Archives and Special Collections

Archives, Historical Records, Special Collections

Behind the Scenes in the Archives: Where Do We Start with a New Collection?

The Archives and Special Collections recently received materials from two Boston Globe reporters about their work on reporting various aspects of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (Big Dig). Investigative journalist Sean Murphy and transportation journalist Tom Palmer wrote on the Big Dig throughout the 1990s and 2000s, covering cost overruns, court cases, traffic updates, and more. This new collection  joins a group of other collections already housed at Northeastern documenting the Big Dig.

When collections are donated to the Archives, they have been packed up by the person or organization in whatever kind of box (or other container) that they had available. When the collections arrive at the Archives, we first re-box the materials in acid-free, archival quality boxes to help preserve them. It may not always seem like it at first glance, but there is usually a reasoning behind the way materials are boxed by the donor. Because of this, we make sure to re-box the materials in the same order in which they were originally packed. Once the materials are rehoused we can begin the (often long) process of creating a finding aid for the collection. Step one: conducting a survey.

In order to better understand this new collection and how it fits in with the other Big Dig collections we already have, I conducted a survey on the materials. At 114 boxes, surveying this collection was a bit daunting, but the only thing to do is start at box one.

[caption id="attachment_275090" align="aligncenter" width="416"] A portion of the boxes that were able to fit into one photo.[/caption]

For the survey, I created a spreadsheet in order to make notes of the types of materials in each box as well as any other notes on things that I come across. Wading my way through all of the boxes, I found materials ranging from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on budgets and contract information, various court cases that stemmed from the project, contractor lists, accident reports, community newsletters, publicity materials, maps, and even boxes of artifacts from different construction and excavation sites.

[caption id="attachment_275085" align="aligncenter" width="455"] Items donated by Tom Palmer include promotional items like a calendar and chocolate bar wrapper, construction materials like safety net, pipes, and washers, and memorabilia like the paper weight from the Ted Williams Tunnel opening seen on the lower left.[/caption]

Going through these materials, I learned just how big the Big Dig was. The materials cover not only how this project directly affected the local communities, but also how major this project was for the international engineering and construction fields.

A survey is not an exhaustive list of every single thing in the boxes, but it is a good start. With it we are able to make a summary of the collection, put it in our online Archives catalog, and make it visible to potential researchers. A survey does not replace a detailed finding aid, but it serves as a crucial step in allowing researchers to access relevant materials in a timely manner.

Commemorating History and Scholarship: Holocaust Awareness Committee’s Archives Now Available Online

Note: This post originally appeared on July 30, 2018. We are reposting it today to highlight the official launch of the Holocaust Awareness Committee's Digital Archive on April 2, 2019, during Northeastern University's annual Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Week.

Commemorating History and Scholarship: Holocaust Awareness Committee’s Digital Archives
Public Launch on April 2, 2019
Raytheon Amphitheater 6:00 PM



The newly launched Holocaust Awareness Committee Archives digital repository site preserves and displays the rich history of Northeastern’s extraordinary commitment to Holocaust awareness and genocide prevention, as well as supports curriculum and research including courses in the Holocaust, Jewish and European history and public history.

Since 1977 Northeastern University has commemorated the Holocaust with a week-long series of events including lectures, performances and survivor talks to explore the history and memory of the Holocaust and to engage with students. Key elements of the Archives includes annual event programs and video recordings for: the Salomon Robert Morton lecture series with international scholars, activists and writers; the Philip N. Backstrom, Jr. Survivor Series of video recordings of 30 Holocaust survivors, [some who came multiple times to engage with members of the Northeastern community]; the Annual Commemoration/President’s Breakfast which includes lectures by Northeastern faculty and noteworthy scholars and Gideon Klein Scholar art, music and dance presentations by talented student awardees and a listing of the Bill Giessen film series titles shown since 1991. Original content for most of these resources resides in the Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections.

In addition, unique online exhibits explore the themes of religious commemoration, genocide awareness and prevention and faculty and student engagement.

This project was completed by Megan Barney, Laurel Leff, Debra Mandel, Kyra Millard and Jennifer Sartori. We are very grateful for the support of Jewish Studies: Lori Lefkovitz, Dov Waxman, and Deborah Levisohn; Northeastern University Libraries Archives and Special Collections: Giordana Mecagni and Molly Brown; the Digital Scholarship Group: Sarah Sweeney, Amanda Rust, and Megan Barney; and The Humanities Center: Ignacio J. Chaparro.

The collection can be accessed here: https://holocaustawarenessarchives.northeastern.edu/ For more information, contact Debra Mandel at d.mandel@northeastern.edu.

Honoring East Boston Activist Mary Ellen Welch

Last week, East Boston activist Mary Ellen Welch passed away. Welch, whose work and legacy are preserved in the Northeastern University Library’s Archives and Special Collections, was a vibrant and prolific activist in East Boston. Her advocacy centered around civil rights, education, environmental issues, open space creation and preservation, social justice, and transportation issues. [caption id="attachment_275058" align="aligncenter" width="357"]Photo of Mary Ellen Welch, a white woman of Irish descent in black and white. She is smiling with her mouth closed and looking straight on into the camera. Photo by Gilbert E. Friedberg, Boston Globe[/caption] Welch’s work founded and affected many facets of East Boston’s neighborhood. Since the 1960s, she advocated for East Boston residents on issues surrounding waterfront development, affordable housing, public schools, and the expansion of the Massachusetts Port Authority's Logan International Airport. She was a former teacher at Hugh R. O’Donnell Elementary School in East Boston and served on the board of directors for Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), an organization which supports East Boston residents and communities with affordable housing strategies, environmental justice, community planning, leadership development, and economic development opportunities. She is also former head of the Friends of the East Boston Greenway and founding member of the group's predecessor the East Boston Greenway Council. In addition, Welch worked with Airport Impact Relief, the East Boston Neighborhood Council, and the East Boston Area Planning Action Council. In 2000, Welch was awarded the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Merit Award. whitespace [caption id="attachment_275059" align="aligncenter" width="295"]Photo of Mary Ellen Welch, a white woman, pointing to a spot on what looks to be a neighborhood map. She is in a room with two other men seated watching her presentation. Photo by Charles Dixon, Boston Globe[/caption] Welch’s friend and colleague, James Aloisi, offered a poignant tribute to Welch and her impact in Commonwealth Magazine. A portion is quoted below:
“Mary Ellen’s brand of advocacy was tough and determined but she could open her arms wide and embrace the joy in every moment that she was making a difference. She was a happy warrior in the fight for housing and mobility equity and social justice. In an interview, she summarized her approach to advocacy this way: ‘People who are activists don’t give up. Usually their activism involves something that’s deeply inbred and people are committed to principles of justice that they want to achieve. The joy of creating a better neighborhood is very satisfying. There is a joy in making where you live a happy place, a sustainable place for others.’”
You can find further records of Welch’s determined activism in the East Boston Community News, held at Northeastern’s Archives and digitized and available in Northeastern’s Digital Repository Service. The name “Mary Ellen Welch” shows up in nearly every issue, evidencing her wide array of organizing for social justice and her vital role in East Boston.  Mary Ellen Welch’s papers are housed in the Northeastern University Library’s Archives and Special Collections. You can view the finding aid here. Come visit her collection to continue to activate the gift of her records for future generations.  

Archives and Special Collections Debuts New Finding Aids Directory

Our Archives and Special Collections recently debuted a new site for collection finding aids. Finding aids help researchers locate specific materials in archival collections, so they're an essential part of the archives experience. Staff have been working to ensure a smooth transition from the old method of locating finding aids so researchers are still able to find collections easily.

Archives and Special Collections staff have created subject guides for all our collections, which include both materials related to the history of Northeastern University and manuscript collections that capture the history of social movements, underrepresented communities, and infrastructure in Boston. These special collections cover a wide range of Boston history topics, from African Americans, the Latinx community, and women, to housing justice, education, the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (Big Dig), and more.

When on the Archives Catalog homepage, you can browse through these categories by clicking the Subject Guides link towards the bottom of the page:

Screenshot of Archives Catalog homepage

From the main Subject Guides page, you can choose where you would like to start your search. By clicking on the "Show Subgroups" buttons, you can see all of the different subgroups for each subject guide. So if you wanted to do some research for Black History Month, after clicking to see all the subgroups, you will see the African American subgroup under Manuscripts.

Screenshot of Archives Catalog - Subject Guides page, with African American subject heading highlighted

After clicking on the link, you'll be taken to a page listing all of the special collections related to African American history in Boston:

Screenshot of Archives Catalog page listing all collections related to African American history

Collections are also listed under multiple subject areas to help make them more accessible.

We hope these new subject guides help our researchers find all of the collections that we have to offer in Archives and Special Collections! And as always, if you have any questions or would like to come visit us, feel free to stop by Snell Library Room 092 or email us at archives@northeastern.edu.

Things to look at instead of your computer screen when you need a break

During finals week, it is important to remember to be kind to yourselves and give yourself a break every now and then. If you need a break from studying and from your all the variety of screens you’ve been staring at, come on down to the Archive and Special collections and look at some interesting books and photographs housed in our collections. We are located in the basement of Snell Library, Room 92. We are open Monday-Friday 8:30-5:00 so if you aren’t able to visit us during finals week, we’re always happy to have visitors!
  • Missing the warm spring days and the colorful flowers that accompany them? Take a look through our copy of Select Flower Arrangements of Moribana and Heikwa. This book is bound in green silk printed with branches and has an accordion style opening.
  • Need to see that there is life outside of finals? Our collection of photographs from The Theater Offensive shows colorful play performers and parties from this Boston based queer performance group.
  • If you’re just wanting to look at pretty and colorful pictures of building ornamentation, we have that too! In The Grammar of Ornament you can flip through this large volume exploring the different building designs from all over the world and all in full color.
  • In the mood for some frollicking animals? Come down and look at our copy of Chôjū Giga. These Japanese scrolls date from the 16th century and have been reproduced in a fold-out book. With scenes of frogs, mice, and monkeys, you are sure to forget (even if only for a little while) about the stresses of finals.
  • And speaking of de-stressing, we have another fold out book with Japanese artwork, titled Sesshu’s Long Scroll: A Zen Landscape Journey. This pocket-sized book with a printing from beloved Japanese artist Sesshu and is filled with Japanese landscapes throughout the seasons.
  • If you celebrate Christmas and are wanting to get into the spirit, we’ve got you covered.  You can look through pictures from our Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción records of past Christmas talent shows and events. We also have a beautifully illustrated poem by Sophie Jewett titled The Least of Christmas Carols.
  • Feeling nostalgic? Our collection of Northeastern Yearbooks allow you to go back in time and look into the lives of previous students. Fun Fact: this fall was the 75th anniversary of the first enrollment of women at NU. We have photographs of these women when they first enrolled as well as photographs from their 50th anniversary in 1993. If you’re interested in going even further back, we have a collection of photographs from African American photographer Charles H. Bruce who photographed various scenes around the Boston area in the early 1900s.
  • Traveling over the holidays? Or just wish you were? We have a multiple travel books and maps with illustrations that make you feel like you are there.  We have adventure memoirs from Rockwell Kent from his travels in Alaska as well as the Strait of Magellan in South America. If you’re looking for someplace warm to explore, we have The Golden Octopus: Legends of the South Seas filled with colorful illustrations of the Pacific islands. We also have maps of London and Paris from the 19th and 20th centuries that could help you plan your next trip across the Atlantic. The Paris guide even has a map of all the bus routes! (accuracy not guaranteed).
 
  • And finally, we have pictures of dogs, but not just any dogs. From 1920s-1970s, Northeastern University had its very own husky as a mascot. There were five dogs who were crowned King Husky and attended various events on campus throughout their tenure.
Good luck on finals week and have a wonderful break!