Beacon Street Diary

May 15, 2014

The Portrait of Increase Mather

As concrete manifestations of Puritan culture, portraits express intangible ideas, shaping personal identities and reinforcing cultural hierarchies. Early American portraits reflect doctrinal changes paralleling the evolution of Puritan orthodoxy away from a strict Calvinist doctrine to a democratic theology in a time of changing religious and scientific ideas. More than any other, the portrait of Increase Mather demonstrates this connection.

Painted in England while he was crusading to reinstall the Massachusetts Charter, it is steeped in irony, rich in classical motifs, Scripture, and costume choices. Mather, whose likeness was reproduced more than any other image for his time, viewed the charter's revocation as a judgment from God on New England's failed mission. Johnson claims that his portrait demonstrates an eschatological urgency, which supports the religious leader's willingness to negotiate and his optimistic view of the Parousia. It reflects of the divisions in Puritan society regarding the revocation of the charter at the end of the seventeenth century as it yields information about the declension in Puritan orthodoxy, the Puritan contemplative life, and the transition to secular values.

Linda Johnson is an Independent Scholar who holds a Ph.D in American Studies from Michigan State University. Her dissertation Spiritual Autobiography in Puritan Portraiture encompassed the interdisciplinary fields of American Art, Religion, and Material Culture. She curated the upcoming exhibition Art and American Dance as well as co-curated the re-installation of the Colonial American Silver collection in the American galleries at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Her recent article "The Divine Sarah" in the Stained Glass Quarterly explores the relationship between the visual arts and religious cultural history. Interested in New England Puritanism and how Puritan doctrine may take visual form in the arts, Dr. Johnson has written several essays on the renowned Puritan ministers Increase Mather and John Lowell.

She may be contacted at


Wednesday, June 18th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Please register through SurveyMonkey.


original portrait of "The Rev. Increase Mather" (1688) by Joan van der Spriet owned by the University of Virginia, photograph via Wikimedia Commons

May 13, 2014

For every 100 or so simple reference requests I get, there will be one that is the beginning of several weeks or months of conversations with a scholar as they dig through our resources to find their story to tell. And of those few, it's unusual that this query sets off a flurry of activity among the staff. Even more infrequently than that do we hear about a researcher's finished product months or years later. This week, I recieved just such a rare treat when Theresa Strouth Gaul's book, Cherokee Sister: The Collected Writings of Catharine Brown, 1818-1823, arrived in my mailbox.

We've discussed the Catharine Brown papers in our blog a few times, largely because of Theresa's work motivated us to re-examine a small, but fascinating collection, and digitize its contents. Congratulations to Theresa. How gratifying to have a physical object to represent years of work. (Additionally, it's also not every day I get to see my own name in print in the acknowledgements. Double thanks for that.)

Our friends are encouraged to find out more about Catharine Brown. Take a look at our guide to the collection, borrow the book if you're a member (or become one so that you can), or buy a copy of your own to keep.


May 9, 2014

There is still plenty of time to register for Wednesday's free lunchtime lecture.

We are honored to host Professor Nat Sheidley to talk about the reinvention of the Council Chamber in Boston's Town House (now the Old State house) into an interactive learning space. Thanks to an unprecedented collaboration between the Bostonian Society and North Bennet Street School, guests who visit the Council Chamber can sit in the Governor's chair and thumb through reproduction documents at the Council table.

A respected scholar and community organizer, Nat is bringing new energy to historic Boston, spearheading a group of organizations along the  Freedom Trail, including Park Street Church, in another cooperative venture.

We hope to see you at what promises to be a very interesting hour!


Wednesday, May 14th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Please register through SurveyMonkey.


photograph of the restored Council Chamber courtesy of The Bostonian Society

May 5, 2014

Through the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons, I was given the opportunity to intern at the Congregational Library this semester. I was first attracted to this opportunity because I come from a religious background myself, was interested in learning more about the types of records kept here, and wanted to work with the patrons that utilize the resources. It was also a bonus that the library is gorgeous. I knew I would likely love going to work in such a space, but what I did not expect was how this space would greatly contribute to the atmosphere here. It is a calm space that invites analytical thinking and is a perfect place in which to do research.

While the room is beautiful, the core of the positive atmosphere at this library comes from the staff: they are friendly, eager to help, and passionate about the work they do and the records they keep. From my first day here, Steve Picazio has been patient teaching me the library's unique cataloging and organization system, and Robin Duckworth has been helpful setting me up to add records to the obituary database. These two tasks took up the majority of my days here. Cataloging the books opened my eyes to the variety of books kept in the library, such as the missionary efforts in Africa or poverty in the United States.

What I found most intriguing were the records of Congregational ministers and missionaries from the 1840s-1860s I read in order to add information to the obituary database. I am Mormon, and it was fascinating to read accounts of the missionaries' interactions with Mormons and their perspective on their respective churches at that time.

This same excitement came in assisting with reference questions. In one particular instance, I was able to search through church records to help identify the artist of a bust of a Congregational minister. This is one example of many interesting personal stories and church histories available within the books and the archives. While I enjoyed this cataloging, necrology, and reference work, I additionally enjoyed that the staff provided me opportunities to learn about their new and ongoing projects, assist with preservation work, as well as offering insights on how the library functions and things to keep in mind going forward in my library career. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time learning new skills and interacting with the librarians and archivists. It has opened my eyes to the resources and types of libraries that can be available that I may not have thought of before. I feel more prepared moving forward in my library career and will miss working with the wonderful staff.


May 2, 2014

This week we are dedicating all our blog posts to preservation issues in honor of Preservation Week.

Our workshop on Tuesday focused on caring for photographs; our posts will discuss aspects of care we did not have time to cover in person.

Cell phone photos

Today's Preservation Week blog post is all about preserving the digital photos you take with that camera that is always in your hand, pocket, or bag. Yes, I am talking about your cell phone.

According to a Pew Research Center study published in June of 2013, 91% of adults in the United States own a cell phone. Fifty-six percent of American adults own a smart phone, leaving 35% of American adults with a "dumb phone". But these days it's hard to find a cell phone – of any kind – that isn't also a camera phone.

In the ramp-up to Preservation Week I found myself asking, "How on earth does one do digital image preservation when almost 91% of us walk around with a camera in our pockets every single day?" Well, hopefully this blog post provides some answers.

The first thing to consider when it comes to your cell phone photos is where on your cell phone your gallery or album is stored. Can you find it? Can you get to it? If not, go back to your user guide, or take to Google to see if you can figure it out. You can't preserve what you can’t find.

The second thing to consider is where else those photos might be automatically sent. Some phone software automatically connects your phone's image gallery with a cloud storage service, a social media account, or automatically syncs to your work or home desktop. If this is the case, great! You've got an automatic backup of your images. If not, you might want to consider regularly moving the images you really truly care about to your computer every once in a while so as not to lose them if your phone dies or is stolen. (You might need special equipment to do this, like a specific data cable or a microSD card.) Either way, being aware of where else our pictures may be being sent is a good step towards data security.

The next thing to consider is which of your mobile photos you actually want to keep. In the library and archival world we call this "appraisal and weeding". Not every photo is a winner, and not every photo is important to keep in perpetuity. Maybe you have photos you sent to someone for a laugh, or to clarify that this was the item they really wanted you to pick up. Are these photos you really want to keep forever? You can be as picky or permissive as you want, but automatically keeping everything without thoughtfully considering your pictures' value is not recommended. Once you've decided what you don't want to keep (or, conversely, you've decided what you definitely do want to keep), delete the images you don't want and move the images you do want to a more secure device. And by "more secure", I mean a device that is less likely to be accidentally flushed down a toilet, left in a restaurant, or purloined from your pocket, bag, or locker.

Once you have copies of your cell phone photos on another device or storage service, you should add them to your digital file backup routines. As with all digital files, copies stored on other devices or storage media and in other physical locations keep files safe. You can learn more about personal digital archiving from the Library of Congress's website on personal digital archiving.


May 1, 2014

This week we will be dedicating all our blog posts to preservation issues in honor of Preservation Week.

Our workshop on Tuesday focused on caring for photographs; our posts will discuss aspects of care we did not have time to cover in person.


Framed art and photographs can be a tricky situation. If you are not sure when or how something was framed, here are some things to consider:
  • How important are the contents? Is this a unique item, one that's of great value (financial or sentimental)?
  • Do you see any obvious fading, sticking, discoloration?
  • Where is it being displayed? How much direct sunlight is it getting?
  • Do you see any discoloration or rust from the backing material/hardware?
  • Do you know who did the framing and what materials they used? Often there are mysteries inside! It's not uncommon to line the back of older works with very acidic, damaging material, like newspaper.


If some or all of these things seem to be true it's time to get rid of that frame-job and try again.

  • Consider making a display copy and storing the original in an archive-quality folder, away from high heat/humidity/sunlight.
  • You may need to take the item to a professional framer or conservator if the contents is sticking to the glass.
  • Replacing the original glass with material that's UV coated will reduce the risk of fading. Changing out works so that one piece isn't over-exposed for years will add to longevity.
  • Any new frame should use high quality hardware, archive quality mat board/backing, and coated glass. Those who live in high earthquake zones may wish to consider a glass alternative.


For an in-depth discussion about frames, Northeast Document Conservation Center publishes one on their website.



Portrait of Abbott Lawrence by G.P.A. Healy, before and after restoration in 2009 via Wikimedia Commons and released under a Creative Commons BY-SA license.

April 29, 2014

This week we are dedicating all our blog posts to preservation issues in honor of Preservation Week.

Our workshop today focuses on caring for photographs; our posts will discuss aspects of care we will not have time to cover in person.

Pre-film photographs

In today's Preservation Week blog post, I'll be discussing a few of the earliest and more irregular types of photographic image and how to best preserve them.

George and Anna Harker

One of the earliest photographic processes is the daguerreotype, named after inventor Louise Jacques Mande Daguerre. They were popular from about 1839 until 1854 when they were replaced by ambrotypes (see below). The daguerreotype process uses mercury fumes to develop an image on a silver-treated copper plate.

The ambrotype, named after inventor James Ambrose Cutting, replaced the daguerreotype in popularity in the 1850s. An ambrotype is a glass negative that utilizes a gelatin emulsion and a collodion (cellulose nitrate dissolved in ether) process to hold light-sensitive salts to the glass. The negative is then presented as a positive by placing the glass on a black background and housed in an air-tight case.

The tintype came into use around the same time as the ambrotype, but remained popular until around the 1930s. Like an ambrotype, tintypes use a wet-collodion process, but use metal coated in black varnish as the photographic base, rather than glass. Rather than producing a negative that is then rendered positive, tintypes create a direct-positive image.

When it comes to preserving any of these photo types that you may have in your collection, we recommend the following:

  • Do not remove the images from any cases they might be in. Though pretty, these cases are rarely purely decorative, and often times are actually working to preserve the image by protecting it from air, pollutants, and other environmental hazards.
  • If the original case is broken or degrading, place the cased image in a box to provide structural support the case can no longer provide.
  • If your images are not in a case and are instead the un-cased plates, place acid free paper between the plates to prevent rubbing, and make sure that the plates are stored in such a way that they cannot be jostled when the box is moved
  • Store your images in a sturdy, clean box, and store that box in a cool, dry, place and out of direct sunlight. Such places in your home might include a linen closet, under a bed, or in a cabinet.

You can learn more about early photographic processes by visiting the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division's chronological listing of popular photographic print processes.

Stay tuned throughout the week to learn more about how you can preserve some of the items in your own personal photograph collection!



Learn more about Rev. George Mifflin Harker in an earlier blog entry.

April 28, 2014

This week we will be dedicating all our blog posts to preservation issues in honor of Preservation Week.

Our workshop on Tuesday focuses on caring for photographs; our posts will discuss aspects of care we will not have time to cover in person.


Before the Internet, one way to share images was with slides. Originally, they were glass plates, called lantern slides. For almost 90 years, it was the medium of choice, particularly in classrooms. They also were used for entertainment before the advent of moving pictures. There are still stashes of glass plate slides out there. We certainly have several collections in our archive.

Glass, by its nature, is fragile, and the emulsion on the slides can be chipped or scratched. If you find yourself in possession of such a collection, here are some tips you may wish to consider:
  • Store them upright to avoid putting undue pressure on the bottom of the stack; make sure that the box they are kept in is strong enough and that the slides do not rub against each other.
  • Keep the slides dust-free and avoid touching the surface without nitrile or latex gloves.
  • Consider making copies of slides if they are going to be used, as regular use leads to flaking and chipping.

For more information, check out the National Archives' resource page.

For more information about the history of lantern slides, see the Library of Congress's history page.

It is more likely that you will have carousels and boxes of 35 mm slides. Donia Conn wrote up a very tidy list of recommendations for best practices for care and handling for film slides.

Like all images: they are of limited value if you cannot identify the contents. Take time to write down who or what the slides are and when they were taken.

Dust, light, and fluctuations in heat/humidity are your enemies in all cases! Take some time to minimize the exposure and consider quality boxes to help mitigate damage inflicted by the march of time.



Lantern slide of Guangzhou Harbor, China by William Henry Jackson courtesy of the Library of Congress (item wtc.4a03198) via Wikimedia Commons.

Slide carousel photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Bomas13, released under a Creative Commons BY_SA 3.0 license.

April 25, 2014

The Council Chamber in Boston's Town House (now the Old State House), where the Royal Governor of Massachusetts met with members of his Council, was once a nerve center for the British empire in North America. This historic room has recently been returned to its appearance during the 1760s, when the fate of the British empire turned on the decisions made within its walls. Thanks to an unprecedented collaboration between the Bostonian Society and North Bennet Street School, visitors can now sit in the Governor's chair and thumb through reproduction documents at the Council table. In this hands-on setting, visitors will uncover a new way of looking at colonial Boston. Rather than distancing themselves from Britain during the years before the American Revolution, Bostonians relished the benefits that flowed from empire's embrace. Historian Nathaniel Sheidley will discuss the challenges encountered and lessons during his work on this project.


Tuesday, May 14th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through SurveyMonkey.


photograph of the restored Council Chamber courtesy of The Bostonian Society

April 24, 2014

The staff here have been preparing for our activities for Preservation Week! Like a duck swimming on the pond, what you see is smooth and serene, but there's a paddling of activity below the surface. There will be more through our social media presence during the big week (April 27-May 3).

Our blog posts for that week will all be on the specific theme of caring for images, and as you may have noted from our website events page or from earlier blog posts, we will be hosting a workshop on Tuesday, April 29th from 10-11 am: Pass It On: Preserving Your Photographs.

At that event, come hear our archive department offer expert advice for the amateur enthusiast. The panel will present what makes photographs different from plain paper; examples of types of damage most frequently seen and how to easily mitigate; and digital concerns. Specifically: how to print, backing up, naming files, and deciding what pictures are worth keeping. All participants will end their day with practical advice and further resources.

We are also pleased to announce that the Gaylord supply company has donated materials for the workshop. Along with catalogs and informational booklets on preserving family papers, they sent us a few of their family archive kits! Each includes a document case, folders, a pair of cotton gloves, and labels. We will be raffling off the kits at the event.

Register today!


"Bauh (Photography and memory)" by Wikipedia Portugal user Rmm2 and released into the public domain by the author