Peeking into the archives at the Old State House!

Visitors to the Old State House don’t always realize that the Bostonian Society has a library and archives, too! Our blog allows me to highlight some of the items from our collection and share some of what I do as the Library and Archives Manager. I’ve been in this position for just over five years, and I oversee our holdings of 200 archival collections, along with our prints, photographs, and books.

Sometimes I’ll introduce myself as an archivist, which is not always a term people are familiar with. They often think I mean archaeologist (or anarchist!), and don’t realize that an archivist is someone who cares for and makes accessible records of enduring value. Some of my favorite parts of my job are using these valuable records to answer reference questions and selecting archival items to display in Old State House exhibits.

When the Bostonian Society was founded in 1881 it was charged with collecting artifacts related to all of Boston’s history. That is a large task to undertake, and in recent years the Society has narrowed its mission to focus solely on 18th century Boston and the Old State House. However, the questions that I answer run the gamut of Boston history; for example, patrons want to know about Boston businesses in the 1900s, what their house or neighborhood was like in the 1800s, or about a Revolutionary event in the 1700s. I turn to our archival collection to assist patrons and regularly use primary sources like letters, ledgers, and financial records. While most of the reference requests that I receive are through email or mail, I do occasionally assist a researcher on site. I really enjoy seeing a patron examine one of the unique items in our collection, and the excitement that is evident when they find an answer to their research question.




Elizabeth checks out a document display at the National Library in Dublin





On a recent trip to Dublin, I was excited to discover an exhibit in the lobby of the National Library that not only included copies of documents in its panels, but a case with drawers that held actual documents related to the exhibit. When I visit museums, I always connect to the exhibit’s message the most through its use of documents and manuscripts. Seeing someone’s letters and diaries, an annotated record, or even a broadside printed from that time period puts the exhibit in context for me, and helps me to relate to the exhibit on a personal level. I try to keep this feeling in mind when I am planning for an archival display in the Old State House or writing a blog post about a collection piece. By sharing items from our archival collection, I hope that our museum visitors and blog readers will both learn something about the 1700s and feel connected to it in a significant way.



An Oath of Allegiance from 1778 currently on display in our library




As the Library and Archives Manager I strive to make our archival collection accessible through blog posts, reference requests, and exhibits. I love sharing the neat things in our collection with researchers and the general public. Please follow along on our blog, Facebook, and Instagram to “virtually” explore our archives!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager
Article first posted on Oct. 3, 2016 on the official Blog of the Bostonian Society, On King Street.
Images courtesy of the Bostonian Society