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Archive for the ‘The Cambridge Room’ Category


Cambridge City Council Hearing at Rindge Tech auditorium on the death of Larry Largey, young people from the Roosevelt Towers area, October 1972, copyright Olive Pierce.

Thank you to Scout Cambridge for their recent article, From Rent Control to Riot Squads: The Photographs of Olive Pierce, profiling the amazing work of documentary photographer Olive Pierce as well as the work we do in the Cambridge Room.

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Corner of Thingvalla Ave. and Ericsson St. in Cambridge, Mass.  Photograph courtesy of Lexplorers (March 10, 2017).

Have you ever wondered if the tale about Leif Ericsson discovering Cambridge is true?  Did the Norsemen really sail up the Charles River?  Well, technically, the answer is no to both questions.  But, there’s a fascinating story about why we might think they did and why there are three streets in Cambridge named after the Norse:  Thingvalla Ave., Ericsson St., and Norumbega St.

Our friends at Lexplorers.com wrote a great article all about Eben Norton Horsford, the Harvard Professor of Application of Science to the Useful Arts and inventor of Rumford baking powder, and his theory that the Norse Vinland Sagas actually took place in Cambridge.  Head over to Lexplorers.com and brush up on some obscure and interesting Cambridge history.

 

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Handwritten postcard from Thomas Wentworth Higginson to Etta Russell, June 1, 1897, from the Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907.

The  Cambridge Room is pleased to announce that the Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907 are now available to research. A curated selection of the papers have been digitized and made available here.

Biography
Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a writer, minister, colonel, abolitionist, and activist. He was born on December 23, 1823 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Louisa Storrow Higginson and Stephen Higginson Jr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson graduated from Harvard College in 1841 and from Harvard Divinity School in 1847. He then served as a preacher, first in Newburyport, where he was deemed too radical, and later at the Free Church in Worcester, Massachusetts. During this time, Higginson became increasingly active in abolitionist activity. He wrote and preached against slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War and was active in the Boston Vigilance Committee and the Underground Railroad. After supporting abolitionist settlers in Kansas following the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he provided financial support to John Brown’s raid of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. During the Civil War, Higginson led the Higginson, Thomas Wentworth (Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907) Union’s first African-American regiment. He described his military service in the memoir Army Life in a Black Regiment.

After the Civil War, Higginson focused on writing, editing, and activism, living in Newport, Rhode Island, for about two decades before returning to Cambridge. As a writer, he published fiction, memoirs, and essays, working with publications such as the Atlantic Monthly and the Woman’s Journal. He wrote on issues such as women’s suffrage, temperance, and Reconstruction. Higginson was also an editor; he corresponded with Emily Dickinson and co-edited her poetry for publication after her death. Higginson served as a trustee of the Cambridge Public Library and was instrumental in establishing the collections of the Cambridge Room, the library’s archives and special collections. Higginson married Mary Channing in 1847. After her death in 1877, he married Mary Thacher in 1879. They had two daughters, Louisa, who died in infancy in 1880, and Margaret, born in 1881. Higginson died on May 9, 1911 in Cambridge and was buried in Cambridge Cemetery.

Collection Overview
This collection comprises letters written to and by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a manuscript of a portion of his book Cheerful Yesterdays, and pamphlets written by Higginson. The letters include discussion of Higginson’s time in England and work with the Cambridge Public Library. The manuscript contains the second chapter of Higginson’s memoir, Cheerful Yesterdays, “A Child of the College.” The pamphlets include speeches, sermons, reminiscences, and essays; topics covered include slavery and women’s suffrage.

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One of the strengths of the Cambridge Room’s holdings is that they gather together published and unpublished resources on or related to a particular topic – Cambridge history – in one place. Most of the published materials in the Cambridge Room are available in our reference collection, which is on open shelves in our reading room and can be browsed anytime the Cambridge Room is open. Volumes in our reference collection are also cataloged in the library catalog. Look for items with a location of CAMBRIDGE/Cambridge Room/Reference or do an advanced search for your topic and select CAMBRIDGE/Cambridge Room from the Collections drop-down menu.

Cambridge Room reference collection

The first aisle of the Cambridge Room reference collection, featuring our MA, GENEALOGY, and CAMBRIDGE groupings.

The Cambridge Room’s reference collection is organized into five main groupings: MA, GENEALOGY, CAMBRIDGE, CITY, and SERIALS. Within each grouping items are shelved alphabetically by author and/or title (and, in the case of serial publications, volume number or year).

MA is for items pertaining to Massachusetts history overall or to towns in Massachusetts other than Cambridge.

GENEALOGY is for items that have particular genealogical interest, such as individual family histories or registers of early settlers.

Items in the CAMBRIDGE grouping provide a wealth of information about Cambridge history and culture. Volumes by or about Cambridge authors such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Margaret Fuller are also included.

The CITY grouping contains items published by the City of Cambridge or pertaining to the city as a governmental entity, including annual and financial reports for the city overall and its constituent departments, voter lists, and one of our most used resources, the city directories.

SERIALS include publications issued on a recurring basis such as local school newspapers and yearbooks and special interest magazines like Growing Up in North Cambridge.

Items in our reference collection are available anytime the Cambridge Room is open. The materials must be used in the Cambridge Room and do not circulate. Some items are in the general library collection as well, or available from other libraries in the Minuteman network.

Though the books do not circulate, you have several options for getting reproductions of pages. The easiest is to bring your own digital camera (or camera phone) and take photos yourself. Another option, and one that is particularly good for the more fragile items in our collections, is to use our Zeta overhead scanner, which makes color scans in a variety of digital file formats. You place the item face up on the scanning bed, press a few buttons on the accompanying touch screen, and in seconds you have digital files suitable for reference purposes. You can email yourself the results or save them on a USB drive.

Cambridge Room zeta scanner

The Zeta scanner in action.

You may be surprised at how much you can learn about Cambridge history from the carefully selected and curated published reference resources here in the Cambridge Room. You may come with one question, or looking for one specific book, but there’s a good chance that the wonderful serendipity that can only come from browsing will lead you to many more.

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While many people enjoy using our digital collections from anywhere they are, as you would imagine, not everything we have in the Cambridge Room is available online. As with most archives and special collections, many of our materials are only available during the Cambridge Room’s regular hours while an archivist is on duty. There is an intermediate category of access, however, and that’s for the materials that we have on microfilm.

 


Cambridge Room microfilm


 

Microfilming is a photographic process that makes highly reduced copies of original documents. It has been used in libraries and archives for over 100 years as a method for saving shelf space, reducing handling of fragile materials, and increasing access for on and offsite researchers. Microfilm was for the standard for preservation for decades and is still a very durable format as long as the film is maintained in appropriate storage conditions. Because of the small size of the images and the sometimes inconsistent process by which they were made, it’s not always a thing of beauty, but microfilm does greatly enhance access to large, bulky, and fragile paper materials like our newspapers, in addition to being an eminently useful format for scanning purposes as the difficult work of preparing and photographing the original has already been done. In fact, most of the materials we have online were digitized from microfilm reels, rather than the originals.

The Main Library of the Cambridge Public Library has one microfilm reader/scanner, which now resides in the second floor reference area. The Cambridge Room microfilm is available anytime the Main Library is open, not just during the Cambridge Room’s hours. (Though if you want specialized historical reference assistance, we still encourage you to come when the archivist is on duty.) To use microfilm during hours when the Cambridge Room is not open, please show an ID to the staff member at the reference desk. He or she will retrieve the relevant reel for you and set you up at the microfilm reader/scanner. Library staff are always available to help, but if you want to learn more about how to use our machine, a ScanPro 3000, there are a number of YouTube videos that explain the process. For example, here’s a video on loading film (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbiFyBc-WCY), and another on navigating it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiksVh7rDsI) from the Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Microfilm reader/scanner at the Main Library

Microfilm reader/scanner station on the second floor of the Main Library

You have two options for getting output from the microfilm using this machine. We particularly encourage you to bring a USB flash drive and save your scans in PDF format as you go. You can also print a limited number of pages to the reference desk printer. Please see the staff person at the desk to retrieve your printouts.

We hope that you too will learn to appreciate microfilm and the ways it can aid and speed your research. And if you use the Cambridge Room’s microfilm when we’re not here, please drop us a line about your discoveries!

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Advertisement for Cambridge Electric Light Co. from the December 1947 issue of the Magazine of Cambridge

Advertisement for the Cambridge Electric Light Co.  from the Magazine of Cambridge, published by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, December 1947

Though it’s a bit early for the sentiment, as the Cambridge Room will be closed from December 24 through January 4, let us be among the first to bid you a happy 2015. It’s been a pleasure sharing Cambridge’s history with you over the past year and we look forward to hearing from you in the new one!

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It’s always very satisfying when people contact us to donate items that fill in gaps in our collections or enrich already rich materials. After our post about Salvatore Valente a few weeks ago, our friends at the City of Cambridge’s Veterans’ Services Department brought us two items previously in their offices that are especially appropriate for the Cambridge Room. One was a replacement Purple Heart for Salvatore Valente, which we’ve added to our small Valente collection. The other was a wooden plaque that clearly belongs with our wonderful World War I memorial plaques collection, recently digitized and available through Digital Commonwealth.

Plaque honoring William J. White, who died in 1918 during his service in World War I.
William J. White from Cambridge, died in World War I, 1918.

William J. White’s plaque will join its comrades online eventually, but for now you can read more about him in this account of his memorial service from the Cambridge Tribune, June 22, 1918.

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