Set in Stone

Stone LibraryEvery president has a past, and to his regret, John Adams did not save all of it for history’s sake. “Whatever you write preserve,” he directed his grandsons in 1815. “I have burned, Bushells of my Silly notes, in fitts of Impatience and humiliation, which I would now give anything to recover.” Continue reading

Natural Histories

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See the world through Hannah Winthrop’s eyes. Your gaze dips down into the high-polished tea table and shears past John Singleton Copley’s brush, into summer 1773. Shown here serenely grasping a nectarine branch, Hannah likely knew that her world—what she called the “same little peaceful circle”—was spinning into a new revolution. Continue reading

The King’s Arms?

IMG_1862Paper soldiers on the march, and tin men tilting at swordpoint: these were the first battle ranks that Grenville Howland Norcross, aged 11 in Civil War Boston, led to glory. Between phantom invasions and replays of Antietam with “relics” received as gifts, Norcross gobbled up the military heroics popularized by the era’s dime novels. In a childhood diary that illustrates how “lowbrow” literature grabbed the imagination of a warsick homefront, Norcross chronicled his progress through the antics of Kate Sharp, Old Hal Williams, and Crazy Dan. By 1875, Norcross had outgrown his toy battalions, graduated Harvard, and stepped into a law career. An avid autograph collector, from his Commonwealth Avenue perch Norcross nurtured the city’s flourishing history culture, taking a leading role at the New England Historic and Genealogical Society, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Bostonian Society. He rose to serve as Cabinet-Keeper for the Massachusetts Historical Society, supervising the intake and cataloguing of major collections including, by April 1920, the library of historian Henry Adams. At the Society’s next meeting, held in the midafternoon of 10 June, Grenville Norcross reported on the Cabinet’s newest curiosity, which has proven a royal mystery ever since:

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Spring Reads

Spring_panel_from_the_Four_Seasons_leaded-glass_window_by_Louis_Comfort_TiffanyHere’s our seasonal roundup of new and forthcoming titles. Share your finds below!  Continue reading

Decoding Diplomacy

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John Adams, Codename: “Steady”

Ciphers, codes, and keys—plus reflections on how to encrypt sensitive developments in early American diplomacy—run through the papers of two generations in the Adams family’s saga of public service. So how did they use secrecy in statecraft? Continue reading

Guest Post: Lowell & the Executive

Today’s guest post is from Lindsay Schakenbach, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Brown University. Her dissertation,  “Manufacturing Advantage: War, the State, and the Origins of American Industry 1790-1840,” explores the development of the arms and textile industries in the context of national security, diplomacy, and territorial expansion.

lowellLook through any opinion section of The Wall Street Journal and you’ll almost certainly find condemnations of government intervention in business or a lambasting of the inefficiencies of bureaucratic meddling. Too much government, these commentators say, is bad for the economy. A reexamination of America’s origins as an industrial superpower, however, suggests a different mantra. Take the founding of Lowell, Massachusetts, for example. Even if we debate the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution–Pawtucket, Rhode Island?, Patterson, New Jersey?–the fact remains that Lowell was the site of the first large-scale integrated factory system in the United States and stands as a symbol of the birth of industrial capitalism. And its rise to prominence depended on federal meddling. Continue reading