Archives and Special Collections

A Bird’s Eye View (and More) of the Big Dig

Map of Boston showing the different sections of road construction. The Central Artery is highlighted in yellow. The Central Artery/Tunnel project, also known as the “Big Dig,” was a mega-project intended to alleviate traffic congestion on the I-93 elevated highway. This was accomplished by building an underground highway that included links to Logan Airport and new bridges crossing the Charles River. We have several collections in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections that document various aspects of this construction from community activism to engineering. The newest of these collections is the John “Jack” M. Quinlan Central Artery/Tunnel Project Photographs.

Quinlan was the Director of Public Affairs for the Big Dig project from 1997-2003. It was his job to update the public on the project’s progress. He sent his staff up in helicopters as often as every two months to document the ever-changing landscape of the Big Dig construction. He then used these aerial photographs—along with additional photographs of other aspects of construction, graphics, and models—to put together presentations. These presentations were given to different audiences like business companies, law firms, and school groups.

Aerial of Logan International Airport with colored overlay showing future Interstate 90 airport traffic routes.  Cross section graphic showing the street level, MBTA transit way, an Northbound Central Artery tunnel.

With over 500 photographs in the collection, these photographs show a wide range of views of the Big Dig, from wide aerials and close up tunnel shots of construction to design graphics and models of construction. All items are digitized and available to view in Northeastern University’s Digital Repository Service.

Underground tunnel with center column separating Interstate 90 and Interstate 93 ramps.  Aerial view of Charles River crossing with partially constructed bridge.

Getting to Know the Boston Globe Library Collection: Inside the Box

The Boston Globe Library Collection has significantly expanded the Northeastern University Library's Boston-focused social justice and community collections in its Archives and Special Collections. 4,376 boxes comprise over a million photographs, over five million negatives of unprinted photographs, and 119 years of newspaper clippings from the Globe, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, and other area and national newspapers. Today, this vast collection of visual and textual resources is open to all researchers, whose interests may range widely—from Red Sox scores and legislative debates to Melnea Cass’s relentless pursuit of racial and economic justice.

The collection of the Boston Globe Library is broken down into four parts: Newspaper Clippings, Microfilm, Print Photographs, and Negative Photographs. While researchers can access each part individually, all components of the collection can complement the different approaches to a research question. For instance, those interested in the history of school desegregation can use the print photographs study to how the first day of bussing was covered visually in the Boston Globe; the negatives to see all of the shots the photographers took, including the ones that were published; and the newspaper clippings to research the range of reporting on Boston Public Schools, desegregation, and the Boston School Committee.

Front and back of a photograph from the Print Photographs collection:

Researching with our Special Collections and the Boston Globe Library collection in tandem will enrich any telling of the history of Boston. In a series of upcoming posts we’ll share the many ways that research and rich experiential learning can be accomplished using the Boston Globe Library Collection. To find out more in the meantime, visit the finding aid here.

If you have any questions or would like to begin researching in the Boston Globe Library Collection please contact us at archives@northeastern.edu or 617-373-2351.

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.

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.  

Select Archives and Special Collections materials are now available in the Digital Public Library of America

NAACP pickets School CommitteeNearly 9,000 primary source documents and images curated and digitized by Northeastern University Libraries' Archives and Special Collections are now available in the Digital Public Library of America. The DPLA is a national resource that brings together digital materials held by American libraries, archives, and museums. Northeastern University Libraries' contribution to DPLA was made possible through our membership in Digital Commonwealth (our local DPLA Hub), who harvest the metadata and thumbnails from the DRS and make them available in the DPLA. The full set of contributed materials include videos from Northeastern's Holocaust Awareness Week programming, records from the Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción community development program, and many more. More than a third of the contributed materials document the desegregation of Boston Public Schools and busing of students in the 1970's and 1980's. With assistance from the library's Digital Metadata & Ingest group, Archives staff organized, selected, and digitized approximately 3,300 photographs, documents, and other printed ephemera created in the years before and after the busing proclamation was issued by Judge Garrity in 1974. The Archives chose to focus on Boston's history of desegregation as part of a coordinated effort with other institutions in the Boston Library Consortium to collect and digitize materials that "illuminate the complexity of state- and city-wide politics, community activism, and advocacy." As Northeastern, UMass Boston, Suffolk University, and other Boston-area institutions make their primary source materials available to the public, the DPLA's collection of artifacts documenting the desegregation of Boston Public Schools will grow. The end result will be a robust shared archive that will aid in national teaching and learning activities focused on the history and legacy of segregation and racism in the Unites States. The Boston Public Schools, for example, are already integrating these primary sources into the curriculum in an effort to “ensure that every Boston Public Schools student learns about this important and troubling chapter in our city’s history.” These 9,000 files are just the beginning of Northeastern University Libraries' contribution to the DPLA; we will continue to contribute to Digital Commonwealth and DPLA as more materials become available in our local repository.