Massachusetts Historical Society

History, Baseball, and the Massachusetts Historical Society

2004 World Series Trophy Sometimes dreams come true.

If you have followed this blog for awhile, or connected with me on Twitter or Facebook, you know I am a diehard baseball fan. I root for the Boston Red Sox, a team I have followed since the 1986 season.

In 2011, my fondness for the sport, and the Sox, reached a new level of passion: After nearly 10 years of waiting, Tim and I became season ticket holders.

As season ticket holders, we earn points for each game we attend in person. We use those points to bid on experiences, like spending an inning inside the Green Monster (it was awesome!) or the opportunity to spend a day with one of the Red Sox's World Series trophies.

On October 24, 2015 between 10am and 1pm, Tim and I will be spending our day with the 2004 World Series trophy at the Massachusetts Historical Society. We would love for you to join us.

We hope that by bringing the trophy to the MHS, we will encourage friends, family, and strangers to visit this wonderful organization and to take some time to explore its fantastic history exhibits, which on October 24 will include a special pop-up display of early baseball items from the MHS's collections.

Please come and enjoy a wonderful day of history and baseball.

Also, please help spread the word about this event.

Red Sox Trophy


Getting Access: Massachusetts Historical Society Digital Resources

MHS-LogoDo you research or teach United States history? Would you like free, online access to manuscripts, photographs, and objects related to the American Revolution, War of 1812, American Civil War, and other important events through World War I?

In this post you will discover the treasure trove of information and materials included in 10 of the 41 different digital resources offered by the Massachusetts Historical Society.


Brief History of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Founded in 1791, the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) stands as the oldest historical society in the United States. It operates as an independent research library and makes its vast and impressive holdings available to anyone who cares to stop in or use its online collections.

Regardless of its name, you should think of the MHS as an archive of American history.

The MHS holds the papers of the Adams Family (including those of John, Abigail, and John Quincy Adams), Horace Mann, and other notable Bay Staters. But, its collections extend beyond Massachusetts.

Some of its holdings may surprise you, such as the fact that it has the largest collection of Thomas Jefferson’s private papers. They also have the papers of Francis Parkman, including his Oregon Trail notebooks.


The Digital Resources of the Massachusetts Historical Society

The commitment of the Massachusetts Historical Society to make its records accessible to all has prompted them to dedicate time and funds to creating valuable digital resources.

library-cloudAs of January 2015, the MHS has created 41 digital resources, which stretch in time from colonial North America through World War I.

The resources run the gamut from fully digitized manuscript collections to companion websites that contain highlights from exhibits hosted in the galleries of the MHS. Many of the resources include lesson plans, study questions, and materials for educators.

Below you will find brief summaries of 10 of the 41 digital resources. Each collection title serves as a link to that collection.

(Click here for listings for 39 of the resources and click here to explore the Civil War Manuscript and Photograph collections.)


Silence Dogood: Benjamin Franklin and The New England Courant

James Franklin published The New-England Courant, a newspaper independent of British imperial interests. Franklin published articles and essays that commented on society, current events, and government proceedings in a lively and satirical style. In 1722, James’ 13-year-old apprentice (and youngest brother) Benjamin contributed to the Courant’s commentary using the pseudonym “Silence Dogood.” Benjamin Franklin wrote fourteen "Silence Dogood" essays. This collection offers images and transcriptions of these early Franklin essays as well as full images of the newspapers in which they appeared.


Maps of the French and Indian War

This collection contains digitized maps that depict North America around the time of the French and Indian War (1754-1763). These charts illustrate how both French and British commanders used maps to determine their military strategy. Maps helped officers determine where to attack the enemy and what geographic features and areas they should attempt to hold or acquire.


African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts

A digital collection of 117 items held by the MHS. These items include manuscripts and early printed works that offer a window into the lives of African Americans from the 17th century through the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts (July 8, 1783).


Boston Massacre No FramePerspectives on the Boston Massacre

Read and examine materials that offer a range of perspectives about the Boston Massacre. Materials include diary entries, letters, pamphlets, newspaper accounts, printed depositions, orations, trial notes, seven images, and bullets recovered from the scene. This resources includes a comparison tool that allows you to closely view and compare any two of the seven images of the event.


Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr Jr.

Harbottle Dorr Jr. (1730-1794) lived in Boston. He owned a store, occasionally served as a town selectmen, and was a member of the Sons of Liberty. Dorr was also an avid reader and collector of newspapers. Between 1765 and 1777, Dorr collected 805 newspapers, which he arranged into four volumes. Of course, Dorr didn’t just read his newspapers, he annotated and indexed them. The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr Jr. digital resource offers high-quality images of Dorr’s newspaper and pamphlet collection and his indexes. It also has a search feature that will allow you to search for topics that Dorr indexed.


Siege of Boston

This collections offers more than 300 pages of manuscript materials about the Siege of Boston (1775-1776). This represents more than a dozen individual accounts of those who were either engaged in or effected by the Siege of Boston. These accounts represent the points of view of residents, soldiers, prisoners, and Loyalists.


War of 1812

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, the Massachusetts Historical Society has digitized a selection of broadsides, letters, and artifacts about the war.


William Lloyd GarrisonBoston Abolitionists, 1831-1865

This collection comprises a range of materials held and preserved by the MHS that relate to abolitionists and the abolition movement in Boston. It includes issues of The Liberator as well as the first anti-slavery tract printed in North America, Samuel Sewall’s The Selling of Joseph (Boston, 1700).


The Case for Ending Slavery

This resource uses more than 50 primary sources (letters, diaries, songs, legal notebooks, and photographs) to reveal the complex nature of ideas about slavery and freedom that existed between the 18th and 19th centuries. Materials include lesson plans, study questions, and resources for educators.


Margaret Hall’s World War I Photographs

Massachusetts-native Margaret Hall served in the Red Cross during World War I. Between 1918 and 1919 she served at a canteen near the railroad junction at Châlons, France. While serving at this post, Hall kept a diary and took 294 photographs of the war. She compiled her journal entries, letters, and photographs into a typescript narrative, “Letters and Photographs from Battle Country, 1918-1919.” This resource will allow you to browse all 294 of Margaret Hall's photos as well as 29 additional illustrative items that sheincluded in her typescript.



The Massachusetts Historical Society offers an impressive collection of digital resources that will assist anyone who studies or teaches North American and United States history. Presently, the MHS offers 41 online resources.

The organization’s strong commitment to making its collections accessible to all undoubtedly ensures that it will continue to add to its impressive offerings with each passing year.


lightbulbWhat Do You Think?

What is your favorite, free online database?


Google Glass for Historical Research: Photos

Google GlassGoogle Glass offers the ability to take photographs when you want without the need to pull out your camera or smartphone. Will this quick-and-easy feature help historians with their archival research?

On May 6, 2014, I tested the Google Glass camera in the archive of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

In this post you will learn about the Google Glass camera and how it performs during archival research.


Camera Specs

Google Glass comes equipped with a 5 megapixel camera.

In comparison, the latest iPhone model has an 8 megapixel camera and the Samsung Glaxay S4 has a 13 megapixel camera.

It also appears that the Google Glass camera has a smaller aperture (larger f-stop) than smartphones.

Although Google has not released the official spec of the aperture, one reviewer states that he has seen it open as far as f/2.48 with a focal length of 2.8mm.

In contrast, both the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5s have apertures of f/2.2. The Galaxy has a focal length of 4mm and the iPhone 4.12mm.



The aperture controls how much light passes through the camera.

A smaller f-stop, or wider aperture, will expose your photo to more light, at the expense of decreased depth of field; the photos you take with Google Glass should have a slightly greater depth of field and a sharper background than those you take with either the iPhone or Galaxy.

Additionally, Google Glass has a wider angle of view, which means Glass will capture more of a scene than either of the smartphones.


Photographing Manuscripts with Glass

Photo ComparisonQuality

Google Glass takes readable photographs of black-ink and black-typed manuscripts.

As you can see, the quality of the photograph I took with Glass is comparable with the one I took with my iPhone 5s.


Ease of Use

Taking photos with Google Glass is quick and easy.

You have 2 options to capture what you see.

First, you can tap the camera button on the top of Glass. A single tap allows you to take 1 photo.

Second, you can issue a voice command. Google Glass functions mostly by voice command. If you want to take a photo say: “Okay Glass, take a picture.”

I took all of the my photos at the MHS with the camera button.

I find the button to be quicker and easier to use than voice command. However, voice command presents a nice option if you need to take a picture and handle an object at the same time.


No Zoom

The Google Glass camera does not have a zoom.

You will need to use the magnification tool in Google+ or in your photo-viewing program to achieve a close up view.


Shadow Shot Sprengel Grundris der Staatenkunde der vornehmsten DA27 GG2Lighting

You must be aware of your lighting when you take photos with Google Glass.

If possible, stand with the lights behind you. Your manuscript photo will contain the shadow of your head if you stand directly under a light.



Framing your photograph can be difficult.

Google Glass does not provide a grid that you can use to frame your photo. Nor does the Google Glass screen provide you with a good view of what its camera will capture.

The small screen size also limits your ability to judge from the post-capture image whether Glass captured the text you wanted.

The inability to properly judge whether or not Glass captured the text I needed led me to take pictures in awkward positions.

To ensure Glass captured the text I wanted, I bent over so my nose and Glass were within 12-18 inches of each manuscript-- a rather uncomfortable position to stand in.

It turns out that I did not need to stand hunched over the documents. When I got home, I found that the magnification tool in the Google+ photo viewer made it possible to read the text of the seemingly distant manuscripts in my photos.


Google+Automatic Picture Uploads

Google Glass automatically uploads your photos to your Google+ account.

Note: Google+ will keep your photos private unless you authorize Google to make them “public” or to share them with select individuals.



The Google Glass camera will take good photos of handwritten and typed manuscripts. These photos will be good enough to read although you may need to use your photo viewer’s magnification tool.

I am confident that with practice you will grow accustomed to how to frame manuscript photographs with Glass. This knowledge will help you know where to stand, whether you need to bend over the manuscript, and if so, how much of a bend you will need, and whether you have captured the information you need in your photo.

With that said, I will not be using Google Glass as my primary camera for archival research any time soon.

Research trips cost a lot of money, which means I want to maximize my archival time. Right now, it would be more efficient for me to use my smartphone or pocket digital camera because I can zoom in on the information I need and know whether I captured it from a quick look at the preview screen.

Note: As I wrote this post it occurred to me that you can stream what you see in Glass to your smartphone within the My Glass app. I wonder if we can use this stream as a viewfinder to better frame our photos. I will test this in the future.



What would you like to know about how historians can use Google Glass for research or as a history presentation tool?



I am grateful to the librarians and staff at the Massachusetts Historical Society for allowing me to test Google Glass with their books and manuscripts. They were helpful and gracious hosts. They also granted me permission to include the images I took with Glass in this post.

Images are of Matthias Christian SprengelGrundris der Staatenkunde der vornehmsten europäischen Reiche, (Halle: Hemmerde und Schwetschte, 1793), (DA27).