Monday, August 31, 2020

On (Virtual) Display in the State Library

A new month means that it is time for a new item in our virtual display case! This September we’re sharing one of the many bird’s-eye view maps that is found within our Special Collections holdings. Featuring a view from Boston all the way to Provincetown, this map highlights the ins and outs of Massachusetts’ southern coastline and the islands that fill its harbor. 

The map, titled “Bird’s eye view of Boston Harbor along the South Shore to Provincetown,” was published in 1920 by the Union News Co. in Boston and printed and engraved by the Federal Engraving and Publishing Co., also in Boston.  Bird’s-eye view maps rose to prominence in the mid-1800s, and as their name suggests, they depict towns and landscapes as if seen from above. Though they do show roads, boundary lines, and in this case, shipping routes, bird’s-eye views differ from more technical wayfinding maps because they also include some artistic details and distinguishable features of a location’s built environment. If you look closely at this map, you’ll see miniature representations of lighthouses and boats, and in the bottom center of the map you can even see the golden dome of the State House. Bird’s-eye view maps are also an important resource because they provide a glimpse into what a location looked like at a specific time in history, since they often depict local industries and factories and the size of various towns as they spread into the surrounding open space.  

The key at the bottom of this map provides helpful assistance with locating landmarks found within it. Many of the locations are picturesque sites that can still be visited today, like Fort Warren on George’s Island (10) and Race Point Light in Provincetown (23). But the map also depicts locations that were prominent enough in 1920 to be included but are no longer in existence, like the grand Pemberton Hotel (13) which was located at the very end of Nantasket Beach in Hull. The hotel was demolished in the 1950s, but an image of it that dates to the same year as this map can be found in the Boston Public Library’s Leon Abdalian Collection and accessed through the Digital Commonwealth. One other interesting item to note is the New Custom House (B). The tower of the Custom House is an iconic part of Boston’s skyline, but the structure as we know it today was relatively new to viewers in 1920. The 496 foot tower was added to the existing building on State Street between 1913 and 1915. This map is dated, but if it were undated, then the inclusion of “new” in front of Custom House could have helped to give it a circa 1915 date. 

These are just a few of the many intricate details in this map. To give it a close examination, check it out on DSpace. And while you’re in DSpace, be sure to peruse our large collection of digitized bird’s-eye view maps. Maybe you’ll find one from your own town! 

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, August 24, 2020

September Author Talk: Pam Fessler


You won’t want to miss our next virtual author talk, featuring NPR correspondent Pam Fessler! Join us at 6pm on Thursday, September 10, to hear this acclaimed broadcast journalist speak about her new book, Carville’s Cure: Leprosy, Stigma, and the Fight for Justice. This event is free and open to everyone and will be presented in partnership with American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society and the Boston Public Library.

Carville’s Cure explores the largely forgotten history of leprosy in the United States–its impact on patients and their families, doctors, and, particularly, the swampy bayou town of Carville, Louisiana, where a “leprosarium” was established in 1894. Carville evolved into a nexus for research and "treatment" that came at a huge personal cost to liberty as patients were stripped of their names, their rights, and their dignity. 

Understood today to be one of the least infectious diseases in the world, leprosy, now called Hansen’s disease, instilled a coronavirus-level of fear and an outsized reaction from public health authorities well into the 20th century. Carville’s Cure chronicles in riveting detail how America treated, contained, and demonized its sufferers before wiser heads prevailed.

Author Pam Fessler is an award-winning correspondent with NPR News, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues. For this author talk, she will be joined by guest moderator Dr. Laura Kolbe, a physician and a fellow in the Division of Medical Ethics at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

This free virtual event will be hosted on Zoom by WGBH Forum Network. To register, please visit: 

Be sure to check out the other upcoming author events hosted by our partners:

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts

Monday, August 17, 2020

Online Tutorials and Guides from the State Library

While the State Library of Massachusetts may still be closed, the librarians are creating more and more online content to assist you in your legislative research!

Previously, we were able to assist you in person, providing more information on where to find different legislative documents, the different types of law and regulation in the commonwealth, and how to use our online and print materials to compile a legislative history. Now, we are hoping to provide the same assistance to you with our new tutorials series

The State Library’s Reference Department has been diligently creating video tutorials regarding different aspects of legislative research. So far, these videos include:

These videos will talk you through these different topics, while showing you where you can find these items online.

In addition to these videos, our website contains a wealth of information regarding legislative research and what we have in our collections, often with direct links to the documents you were looking for!

As we continue to serve our patrons virtually, please let us know if there are any video tutorials or guides that you would like to see!

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Team

Monday, August 10, 2020

August Author Talk: E. Dolores Johnson

  • Say I’m Dead: A Family Memoir of Race, Secrets, and Love by E. Dolores Johnson
  • Tuesday, August 25, 2020—6:00pm
  • Presented by the Boston Public Library, the Museum of African American History, American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the State Library of Massachusetts
  • Hosted on Zoom by WGBH Forum Network

You’re invited to join us for a virtual author talk at 6pm on Tuesday, August 25, with E. Dolores Johnson, author of Say I’m Dead: A Family Memoir of Race, Secrets, and Love. We’ve partnered with the Boston Public Library, the Museum of African American History, and American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society to bring you this virtual talk, which is free and open to all!

E. Dolores Johnson grew up in Buffalo, NY, the daughter of a white mother and an African American father. After earning degrees from Howard University and Harvard Business School and starting a career in business, she began a search to understand her family’s history – and found the white half of the story missing. Say I’m Dead unwinds her family’s story and shows the secrets, separation, and transformation they experienced living as mixed race in America. Johnson identifies her family history in the larger American racial story, bringing readers to the present day. Now her African American daughter can do what her white grandmother couldn’t: marry across the color line without fear. Don’t miss hearing about this remarkable book and family history.

In addition to this first book, E. Dolores Johnson has published essays on mixed race, racism, and identity, which have been featured in such publications as Narratively, Buffalo News, Writers of Color Anthology, and Hippocampus

This virtual event will be hosted on Zoom by WGBH Forum Network and will be moderated by L'Merchie Frazier, Director of Education and Interpretation at the Museum of African American History. To register, please visit: 

The Boston Public Library's community partners, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, is selling copies of Say I’m Dead, A Family Memoir of Race, Secrets and Love, signed by the author, via their online store. To purchase this book visit this link:

Be sure to check out the other upcoming author events hosted by our partners:

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The August issue of the Library's Newsletter is here!

You can also access a pdf version of the newsletter from the Library's website here: 

Monday, August 3, 2020

On (Virtual) Display in the State Library

This month our virtual display case features an account of expenses for Truro Lighthouse - a fitting item since August 7 is National Lighthouse Day! The expense sheet is part of the Alexander Parris Papers, and dates to May 23, 1840. 

Truro Lighthouse is more familiarly known as Highland Light, and is located in Truro, Cape Cod. It was originally built as a wooden structure in 1797, but was replaced with a brick structure in 1833. In 1840, the lighthouse received a new lighting apparatus. This expense report, which dates to the same year, documents the cost for castings of a lantern, chandelier, deck, staircase, furnace, and door - totaling $2,377.98. An addendum to the expense sheet also lists the cost of a variety of sizes of lamps and reflectors for the new lighting apparatus. In 1857, the lighthouse was demolished and replaced by the brick structure that remains in use today. However, the current lighthouse is not in the same location as the original. Due to beach erosion, Highland Light was moved 450 feet to the west in 1996.

This account of expenses for Truro Light is just one of many items in the Alexander Parris Papers that relates to the construction and maintenance of lighthouses. Parris (1780-1852) was a prominent architect and engineer in the early to mid-1800s and was responsible for many notable buildings, including Quincy Market in Boston and Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth. Later in his career, his focus shifted away from commercial and residential design and towards projects for the federal government. Among those was the design of a number of lighthouses located up and down the northeastern coastline as part of the nation’s Lighthouse Service. The collection of papers at the State Library dates from 1823 through 1851 and focuses primarily on the engineering work that Parris did for the United States Navy. It consists of correspondence, financial records, and professional and legal documents. A finding aid to the collection can be found here and digitized items from the collection can be viewed on DSpace. To see all of the items related to Parris’ work on lighthouses, select “search within the collection” and use “lighthouse” as your keyword term. And for a closer look at our featured document, click on the image above or this link
Highland Light in Truro, Cape Cod, 2019

In New England, every day is a good day to celebrate a lighthouse! But according to the American Lighthouse Foundation, August 7 was designated by Congress as National Lighthouse Day in 1989. This was done in honor of the 200th anniversary of the signing of an act for the establishment and support of lighthouses, beacons, buoys, and public piers. Learn more about National Lighthouse Day and read the text of the original act on the ALF website

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian