Social History Events in Greater Boston area this spring

This is just a handful of the many events going on at the living museums, historical societies, and repositories. Browse through their calendars to see what else is offered. Let me know about other events to be added.


Ongoing: Finding Home: Stories from a Neighborhood of Newcomers (Strawbery Banke, NH)
Uses stories to explore the experiences of immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Ongoing: Freemasonry exhibits (Lexington, MA)
Several exhibits focus on ritual books, brotherhood and Masonic gifts

Through April 18: Women in Medicine exhibit (Cambridge, MA)
Tells the story of female medical professionals from 1850-present and the barriers they fought against in order to provide medical care

Through April 19: Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tell (Lexington, MA)
Explore how maps are created, and how various groups of people, including students, travelers, merchants, and politicians used maps.

Through May 23: Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial (Mass Historical Society, Boston, free)
This exhibition tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first African-American regiments to fight in the Civil War, and the monument commemorating the storming of Fort Wagner.


April 17: John Demos (author talk) about the Heathen School (Boston Athenaeum, free)
Explores the Heathen School, which brought together students from all societies in order to “Christianize” them. Their acculturation into the local community (and marriage with locals) intensified racism. Click on link on right side of page for this event for more details. (John Demos is one of my favorite authors in the social history genre, and one of the historians who pioneered social history in the 1970s)

April 21: Patriot’s Day at Old Sturbridge Village (Sturbridge, MA)
Talk with men going off to join the battle at Lexington and Concord, talk with the women left behind, and learn how to make a cartridge and other hands-on activities.

April 23: Zabdiel Boylston Adams (Mass Historical Society, Boston, free)
Adams was a innovative surgeon in the Civil War. After noticing how many soldiers died while being taken off the battle field for treatment, he tried new on-site treatments in the field to save lives. He was captured and self-treated his leg infected with gangrene with nitric acid. Click on calendar link for more details. Registration required.

April 25: The End(s) of Revolution Symposium (Brandeis University, free)
Panel discussion about three different revolutions: The French Revolution, The Haitian Revolution and the American Revolution.

April 26: American Canadian Genealogical Society Conference (Manchester NH, free).
All day conference. The event I am most interested in is a talk in the afternoon by Pauline Cusson about New England Captives about the lives of those who returned to New England and those who stayed in Canada.

April 26: A Primer on conducting historical research (American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA $10).
Workshop led by Mary Fuhrer with a focus on the 18th century and uncovering the tidbits

April 26-27: A Weekend of 17th Century Samplers (Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, MA $240-$300)
The 2 day special event will focus on the samplers from the 17th century and the girls who created them. Scroll down to April 26 and then click on link.

 May 10: Walking Tour of Boston Black Heritage Trail (Boston, free)
2 hour walking tour by The Boston African American National Historic Site. Click on calendar link for more details. Registration required.

May 13: Slavery in the Bowels of a free and Christian County: People of Color and the Struggle for Freedom in Revolutionary Massachusetts (American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA)
Explores the relationship of the struggles of people of color in Central Massachusetts and the new political ideas of freedom.

May 18: Natural Plimoth: Holistic Healing (Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, MA)
Explores the ideas behind medical treatments and theories in the 1600s. Scroll down to May 18 and click on link.

 June 20-22: The Dublin Seminar: Sports and Recreation in New England (Historic Deerfield, MA)
Explores sports and recreation in New England, primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries

And don’t forget to check out GeneaWebinars for upcoming webinars (most are free) on a a variety of topics.

Heather Wilkinson Rojo has also compiled a nice list of April genealogy events in the New England area.

Upcoming Social History Events in the Greater Boston area

Boston Historic Civil War Tours
Ongoing throughout the summer–highly recommended by a friend of mine in her blog. Click here for more information.

The Object of History: 18th Century Treasures from the Massachusetts Historical Society
June 13 – September 7
Massachusetts Historical Society, free and open to the public, donations appreciated
The exhibit asks explores the meaning of historical objects by asking questions about why some artifacts have preserved. Are they attached in some way to a famous person or historical event? The exhibit includes a variety of portraits and objects including scientific instruments, needlework and maps.

“The Education of Our Children is Never Out of My Mind”
June 13 – September 7
Massachusetts Historical Society, free and open to the public, donations appreciated
The exhibit is a collection of letters between John Adams, Abigail Adams and others regarding their thoughts on teaching children general life lessons. To the extent that these views were at least somewhat widespread, these letters can help us understand how children were viewed in the 18th century. Click here for more information.

Three Bags Full: All about Wool
Saturdays and Sundays through June 30
Historic Deerfield
Springtime is the time for sheep shearing. Come see how our ancestors transformed wool into thread.

Open Hearth Cooking Demonstrations
Saturdays through the end of July
Historic Deerfield
Learn how our ancestors cooked using in-season ingredients (June) and how they stayed cool during the summer cooking (July).

Fire and Ice Day
July 20
Old Sturbridge Village
Learn how firefighters fought fires in the 19th century and help pump water.

Exploring Victory Gardens: How a Nation of Vegetable Growers Helped to Win the War
July 23rd 7:00 pm, $15 fee, pre-registration encouraged
Strawbery Banke
Talk by Dr. Judith Sumner about the role that victory gardens played in the 1940s. Also includes taste-testing of period recipes and viewing films about victory gardens from the 1940s.

Redcoats & Rebels
August 3 and 4
Old Sturbridge Village
Nearly 1,000 soldiers participate in New England’s largest military re-enactment. Visit the soldiers a Revolutionary War era encampment, see mock battles and drills and listen to the fife and drums.

Twilight Tours
August 16, 5 pm – 8 pm, $18 if paid in advance
Sponsored by Portsmouth Historic Houses Associates
Tours of seven historic houses in Portsmouth. Click here for more information.

Upcoming Social History/Genealogy Events

I gave a talk recently to the Falmouth Genealogical Society and afterwards one of the members came up and told me about her ancestors who were rope makers in the mid 1800s. She is learning all kinds of things about making rope and is attending a talk in Plymouth about the Cordage Company and will go to Mystic Seaport where they have the ropewalk from the Cordage Company. I was thrilled to see her excited about learning about the occupation of her ancestors and how they were literally coming to life for her.

Local genealogy and historical societies are a really great place to learn about social history and place your ancestors in context. The historical societies have relevant historical records and the genealogy societies have members that share your passions. It is a wonderful place to network and share knowledge.

Now that spring is coming and it’s nice to venture outside, I wanted to let you know about some upcoming history events at some of the living history villages in the area. Most offer demonstrations on daily life for the time periods which they cover. Many are informal, meaning that you walk into a house and the living historian will tell you about the house and life in the time period. Others are more formal where you need to register and pay in advance.

Historic Deerfield is offering two sets of cooking demonstrations. April and May were when colonists literally scraped the bottom of the barrel for food as they waited for spring blooms. Also learn what your colonial ancestors would cook in the summer.  Strawbery Banke is hosting a Civil War encampment June 8 and 9. Also see if Plimoth Plantation or Old Sturbridge Village are offering anything of interest to you.

Food history is becoming more popular among genealogists. Historic Deerfield’s annual Dublin Seminar is on foodways this year. The seminar is from June 21-23. Talks will cover foodways during many periods since 1620 and includes some talks about food and politics that sound very interesting.

Let me know if there are any local programs that you are looking forward to. I am really looking forward to the Dublin Seminar.

Upcoming history and genealogy events in Greater Boston

There are many upcoming history and genealogy events in the Greater Boston area. Here is a sampling:

New England Historic Genealogical Society
(click on the “Resources” tab and the “Programs” link)
One Colonial Woman’s World: The Life and Writings of Mehetabel Chandler Coit
February 6, 6:00, free and open to the public

Colonial Society of Massachusetts
Free and open to the public
Mapping the Boston Poor: Inmates of the Boston Almshouse, 1795–1815
February 21 at 3:00 p.m.

Boston Athenaeum
Painting Women: Women Artists from 1860 to 1960
February 26, 6:00, open to the public

Ancestry Day with NEHGS
March 2, all day, pre-registration required and there is a fee
Full-day conference with & NEHGS. See link for more information about classes that will be offered.

Massachusetts Historical Society
Open to the public
Massachusetts and the Civil War: The Commonwealth and National Disunion
April 4-6

Seminars (most meet monthly) on the following topics. Free and open to the public.
Boston Area Early American History
Boston Environmental History
Boston Immigration & Urban History
History of Women and Gender
New England Biography

Exhibitions: Free and open to the public.
“Proclaim Liberty Throughout all the Land”: Boston Abolitionists 1831-1865
February 22 to May 24

Forever Free: Lincoln & the Emancipation Proclamation
January 2 to May 24

Lincoln in Manuscript & Artifact
January 2 to May 24

New England Family History Conference
March 30, Franklin, MA. Free and open to the public. Pre-registration advised.
Annual conference sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Several tracks of interest to all genealogists (regardless of religious affiliation) are offered throughout the day.

Boston Public Library at Copley (main library)
Local and Family History Lecture Series
Twice a month talks on local and family history
Free and open to the public

New England Regional Genealogical Consortium, Inc.
This multi-day genealogy conference covers a variety of topics of genealogical research, and some talks touch on social history. Attending this conference is a great way to learn and to network with fellow genealogists. Sign up for a day if you can’t come for the entire conference.
April 17-21, Manchester, New Hampshire

The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife
Foodways in the Northeast: A Second Helping
June 21-23, Deerfield, MA
This is one I would definitely like to attend. I am working on a master’s in history and my thesis will be about medicinal recipes used in the home (before a doctor was called, at least theoretically). Most of the homemade medicines of the time were made from herbs and other plants, so I will learn quite a bit. As I have been doing research in preparation for writing the thesis, I spoke with the food historian or food expert at 3 or the 4 sites below and they were very helpful. It was also nice to learn from each of the sites as they each have a different focus and cover various time periods.

Historic Deerfield and other living history villages in the area offer programs throughout the year on heirloom gardening, hearth cooking and other “day to day” life activities of our ancestors.
Historic Deerfield
Old Sturbridge Village
Plimoth Plantation
Strawbery Banke Museum

Don’t forget to check your local library, your local historical society and your local genealogical society to see what they have planned. Also, there are numerous on-line offerings in social history and genealogy.

Mourning Jewelry Exhibit at Massachusetts Historical Society

When I was a child, my grandparents displayed several family artifacts in the den. An intricately woven watch chain made of human hair was both fascinating and a bit frightening to me. When my 2nd great grandfather Harry was in jail for polygamy, his wife Ruth sent  him some of her hair and he made the watch chain.

Hair ornaments and jewelry were quite common in the 1800s, especially as mourning jewelry. Learn more about how ideas about death and mourning changed through the centuries and view some incredible mourning jewelry. The Massachusetts Historical Society in downtown Boston has an exhibit on the history of mourning jewelry covering the 1600s to the 1800s. This exhibit is open to the public and runs through January 31st. See here for more information.