If you are on Twitter, you should check it out!

Even if you don’t have a Twitter account, you can still take advantage of it via this link on Tumblr:

http://agentandeditorwishlist.tumblr.com/

You still need to look up each agent’s submission guidelines elsewhere (querytracker.net and agentquery.com can be helpful in addition to the standard Google search), but there’s a lot of great info that might just help a writer find the perfect agent for her manuscript.

Happy querying!