The Sanctity of Archives

By Steve Bromage, MHS Executive Director

You may have heard about a controversy that has emerged this week surrounding the National Archives and Records Administration: NARA, which refers to itself as the “country’s record keeper,” has been taken to task for altering historic images used to promote its exhibit celebrating the centennial of the women’s suffrage movement. Images of the 2017 Women’s March were blurred to obscure references to “Trump” and female anatomy, drawing criticism from historians, the museum field, and many others (including those who participated in the March).

You can read about the controversy in this New York Times article.

History is messy and complex (and wonderful and an incredibly important resource). This controversy strikes a chord: it raises questions about how institutions like Maine Historical Society go about our work at a time when the concepts of “facts, ” “knowledge,” and “truth” are under siege.

At MHS, our mission is to preserve and share Maine’s story. Central to our work is caring for and providing access to documents and other historical items that serve as the foundation of the historical record. We strive to provide broad access to our collections and work closely with partners throughout the state to develop exhibits, public programs, publications, and online resources that provide context for issues that Mainers are focused on today.

A core tenet articulated in our strategic plan states that MHS is “committed to rigorous scholarship, freedom of inquiry, confronting all aspects of the historical record, and advocates the use of history to support planning for the future.” We take this very seriously.

This means that we are meticulous in how we approach, think about, and present the historical record: we do not alter images, manipulate them for effect, sanitize them, or attempt to put aspects of Maine’s story in a more favorable light.

Our staff engages in constant discussion internally and with partners throughout Maine to identify topics of interest and relevance to the community, to include diverse perspectives, and to present multiple viewpoints.

There are inherent biases in all history—based on what records survive, what materials have been valued and collected, the era in which the history is written, and the background and perspective of the historian and institution. We work hard to identify, acknowledge, and address those biases.

I could cite many examples of MHS’s work in recent years that reflect these commitments: exhibitions on immigration in Maine, the paper industry, and Maine’s food culture and economy.

Our current exhibition, Holding Up the Sky, offers a case in point. As the State of Maine commemorates its Bicentennial this year, we felt that it was essential to first place 200 years of Statehood into the context of 13,000 years of Maine history. The exhibition explores the experience and leadership of the Wabanaki, Maine’s first people, who have lived here and been stewards of the place we now know as Maine for thousands of years.

Holding Up The Sky logo 1 NEW

The exhibit revisits historic documents, like treaties, from the Wabanaki perspective and acknowledges that early Maine leaders, like the Longfellow family (near and dear to MHS), acted in deeply disturbing ways (e.g. by offering scalping bounties). The story is complex, tragic, moving, inspiring, and many other things. It is a story that people who care about Maine need to know, good and bad. Information, awareness, and open dialog is the foundation for moving forward together on this and every other topic of contemporary interest and concern.

I hope you’ll have the chance to visit Holding Up the Sky before it closes on February 1.

Exhibitions are one important way for the public to encounter and explore history. Each story, fact, object, label, panel, and graphic plays a role in establishing knowledge, understanding, and trust. It is essential that each is presented with honesty, accuracy, and transparency.

We are fortunate: Maine has an incredible historical community. Scholars, professors, graduate students, and local historians are dedicated to these principles, as are museums, archives, local historical societies, libraries, and many other organizations throughout the state.

These individuals and institutions are an invaluable resource and source of information. You can be confident in their vigilance and commitment to providing information that supports civic dialog.

We deeply appreciate the support of MHS members and donors who make this work possible.

2014: It’s All History Now

Thanks from MHSHappy New Year! Can we just take a minute and say Thanks?! 2014 was an incredible year for MHS, much due to all the wonderful people who visited us for public programs, listened to our podcasts, became members, researched in our library, contributed to our collections, and engaged with us in person (throughout the state) and online.

We love creating programs and exhibitions for our diverse audiences (in Maine and around the world) and hope that if you haven’t had a chance to join the MHS community, 2015 will be your year to do it. Drop us a line if there’s something of particular interest that you’d like to see us doing in the new year–we welcome your feedback!

We’ve created 7 ways to look back on all that you’ve helped us accomplish in 2014–check out these posts compiled by our staff:

Part 1: Digital Engagement & Maine Memory Network

Part 2: Education 

Part 3: Brown Research Library & Collections

Part 4: Wadsworth-Longfellow House & Garden

Part 5: Institutional Advancement

Part 6: Gallery & Exhibitions

Part 7: Public Programs

We can’t wait to make history with you in 2015!

Public Programs

2014: It’s All History Now (Part 7 of 7)

We kicked off 2014 with a number of programs relating to themes of the Civil War and food–both were presented in our exhibitions, but our year was peppered with lectures, presentations, First Friday Art Walks, tastings, sailing trips, baseball games, book launches, haunted houses, summer camp, and so much more…too much, in fact, to fit into this blog recap. Still, we’d like to reflect upon some of our public program highlights from 2014.

Foodie Fever

Kate McCarty
Kate McCarty

Food-related programs drew big crowds this year, thanks in part to Portland’s burgeoning status as a “foodie city” and our rich historical collections related to Maine food and restaurants. In conjunction with an exhibition on menus from our collections in February and March, Gary Libby gave a presentation on this history of Portland’s Chinese restaurants, and food historian and author Sandy Oliver came to talk about Maine restaurant fare. In July, Kate McCarty gave a talk based on her book, Portland Food: The Culinary Capital of Maine. Visit our podcast page to find links to these talks.

From Lost on a Mountain in Maine: Donn Fendler Comes to MHS

Donn Fendler, Lost on a Mountain in Maine

On August 16, Donn Fendler visited MHS and spoke to a packed house about his experience in 1939, being 12 years old and lost on Mount Katahdin for nine days. His story was turned into the classic book Lost on a Mountain in Maine, and many guests brought their copies for Donn to sign.

He was joined by filmmaker Ryan Cook who shared film clips from his documentary as well as a “first look” for the feature film he plans to make that will share Donn’s story with the world. This 75th anniversary event was co-sponsored by the Pine Tree Council’s Boy Scouts of America.

Watch this compilation of video clips and photos from this event.

July 4th Public Reading & Display of the Declaration of Independence

905833_10153168891699237_4591934293535682606_o HerbAdamsJuly4

More than 125 people listened to and reflected upon the words of our country’s founders during our annual reading of the Declaration of Independence by former State Rep. Herb Adams on the front lawn of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. Many visitors had the chance to view our rare Dunlap broadside of the Declaration, which we displayed in our gallery that week. Photos from the event are on our Facebook page, and you can watch video clips from local TV stations WCSH and WMTW.

Celebrate the Season with MHS

Scrooge SelfiesThis holiday season, we invited visitors to explore the friendship between the man who is said to have “invented America” and the man who is said to have “invented Christmas”–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Charles Dickens. Guests toured the Wadsworth-Longfellow House and learned about both men, Dickens’s visit to Portland, Christmas traditions of the Longfellow family, and the enduring effects of A Christmas Carol.

An Evening with Longfellow & DickensFrom Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, our festively decorated campus was abuzz with holiday programs including the MHS Members holiday party, special tours of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House (where Scrooge selfies were taken), music in the house by pianist David Maxwell, blacksmith demonstrations by Sam Smith, a holiday shopper’s bazaar, and special programming during the December Art Walk and Portland Tree Lighting. To top it all off, we had a very special performance, An Evening with Longfellow and Dickens, by Portland Stage actors Daniel Noel and Andrew Harris who played the parts of the two men and brought their friendship to life in this sold-out event.

Other Notable Programs:

baseballThis summer we hosted our third annual Vintage Baseball Game which featured the Dirigo Base Ball Club, the Essex Base Ball Organization, and the Presumpscot Base Ball Club. The teams played at the SMCC Athletic Fields in South Portland, and kids participated in a baseball clinic run by visiting players. This free event was co-sponsored by Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society, Scarborough Historical Society, and South Portland Historical Society.

394In 2013 we started a new Student Spotlight lecture series which was made increasingly popular this year. Talks showcase new research from undergraduates and graduates at Maine colleges and universities. This year, we heard about 19th century cookbooks and domestic manuals, and the 1970s environmental clean-up of the Androscoggin River. Stay tuned for Student Spotlight talks in 2015!

michaudCivil War programming related to the ongoing sesquicentennial was hugely popular in 2014. In March, we held an informative and powerful panel presentation, Veterans Issues: From the Civil War to Today, moderated by former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. Other panelists included Amy Marcotte, Sanford Vet Center Team Leader; Ryan Lilly, Director, VA Maine Healthcare System; and Donald Beattie, Togus historian (pictured together here). In May, Chandra Manning, Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University, presented her talk African Americans & the U.S. Government During and After the Civil War to a receptive and engaged crowd. Our annual Olmsted Lecture was also dedicated to the Civil War with the presentation, Sanitary Concerns: Portlander Harriet Eaton, State Relief Work, and the Fight over Federal Benevolence during the Civil War, by Jane Schultz, Professor of English and the Medical Humanities, and Director of Literature, at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis. (You can hear the latter two talks as podcasts).

LincolnIn November, as part of the opening reception for the traveling exhibition Lincoln: The Constitution and The Civil War, historian Jared Peatman attracted a packed-house with his talk Free and Responsible Government: The Long Shadow of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Two additional programs relating to this exhibition topic were Maine in the Civil War with speaker and MHS Trustee Lee Webb, and Portland’s Irish in the Civil War with speaker Matthew Jude Barker.

Historical Atlas of MaineIn early December, we hosted a book launch of the highly-anticipated publication Historical Atlas of Maine (currently sold-out but check back later this winter), co-hosted with the University of Maine. Dick Judd joined us for his presentation Reflections on Editing the Historical Atlas of Maine: A Scholarly Epic with speaker Dick Judd. After 15 years of extensive research, the Historical Atlas of Maine presents in cartographic form–maps, paintings, graphs, and text–the historical geography of Maine from the end of the last ice age to the year 2000. Organized in four chronological sections, the Atlas tells the principal stories of the many people who have lived in Maine over the past 13,000 years.

Can’t Make it to MHS? Listen to our Podcasts!

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 4.06.40 PMWe are pleased to announce that many MHS lectures and book talks dating back to early 2012 are now available as podcasts on our website and on iTunes! For those of you who can’t attend our programs in person can still access the diverse content. Just click on the arrow on the horizontal bar beneath the program description (when navigating from our website).

Read More about MHS in 2014:

Gallery & Exhibitions

2014: It’s All History Now (Part 6 of 7)

exhibit_rebellionWe entered 2014 with two incredible exhibitions already on display at MHS. Our main gallery featured This Rebellion: Maine and the Civil War (June 28, 2013 – May 26, 2014), which was a stop on the new 22-site Maine Civil War Trail. We developed many public programs and online resources dedicated to the Civil War, and if you missed seeing the exhibition in person, you can still view the online version on the Maine Memory Network.

On display in the Shettleworth Lecture Hall was the charming show Dear Old Maine, I’m Coming Back: Home & Hearth Reflected in the Maine Historical Society Sheet Music Collection (November 1, 2013 – February 22, 2014).

Maine Historical Society participates in Portland’s First Friday Art Walk, and visitors in 2014 were able to engage in our exhibitions at no charge on those select evenings. Stay tuned for 2015 Art Walk events at MHS!

As the year unfolded, we presented our collections in new and interesting ways in the following exhibitions, throughout our campus and offsite, too:

Gallery

home

On June 26, our current exhibition HOME: The Longfellow House and the Emergence of Portland opened to a crowd of MHS members and friends, all eager to see the much-anticipated new show that explores the evolution of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House and our beloved city. View images from the opening reception in this blog post, and read an MHS staffer’s review in the post Potty Talk: Fragile Objects Found in a Privy. If you aren’t planning a trip to Maine before this exhibition closes, you can still interact with its online component (but trust us, the in-person experience is worth it!).

IMG_1372When Peleg Wadsworth built the Longfellow House in 1785, it was on the rural outskirts of Portland. By the early 1800s, the House was at the center of a bustling, modern New England city. Since then, Portland has boomed, burned, boomed again, busted, and reemerged as a vibrant, forward-looking city.

Through it all, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House has been a constant witness to the life of an emerging community. The stories of the Wadsworth and Longfellow families and an ever-changing cast of neighbors on their block—families, hotels, businesses, tenements, etc.—help explain how Portland has become the beloved, livable city we know today.

IMG_1487We collaborated with the public for one particular display “Your Home: Past & Present” in which folks took photos of their homes as they appear today, and submitted them to us along with historical images of their homes (many found on Maine Memory Network). Learn more about how you can participate in this project, and view some of the submissions in our Facebook album or website.

Throughout 2015, HOME and our related public programs will provide context and a rich forum for discussing issues in the contemporary life of the Portland.

Showcase Gallery

In conjunction with HOME, we displayed the show Remembering Our Visit: Souvenir China and Mementos of the Longfellow House (June 26 – present), in the Showcase Gallery, which features objects relating to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his boyhood home that demonstrates the poet’s wide public appeal. Collecting souvenirs became popular in the late 1800s with the expansion of the railways and the rise of leisure time in the United States. Local dry goods, crockery, and glassware retailers commissioned pieces and made them available for those who wanted a keepsake of their visit to Portland and the Wadsworth-Longfellow House.

Shettleworth Lecture Hall

Menu cover, Pekin restaurant, Bangor
Menu cover, Pekin restaurant, Bangor

Throughout 2014, we presented five exhibitions, contributed by MHS staff from different departments, in this space–the first being the aforementioned Dear Old Maine I’m Coming Back.

From Chop Suey to Washington Pie: Maine Menus (February 24 – April 3), was curated by our Archivist & Cataloger Nancy Noble, and highlighted the eclectic menu collections at the Brown Library. This compilation of vintage menus was inspired by a blog post written by Noble, that was picked up by the Portland Press Herald, and provided a tasty backdrop for many food-related programs that we hosted during Maine Restaurant Week.

From Slavery to MaineFrom Slavery to Maine (April 4 – May 26) was curated by Candace Kanes, Historian and Maine Memory Network Curator. A number of former slaves, probably several hundred, settled in Maine during and after the Civil War. Some came through the auspices of Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, a native of Leeds and head of the Freedman’s Bureau; some with individual soldiers, and others on their own. Letters, photographs, and newspaper articles tell the story of a few of the former slaves who came to Maine in the 1860s.

A Snapshot of Portland, 1924A Snapshot of Portland, 1924: The Taxman Cometh (June 27 – September 28) celebrates the informal photographs taken by the tax assessors of every taxable building and home in Portland (including the Casco Bay islands) in 1924. These unique images were recently added to the Maine Memory Network, making them easily accessible to the public. The exhibition highlights a selection of these fascinating snapshots of Portland life-from its first “skyscrapers” to tenements, pool halls, and farms.

William David Barry, our Reference Historian and the curator of this exhibition, writes:

“one of the first, most enduring, and helpful acts carried out by the Portland city government that was formed under the new charter of 1923 was to photograph and describe every taxable building in the city.”

Pool Hall at 305-309 St. John Street, 1924. Item #76823
Pool Hall at 305-309 St. John Street, 1924. Item #76823

The visual and descriptive record created by men and women hired by the Tax Assessors Office provides a unique view into Portland’s architecture, neighborhoods, industries, and businesses at a time when Portland was on the verge of profound changes. If you missed the show in person, you can view Barry’s selections in this online exhibit.

Wholesome HabitationsWholesome Habitations: Architectural Collections at Maine Historical Society (October 3 – present) was curated by Jamie Rice, Director of Library Services with collaboration from Ted Oldham, MHS Trustee and Joseph Reynolds. This exhibition, sponsored by SMRT Architects and Scott Simons Architects, highlights the extensive architectural drawing collection at the MHS. On display are various forms of architectural drawings and supplemental items, such as presentation drawings, elevations, floor plans, decorative elements, and photographs.

Brown Library

Lincoln at MHSThe nationally traveling exhibition, Lincoln: The Constitution and The Civil War, from the American Library Association and National Constitution Center arrived at the Brown Library on November 12. This extraordinary show came to us as a collaboration with the Maine Irish Heritage Center. It highlights emancipation and President Abraham Lincoln’s struggle with the constitutionality of the thirteenth amendment.

The exhibition marks the first for our new repurposed space in the Reading Room of the Library, was highly attended, and included three evening events – bringing in nearly 500 people to the Brown Library. This show closed on December 20.

Wadsworth-Longfellow House

Affectionately Yours, Charles Dickens signature
Affectionately Yours, Charles Dickens signature, portrait of Dickens

Our Registrar & Collections Manager, Holly Hurd-Forsyth, curated the special mini-exhibition Affectionately Yours, Charles Dickens. This compact but awe-inspiring display was located in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House during the holiday season and was available for guests to view during tours in November and December. Affectionately Yours featured, among other items, an original letter from Charles Dickens written to Senator Charles Sumner in 1842.

Off-campus

Miss Maine contestants, 1926

As part of our spectacular fundraising event in May, An Evening in the 1920s, we displayed a mini-exhibition for one night only in the historic Portland Masonic Temple. Guests enjoyed seeing MHS collections from the 1920s, relating to themes of fashion, photography, and prohibition.

Circling the Square 100 Years at the MarketMonument Square–once known as Market Square–is the beating heart of Portland’s downtown, a landmark space that holds our city’s history, culture, and community. In April, we collaborated with the proprietors of the Public Market House, to present MHS collection images relating to the history of Portland’s Monument Square in their space. Circling the Square: 100 Years at the Market opened on April 4 during the First Friday Art Walk, and remains on permanent display on the venue’s second floor. A trip to Maine Historical Society isn’t complete without a walk across the street to see the monument, this photography show, and have a tasty lunch by the local food merchants in the Market!

Read More about MHS in 2014:

Potty Talk: Fragile Objects Found in a Privy

By Dani Fazio, MHS Creative Manager

Walking through the Maine Historical Society exhibition, Home: The Longfellow House and the Emergence of Portland, I am surrounded by beautiful objects that have been carefully preserved by MHS for centuries, each telling stories of how the Wadsworth-Longfellow House remained an anchor amidst the city’s unfolding drama. As I near the far end of the museum, I spot something out of place: a display of objects that do not seem to have been carefully preserved—there are cracked pieces of china, a mug with a hole in it, fragments of glass, mismatched buttons, a pipe that appears quite filthy, and an indiscernible object that I learn from the label is part of a man’s shoe.

photo 2

photo 4

What are these orphan objects and what do they have to do with each other or with the Wadsworth-Longfellow House? I read up on the display in the panel that is titled “The Privy.” Wait, isn’t a privy an outhouse?

The Brown Library at MHS was renovated a few years ago, and the adjacent Longfellow Garden had to be dismantled to allow for the crews and machines to access the building project. In 2008, workers who were rebuilding the garden wall noticed objects in the soil—broken glass and ceramics at first. This prompted an archaeological investigation by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission of the space and, according to the exhibition panel, “determined the ceramics had been thrown into a privy that was once used by residents who lived next door at 47 Brown Street.” So, these objects I’m looking at were in a latrine?

Reading on, I am relieved to learn that when Portland established a sewer system the privy was no longer needed and filled with debris—precisely the objects I see before me. These items serve as a humble reminder of how the immigrant and working class residents of the Brown Street apartments and boarding houses experienced urban living in the mid-19th century.

I am also relieved to see that, despite the fragile condition these former castaways were found in, MHS has dedicated itself to carefully preserving the privy artifacts for centuries to come.

photo 5

 

Home: The Longfellow House & the Emergence of Portland is open daily from 10am – 5pm and has an online component on the Maine Memory Network.

New Exhibition Open!

June 27, 2014

HOME: The Longfellow House and the Emergence of Portland opened last night to a crowd of MHS members and friends, all eager to see the much-anticipated new show that explores the evolution of the Longfellow House and our beloved city.

This exhibition uses the House as a prism to explore how Portland has grown and changed over more than 230 years. When Peleg Wadsworth built the House on Back Street in 1785, it was on the rural outskirts of Portland. By the early 1800s, the House was at the center of a bustling, modern New England city. Since then, Portland has boomed, burned, boomed again, busted, and reemerged as a vibrant, forward-looking city. Through it all, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House has been a constant, and witness to the life of an emerging community.

Here are some images from the opening, taken by MHS Creative Manager Dani Fazio:

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Learn how you can participate in the display “Your Home, Past & Present” here.

Your Home, Past & Present

Participate in our exhibition and share your images with us!

 

Family Farm, Duck Pond Rd. in Westbrook, ca. 1895; 2012.
Gowen Family Farm, Duck Pond Rd. in Westbrook, ca. 1895; 2012.

We are interested in seeing what your home looked like in the past and how it appears today. Submit your images and we’ll install them in our exhibition Home: The Longfellow House & the Emergence of Portland and share them online. We welcome images from all towns and all states. Your childhood home, the residences of friends and family members, or intriguing houses in your area are all acceptable.

Where do I get the Past image?

You or a relative may have an old photo in personal collections. Maine residents may find images of homes Maine Memory Network, our statewide digital museum. Residents of Portland and the Casco Bay islands can find images from the 1924 tax assessment on Maine Memory Network.

Get the Past Image from Maine Memory Network:

Step 1. Search www.MaineMemory.net for your desired past image.

Step 2. Make note of the Item Number (e.g., Item 5417)

Step 3. Send an e-mail to home@mainehistory.org and request a digital file by typing in the Item Number

Step 4. We will e-mail you a digital file that you can download and print at home. Use the paper copy to create your Past & Present image.

Get the Past Image from the 1924 Tax Assessment (Portland & Casco Bay islands)

Step 1. Search for a property on www.MaineMemory.net/PTR. (Search tips)

Step 2. When you find your property, click “View & Download Record (PDF)”

Step 3. Download the PDF and print. The second page will include a large image of the property. Cut it out and use it in when creating your Past & Present image.

 

How do I make a Past & Present image?

Use a digital camera or smartphone to create your Past & Present image. There’s no “right way” to make an image–get creative! Here are some different ways to make your composition:

1. Hold up the printed Past picture in front of the home as it appears now. The images do not need to line up exactly, and you can see a side-by-side comparison within the frame. It’s okay if your hand is in the shot. (Submit one image)

2. Line up the printed Past image in perspective with the environment. Make a picture that is seamless between the two images. It’s okay if your hand is in the shot. (Submit one image)

3. Take a Present image of the home as it appears now, in similar perspective to the historical image. Do not include the printed historical image in your composition. (Submit two images: Past picture and Present picture)

 

How do I submit my Past & Present image?

Send an e-mail to home@mainememory.net with your digital image(s) attached. We accept files saved as JPG/JPEG, PNG, and PDF.

If you only took a Present picture and your Past picture is on Maine Memory Network, include the Item Number so we can print both images for your submission.

Please include your name, the location of the image, and a story you’d like to share about the image in the e-mail (optional). Please limit your caption to 50 words. Let us know what information you would and would not like shared.

 

What happens with my images?

Maine Historical Society staff will receive your submission by e-mail. Your image will be printed with or without a caption and added to the Your Home, Past & Present display in our museum exhibition. Please note that some low-resolution images may not be large enough to be made as prints. Images will rotate as new images are submitted.

Your image will also be shared on the Maine Historical Society Facebook album Your Home, Past & Present and in a slideshow on our website. MHS reserves the right to select which images will be displayed in the exhibition and when. Submissions may be removed at any time without notice.

Other Details:

1. Submissions begin on June 17, 2014 and will continue for one year.

2. You may submit as many images as you like.

3. Home images that show interiors and exteriors are welcome.

4. People can be in the pictures.

5. “Past” doesn’t mean 100 years old! You can determine what a historical image is.

6. Please make sure you have permission to use Past images if they are from personal collections or websites other than Maine Memory Network. If people are in your Present images, please make sure they are comfortable having their likeness on display.

7. If you do not want your images shared online, you must note that in your e-mail submission.

Questions?

E-mail home@mainememory.net and an MHS staff member will reply shortly.

Thank you for participating in Home: The Longfellow House & the Emergence of Portland!