Archives and Special Collections

Archives, Historical Records, Special Collections

Investigating Northeastern’s Only Medieval Manuscript

This Spring, students coordinated an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis of Northeastern’s only Medieval manuscript, the Dragon Prayer Book through a collaboration with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This is what they had to say about the experience.  By Professor Erika Boeckeler (Faculty Project Head), Laura Packard (Student Project Head), and Zakary Ganhadeiro (Project Member) on behalf of the Dragon Prayer Book Project Team. Interviewed by Jon Reed (Snell Library)   What inspired you to take a closer look at Dragon Prayer Book? We were inspired by the mystery of the manuscript; very little was known about it before we began our research. The Dragon Prayer Book is beautiful and intriguing, and so multi-dimensional in terms of the questions we can ask of it, e.g. sociological, literary, religious, material, etc. As Northeastern’s only medieval manuscript, the book is an original object which has become a hub of interdisciplinary research. The book has provided a sort of bridge between departments, and each new experiment or test proves this connection to be stronger. With each new discovery we make the book reveals more of itself to us, and with each revelation come new surprises and twists in terms of our research path. While much is known about the book, there is still plenty that can be discovered, or even already known information that can be confirmed.   How did you determine that XRF analysis was the next way forward? When looking for new ways to interact with and study the Dragon Prayer Book we came across X-ray fluorescence (XRF), a very simple and noninvasive test that produces decisive results. We attended several lectures on the latest developments in biobibliography and other ways that science is being brought to bear on book history and Humanistic questions, and were eager to take advantage of our interdisciplinary expertise and local resources. When Zakary Ganhadeiro joined the project last fall, we were excited by his interest in spearheading the bioanalysis of the Dragon Prayer Book, and by the prospect of gaining a new understanding of the prayer book through the field of bioarchaeology.   What did you discover about the Dragon Prayer Book via XRF analysis? The analysis mostly confirmed what we suspected about the inks– that they were fairly typical for a southern German late medieval manuscript. However, we did learn that the black ink has an unusual amount of zinc in it, which led us to consider investigating the geologic composition of the mines around Regensburg, Germany, where we think the manuscript may have originated.   Why is collaboration important when doing research in 2018? There are so many different kinds of scholarly questions we have about this manuscript, and no one person or tool will ever be adequate to the understanding the complexity of its world. We need a diverse team of experts and different tools of varying sophistication in order to piece together this knowledge puzzle: experts on bindings, on late fifteenth century music cultures and on their Latin, on ink composition, on tests to determine what kind of animal was used in making the parchment, on manuscript scripts, on early modern paper and watermarks, on websites that best display our findings, on conservation, to name even just a few. You can see some of what we’ve investigated at Cross communication also allows for the better sharing of ideas, and the better publicizing of research. While this was only a small test, on a larger scale, more collaboration can lead to larger discoveries on all fronts. How did the Library impact you/your research? Giordana Mecagni, NU’s archivist has promoted student research on this manuscript from our first expression of interest in it. She found the funds to digitize it, sent it to restoration, and has granted permission to perform non-invasive scientific analysis. She has supported our efforts by facilitating access to the manuscript, including at the public events we have organized. The Library staff has been incredibly supportive and easy to reach throughout this whole process, and they truly made the collaboration with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum possible. We recognize that not every archive supports student research in this way, and we are very fortunate to have a Library that promotes our learning to such a degree.

Frieda Garcia to be Simmons College honorary degree recipient

On Friday, May 18 Simmons College honored Dominican-born activist Frieda Garcia with a Doctorate of Humane Letters for her community organizing in Boston. Garcia’s personal papers reside in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections alongside the records of other organizations in which she was instrumental, including: La Alianza Hispana, United South End Settlements, and the Roxbury Multi-Service Center. Garcia’s activism changed Boston’s landscape both physically and organizationally. As the first director of La Alianza Hispana Garcia provided resources, space, and advocacy for Spanish-speaking residents of Boston. Her work with the Roxbury Multi-Service Center and the United South End Settlements advocating for housing, mentorship, and training resources for diverse residents of Boston.  She shaped the South End with her involvement in the establishment and restoration of the South End’s Harriet Tubman Park, and years later Frieda Garcia’s Children’s Park was honored with her name. It is difficult to find a part of Boston’s history that Garcia has not touched. Garcia received this honor from Simmons because of the immense impact of her work.

Boston mayor, Kevin White, holds a small garden spade at the groundbreaking ceremony for La Alianza Hispana’s community center. Orlando del Valle holds a construction hard hat, marking the beginning of renovations and construction.

For more information on where to find materials related to Frieda Garcia’s work as an activist in Boston visit the links for the following collections at Northeastern University’s Archives and Special Collections: La Alianza Hispana United South End Settlements Roxbury Multi-Service Center Frieda Garcia Papers    

“Storytelling, Archives, and Resilience”: reflecting on the role of community archives in the Boston Marathon bombing

On Monday, April 23 – five years and a week after tragedy struck Boston in the form of the Boston Marathon bombing – faculty, staff, students and members of the community gathered in Alumni Center to share reflections on remembering traumatic events and processing grief through collections and digital archives. The event commemorated five years of collecting objects and memories in “Our Marathon: the Boston Bombing Digital Archive,” a project that originated at Northeastern through efforts in the NULab for Texts, Maps and Networks, the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, and the Northeastern University Libraries. This year, faculty, staff and graduate students worked to migrate the site’s contents and metadata onto a new digital space under library management, giving it a long-term home where the collection can be preserved. Megan Barney, Lauren Bergnes Sell and David Heilbrun will reflect on their experience completing this migration in future blog posts. The event featured a panel of scholars whose work has been grounded in collecting and preserving so-called “grief archives,” including:
  • Dan Cohen, Vice Provost for Information Collaboration and Dean of University Libraries and co-director of the 9/11 Digital Archive
  • Ashley Maynor, award-winning filmmaker behind The Story of the Stuff and currently Digital Scholarship Librarian at New York University
  • Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Our Marathon Principal Investigator and currently Professor of English at Northeastern University
  • Kristi Girdharry, the Our Marathon Oral History Project Manager and currently Assistant Professor of English at Johnson and Wales University
  • Jim McGrath, Co-director of the Our Marathon project and currently post-doctoral Fellow in Digital Public Humanities at Brown University.

Amanda Rust introduces panelists

Amanda Rust, Assistant Director of the Digital Scholarship Group, introduced the panelists to a packed crowd including university professors, graduate students, library staff, community members and project partners from outside Northeastern. As moderator, Cohen discussed findings and recollections from his experience as co-director of the 9/11 Digital Archive. He noted the emotional intelligence required to do this kind of work, especially in regards to community engagement. Maynor, the filmmaker behind The Story of the Stuff, set the stage by discussing the therapeutic effect of saving and organizing objects across various circumstances like family archives and spontaneous shrines. She noted that the value of such archives can be that they protect objects, put away for safekeeping; we know they are there, but we don’t have to look at them anymore.

Ashley Maynor

Girdharry and McGrath joined Maddock Dillon in a discussion of the process and outcome of the Our Marathon digital archive. Girdharry spoke to her work as Oral History Project Manager, where she discovered the clusters of stories that emerged from a wide range of personal experiences. She pointed out the different angles of narrative involved to tell a more complete story of the events of that day. Maddock Dillon, the project’s principal investigator, also highlighted the collective nature of the archive, drawn from crowdsourced objects and memories, and the collective labor that went into producing and maintaining it. These aspects, she said, along with the desire to enable the community to reclaim the narrative, drove the project’s name, “Our Marathon.”

From left: Jim McGrath; Kristi Girdharry; Elizabeth Maddock Dillon; Dan Cohen

As co-director of the project, McGrath has been highly involved in the archive from conception to its move to a new home in the library. McGrath initiated the collection’s move to a more permanent web space, and it is thanks to his persistence and care that the Our Marathon digital archive will continue to be accessible. During the panel, he pointed out the critical importance of community engagement in doing this kind of work, and how listening to the needs and values of multiple communities can correct our assumptions. He has written more about his long-term experience on the project at the National Council on Public History blog History@Work. After listening to the panel presentation, the audience asked questions about the labor and process of managing such collections and the role of the digital in future work. The Our Marathon: Boston Bombing Digital Archive is viewable at

Northeastern receives Mellon Foundation grant to launch center for study of Boston

by Northeastern News Northeastern University has received a $200,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest funder of the humanities in the United States, to launch a new center dedicated to the study of Boston, enabling researchers from around the world to shed light on the city’s past, present, and future.

“Boston is a global city grounded in the past, thriving in the present and innovating for the future,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University. “The work of Northeastern researchers and scholars across the humanities, data sciences, and other fields will create unprecedented entry into more than a hundred years of legacy for many generations to come.”

Based in the Northeastern University library, the center will leverage Northeastern’s expertise at the cross-section of data-driven disciplines, including journalism, network science, and the digital humanities, and will draw on unique archival resources and data sets. At the new center, Northeastern students, scholars, and outside collaborators will work together to combine historical material and contemporary data in an effort to better understand the past and envision the future. The heart of the center will be a data unit, which will provide a secure but open venue for the storage, management, analysis, and visualization of a critical mass of public and proprietary data. Northeastern’s NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks, the university’s center for digital humanities and computational social science, and the Boston Area Research Initiative, a program aimed at spurring advanced research in the Greater Boston area that both advances scholarship and improves public policy, will also be part of the ongoing work of the center. The solutions developed by the center will have global implications, as 54 percent of the world’s population currently lives in an urban environment.

“We deeply appreciate the Mellon Foundation’s generous support for this effort,” said Dan Cohen, dean of libraries and vice provost for information collaboration at Northeastern. “As a city that has been evolving over hundreds of years, Boston is incredibly rich in both history and data. We look forward to the insight that will come out of synthesizing the past and the present.”

Northeastern has a growing collection of valuable archives, including the collection of Boston-based resources, such as the complete archives of The Boston Phoenix, the Gay Community News, and the East Boston Community News. Housed in Northeastern’s library system, these resources solidify Northeastern’s position as the primary hub for researching the people, places, and institutions that have shaped Boston into one of the world’s most vibrant cities.

“The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports libraries in developing community-based archives for the 21st century, particularly those seeking to better engage their vibrant—though at times underrepresented—surrounding communities in documenting their histories and cultures, ” noted Patricia Hswe, program officer for scholarly communications at the Mellon Foundation.

The city of Boston dates back nearly four centuries, to the earliest era of the European colonization of the Americas. For researchers looking to understand topics ranging from spiritual history to population shifts to social integration to climate change, Boston provides an unrivaled trove of historical events and lessons for the world. The Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for Humanities also announced last week that Northeastern University is one of seven institutions awarded funds to convert out-of-print humanities texts into ebooks. The funding will allow Northeastern University Press to digitize and create freely accessible ebooks for 18 books focusing on humanities titles on the history of Boston.

Northeastern’s Archives Featured in City of Boston’s Racial Equity History Project

For the past two years, Northeastern University Library’s Archives and Special Collections have been working with the Race Equity Working Group of the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Race Equity. The MORRE Office’s primary mission is to help build resilience for all Bostonians by addressing and challenging social and racial inequities.  The Racial Equity working group (an advisory group for the office) consisted of incredible warriors– smart, experienced, passionate people who do battle every day but still are able to laugh, breathe, and do it all over again the next day.  The Chief Resilience Officer leading the charge to create Boston’s Resiliency Plan, Atyia Martin, and her staff allowed The Archives to assist the effort by convening a group of historians and archivists  (‘history holders’) and Race Equity Working Group members to strategize how lesser known/understood aspects of Boston’s history across race and ethnicity, including immigrants, could be showcased from a personal and policy perspective. As Donna Bivens and co. write in the Boston Busing/Desegregation Project’s 7 Lessons “Access to a more complete picture of this history is access to knowledge about how power works to enable and limit us. That access allows us to focus our individual and collective efforts to make real social change.” One of the results of this convening was POLICY, PLACE, and POWER in an evolving city: BOSTON’S RACIAL EQUITY HISTORY PROJECT, a map and timeline that describes flashpoints, battlegrounds, and structures of inequity in the City of Boston. You can view that timeline at