Beacon Street Diary

Archives: April 2018

April 30, 2018
By: Douglas Winiarski
 
Historians of religion in early America ought to be shouting “Huzzah!” for the Congregational Library & Archives these days. Since 2011, Jeff Cooper and a team of scholars at this important research archive on Boston’s Beacon Hill have been gathering at-risk Congregational church records from basements, bank vaults, and private homes. The goal of the Library’s New England’s Hidden Histories project is stunningly ambitious: to preserve, digitize, and transcribe tens of thousands of pages of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century church records.
 
I’ve been fortunate to serve on the steering committee for the program, which is led by Cooper and the Congregational Library’s executive director, Peggy Bendroth. Many of the key manuscript collections cited in Darkness Falls on the Land of Light are now available online through the NEHH portal, while many others are coming soon.
 
Highlights from the NEHH collection (so far) include:
 
More than 500 church admission relations from Haverhill, Middleborough, and Essex, Massachusetts—all in full, glorious color!
  • Church records from the “praying Indian” church at Natick;
  • Ministerial association record books from nearly every county in Connecticut;
  • Lists of men and women admitted to the First Church of Ipswich, Massachusetts, site of one of the largest religious revivals of eighteenth-century North America;
  • Minutes from the Grafton, Massachusetts, church record book, with transcription, detailing the troubled pastorate of the ardent revivalist clergyman Solomon Prentice and his separatist wife, Sarah;
  • Disciplinary records resulting from the bitter New Light church schisms in Newbury and Sturbridge, Massachusetts;
  • Miscellaneous church papers from Granville, Massachusetts, featuring letters by the celebrated African American preacher Lemuel Haynes;
  • And a wide range of sermons, theological notebooks, and personal papers by eighteenth-century Congregational clergymen, including luminaries Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, and Samuel Hopkins.
Cooper and Bendroth have forged partnerships with New England’s leading history institutions, including the American Antiquarian Society and Peabody Essex Museum. And they have digitized An Inventory of the Records of the Particular (Congregational) Churches of Massachusetts Gathered 1620–1805, the indispensable guide compiled by Bendroth’s predecessor, Harold Field Worthley.
 
For teachers eager to show their students what seventeenth- and eighteenth-century history is made of; for undergraduate and graduate students seeking primary texts for papers; for genealogists searching for baptismal records of long-lost ancestors; for scholars engaged in major book projects—NEHH is now the go-to hub for online research on the history of New England puritanism and the Congregational tradition.
 
As with all digital history initiatives, NEHH is a work in progress. They’re always looking for volunteers to support their crowd-sourced transcription projects. It’s a great opportunity to involve students in the production of new historical knowledge. For more information, contact Jeff Cooper or Helen Gelinas, director of transcription.
 
Thanks to a second $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bendroth, Cooper and their colleagues at the Congregational Library will be churning out high quality digital images and transcriptions of rare Congregational manuscript church records for years to come. Congratulations, CLA! Huzzah!
 
To read more about the NEH grant, check out this article from the Christian Science Monitor.

This blog was originally featured in Douglas Winiarski's blog The People Called New Lights

April 23, 2018

On Tuesday, April 17, James “Jim” Matarazzo, Dean and Professor Emeritus, Simmons College School of Library and Information Science, passed away in Boston. To those of us in the Library and Archives’ field, Jim was a legend. For almost 50 years, he guided students from the classroom to successful careers, always being available and never forgetting anyone and their life. His gentle and humble nature belied a brilliant and cagey navigator of the working world…and he always paved the way into that world for his students.

The mention of Jim’s name always elicits a smile to the many whose lives he touched. The image of Jim’s pleasant smiling visage with his beloved pipe will forever be etched in my heart. His ability to remain calm and understanding while subtly being relentless in your behalf were the building blocks of his success. He was the Will Rogers of the Library and Archives world…never meeting a person he didn’t like and he took that easy-going nature a step further and always connected good people with each other.

Here at the Congregational Library and Archives, we are forever indebted to Jim for his tireless work on our behalf to help move many projects and endeavors forward with wisdom and funding. Many a student has walked through our doors with confidence and abilities that Jim helped craft.

We are among the many who will miss Jim dearly, but his confidence in us (and everyone) is contagious. A day won’t pass without someone whispering thank you for a successful path he started.

April 9, 2018

The Congregational Library & Archives is happy to announce that our “New England’s Hidden Histories” project, which seeks to locate, digitize, transcribe, and place online New England’s earliest manuscript church records, has been selected to receive a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Grant supports projects that provide an essential underpinning for scholarship, education, and public programming in the humanities. Funding from this program strengthens efforts to extend the life of such materials and make their intellectual content widely accessible through the use of digital technology, which closely aligns with the mission and directive of “New England’s Hidden Histories.”

“New England’s Hidden Histories” will collect and publish an additional 18,000 pages of records from the nation’s founding era from the archives of churches in the American Northeast; 7,000 of these pages will be transcribed. The documents are of immeasurable value to anyone "exploring political culture, social history, linguistics, epidemiology and climatology...as well as to genealogists and members of the public interested in a range of subjects," The National Endowment for the Humanities said in its announcement.

Early New Englanders recorded the most intimate details of their lives and communities in their manuscript church records. Spirited church debates, disciplinary hearings, personal narratives, and vital statistics listing marriages, births, and deaths, can all be found in often lost or hidden church records. “New England’s Hidden Histories” looks to reveal the texture of early New England society, sharing the stories of ordinary people in extraordinary detail. The project has already produced tens of thousands of digital images of these documents in its ongoing effort to freely share this historical resource with scholars, teachers, genealogists, and all interested members of the public on the website of the Congregational Library & Archives.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.