Native Land Digital

by Grace Millet

Native Land Digital, also referred to as simply Native Land, is a digital database and map that contains information about indigenous peoples’ lands throughout the world. Started and led by indigenous activists from around the globe, Native Land does its best to create a comprehensive map of territories that are or once were solely occupied by native peoples.

The mission of Native Land is stated on their “About/Why It Matters” page: “Native Land Digital strives to create and foster conversations about the history of colonialism, Indigenous ways of knowing, and settler-Indigenous relations, through educational resources such as our map and Territory Acknowledgement Guide. We strive to…develop a platform where Indigenous communities can represent themselves and their histories on their own terms. […] Native Land Digital creates spaces where non-Indigenous people can be invited and challenged to learn more about the lands they inhabit, the history of those lands, and how to actively be part of a better future going forward together.” The goal of Native Land is twofold: to provide information to indigenous peoples and to further the understanding of colonialism’s effects on indigenous peoples for non-indigenous individuals who might want to learn more.

There is an enthusiastic focus on outreach by crowdsourcing information and asking community members for their knowledge as soon as one opens the website. A popup appears, acknowledging that the map beyond it is not perfect and asking for input from those who find discrepancies or errors. This simple statement reaffirms their mission to allow indigenous communities to tell their own stories. There is also an acknowledgement that the land boundaries represented on the map do not necessarily reflect legal territory boundaries at this time—the history of indigenous territories is fraught and deeply complex and cannot simply be presented on a map, interactive or static. Native Land’s effort to document these land boundaries is noble but also humbled by such recognition. The team at work behind the scenes seem driven by their mission statement and understand that they are not working to tell the story on behalf of indigenous peoples; rather, they are working diligently to facilitate the ownership of this history by indigenous peoples themselves. This community-centered outreach is necessary to tell fuller, truer stories about those who may have otherwise been left behind by history and to allow them to more accurately fill in the gaps of the narratives that have already been recorded.

The flagship project of Native Land is the interactive map on their homepage, which documents the entire globe, including arctic and Antarctic land masses. This colorful map that highlights different indigenous territories and their overlapping boundaries allows users to zoom in and out, enter their address for more information about the land their home is on, and, once those territories are clicked, offers information about the tribes and native peoples who once lived there with hyperlinks to current information about these groups. The map is dynamic, and it lets users engage in research that empowers them to continue on to learn more about who used to live where they live, as well as what other tribal lands surround those territories. It begins conversations about indigenous groups in the area that the user might not have been aware of before their search, tribes they had never heard of, or tribal presence that is much more deeply rooted than a user might have thought. And, beyond this revelatory information, Native Land’s map can provide information not just about those indigenous peoples’ histories and current circumstances, but also a way for those who have descended from settlers to attempt to pay personal reparations to the tribes who have an ancestral claim to the land on which the user currently lives and from which they benefit.

I discovered Native Land a few years ago and have used it to look into paying reparations to local indigenous peoples and to learn more about those who used to live where I grew up. Since happening upon the website, I have checked back every year around Thanksgiving and have watched it continue to grow with more information, more colorful territories popping up on the map, and a wider breadth of knowledge about the world outside of North and South America. To my delight, there have been other resources added to the website, such as growing territories, languages, and treaties lists; the expansion of the site into the mobile app environment to facilitate further outreach; and a teacher’s guide to help educators start conversations about colonialism and indigenous peoples’ treatment with their students. These resources consolidate information on the history of indigenous peoples and the effects of colonialism, as well as the sheer magnitude of the diversity between indigenous peoples; they allow users to understand that the phrases “indigenous peoples” or “native peoples” encompass a multitude of different cultures, rather than a single type of individual within a larger cultural group. These resources—especially the mobile app and the teacher’s guide—also allow for easy sharing of this information, whether it be by word of mouth between friends or in a classroom.

Overall, Native Land is an excellent example of a community-focused database for the cultural heritage of many groups that have, since the recent past, not been acknowledged or was thought to have been at risk of historical erasure. With a strong connection to their mission and a leadership composed of indigenous activists and allies, I can see them continuing to grow and updating their resources to keep their users well-informed about the valuable cultures of the peoples they document.


*Please note that all hyperlinks connect to their corresponding pages at and are present for the reader’s convenience.

The Mount: Edith Wharton’s Autobiographical Home

Postcard of The Mount, Courtesy of the Edith Wharton Restoration Organization.

by Christine Jacobson

In her 1893 short story, “The Fullness of Life,” Edith Wharton described a woman’s nature as a “great house full of rooms”:

 “...there is the hall, through which everyone passes in going in and out; the drawing-room, where one receives formal visits; the sitting-room, where the members of the family come and go as they list; but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the handles of whose doors perhaps are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes.”

This passage stayed with me long after I forgot the outlines of the story. The metaphor is as deft as it is haunting, but it also reveals Wharton’s passion for architecture and design. Before House of Mirth brought Wharton critical acclaim as a novelist, Wharton was an authority on decorating and gardening. Her first book, The Decoration of Houses, was a treatise on the new post-Victorian style of American interiors which eschewed clutter and ornamentation in favor of symmetry, utility, and clean lines. Together with her co-author, Ogden Codman, Wharton ushered in the new reigning style of fine-de-siecle America. In 1901, Codman and Wharton embarked on a new project that would put their principles into practice: The Mount, Wharton’s summer home in the Berkshire Mountains.

The Mount is an autobiographical house. It was designed by Wharton exactly to her tastes with elements borrowed from Italian, French, and English traditions—but the execution is wholly her own. Though it contains 42 rooms, The Mount is considerably smaller than the neighboring “cottages” built by wealthy families, such as the Vanderbilts, who preferred to summer in New England. Also in contrast with her neighbors, Wharton opted for a facade of white stucco and black wooden accents rather than brick or stone. Compared with the dark Richardsonian mansions nearby, The Mount cuts a bright, cheerful figure among the verdant Berkshire hills.

I visited The Mount last April to see writer Lauren Groff in conversation with editor Heidi Pitlor as part of the museum’s True Conversations series. The chat was held in Wharton’s airy drawing room and was filled to capacity. Groff spoke movingly about what it meant to her to be inside Wharton’s home and to have browsed Wharton’s library earlier that day. She put her hand over her heart as she described opening Wharton’s copy of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. For me, her story represented three generations of incomparable women writers coming together across space and time through a single book—a book preserved with immense care and kept in a library conserved through great effort and fortitude. For me, this is what great cultural heritage institutes are all about.

The library is one of two crown jewels at The Mount. The other is Wharton’s breathtaking Italianate garden (—Wharton also published a book on Italian Villas and their Gardens in 1904). Each cost the Edith Wharton Restoration organization, which owns the house, roughly two and a half million dollars to restore. Stephanie Copeland, former president of the Restoration Organization, had hoped the gardens and library would galvanize visitors and fundraising opportunities for the house. By 2008, neither had materialized and the organization defaulted on its loans. Copeland resigned and Susan Wissler stepped in to replace her. The Restoration Organization quickly lurched into advocacy and outreach mode. It launched a Save the Mount campaign which led to an outpouring of donations from the public. Additionally, The Mount targeted a cadre of wealthy donors to join the newly formed National Committee, an annual giving society that would support the operation of the estate. The bar for becoming a member is an annual gift of one thousand dollars, but many members are rumored to have pledged far more. (Francis Ford Coppola and George and Laura Bush are among its members.) By 2015, The Mount was back in the green.

In addition to its fundraising efforts, The Mount also recognized, crucially, its responsibility to the local community and as a result, revitalized its public events program. The True Conversations series I attended last spring is one exciting facet of this in which beloved local figure and nationally acclaimed short story editor Heidi Pitlor interviews American female authors. The museum’s new stewards have also embraced its reputation as a haunted house and host ghost tours in the evenings. And in 2020 the Mount will celebrate the centennial of Wharton’s novel, Age of Innocence with film screenings, discussions, book clubs, and an exhibition. I’m planning to drive out to The Mount to see Elif Batuman in conversation with Jennifer Haytock about the novel, which happens to be one of my favorites, later this year. (If you’re persuading low-income librarians from Boston to rent a zip car to drive four hours for your events, you’re doing something right.)

Wharton only occupied the house for a decade. Though it was one of the most prolific periods of her life as an author, it was also a period of profound suffering and deprivation. Wharton’s husband, Teddy, suffered from a depression that grew worse during their stay in the Berkshires and their life together became intolerable. Wharton sold The Mount after their divorce in 1912. For a house with such a cheerful facade, The Mount has had an unusual share of woe. However, its current stewards appear to be on the right path. Cultural heritage professionals know that advocacy starts with giving people a reason to believe in your work. (See Larry Hackman’s Many Happy Returns for more advocacy wisdom.) With its shrewd grooming of sustainable donors and effective outreach to its local community, The Mount has shown it has plenty of reasons to have our support.


Death, Corsets, and Opera, Oh My!: Nichols After Dark Events at the Nichols House Museum

by Jasmine Bonanca

Louise Homer, portrait in the Nichols House Parlor

In March of 1902, the Nichols family hosted a performance by Metropolitan Opera singer Louise Homer in their home on Beacon Hill.  More than 100 years later, the Nichols family’s home, now the Nichols House Museum, brought opera to Beacon Hill once more through the performance of Boston-based soprano Jacqueline Novikov, accompanied by pianist Yelena Beriyeva.

The event was part of the Nichols House Museum’s Nichols After Dark event series, which began running in October of 2017.  The Nichols House Museum (NHM) tells the story of the socially and politically active Nichols family, particularly Rose Standish Nichols, a life-long pacifist, traveller, suffragist, and one of America’s first female landscape architects.  Through stories of their lives and home, told during a 1-hour guided tour, visitors can get a glimpse of what life was like on Beacon Hill at the turn of the century.

That tantalizing glimpse can give visitors a desire to hear more, and the NHS staff certainly has more to share. The Nichols After Dark events allow the NHM’s staff to further their educational mission by giving staff members a chance to dig deeper into stories and historical themes that usually only get mentioned in passing during tours.  The cliffnotes version of Louise Homer’s 1902 performance, for example, is typically told in the second floor parlor room during the tour, but during the Night at the Opera event the museum staff introduced the performance with a fuller retelling of the story that included quotes from the family’s letters and information about the prominent Bostonians who attended.

Not only does the NHM get to dive deeper into the family’s stories through these events, but according to the NHM’s Program and Collections Coordinator Laura Cunningham, the Nichols After Dark events also gives the museum the opportunity to reach out to a younger, broader audience while re-engaging their traditional audience and long-time constituents.  According to Cunningham, Nichols After Dark targets younger audiences by “embracing pop-history themes.”  One previous Nichols After Dark event “Dearly Departed: Death and Dying in 19th Century Boston” looked at Victorian mourning practices, while another, “Corsets and Courtships,” showcased 19th-century undergarments loaned from a sister institutions to explore the love lives of the Nichols family  members. The NHM has also used the Nichols After Dark events as a chance to develop multisensory programs that allow visitors to experience the museum’s historically furnished rooms in ways they can’t typically achieve on a guided tour.

The Nichols After Dark events invite visitors to experience the museum as a place to relax and be social.  Each event in the series ends with a mixer featuring wine, beer (served by a TIPS-trained bartender), and small eats, transforming the museum from a purely education space into one where people can connect over their shared experience.

The NHM hopes that the Nichols After Dark events will inspire audiences and institutions beyond Beacon Hill, and start a dialogue in Boston cultural heritage institutions about the roles of historic house museums and cultural institutions in today’s society.  According to Cunningham, the NHS is deeply invested in keeping house museums relevant through the 21st century and “aims to do so not only by adopting an inclusive and self-critical approach to history telling, but also by reinvigorating our programmatic calendar and allowing ourselves to go ‘off script.’”

This exciting events series has been a success in more ways than the museum hoped for.  While Cunningham said that the museum’s goal was to bring in first-time visitors and give everyone a unique experience, she also said that the Night at the Opera event created a chance to connect with some potential donors after the performance.

Developing such exciting events are a team effort.  The NHM only has three full-time staff members, and though as the Programs and Collection Coordinator, Cunningham spearheads efforts to actualize these events,  everyone contributes ideas for events and works together to make them happen.

Overall, the Nichols After Dark events are an exciting way to get out and experience a beautiful house museum in an innovative, thought-provoking way.

Curious about what’s next on the Nichols House Museum’s events calendar?  Check out their website and Facebook page:

In Their Own Words: Librarians in Wartime

by Victoria Johnson

A member browses the stacks of the fifth floor reading room at the Boston Athenaeum. The Boston Athenaeum’s Conservation Lab works to preserve the books in this room and others. (JR 365 Photo/Madeline Bilis)

The Boston Athenaeum (BA) is one of the oldest subscription libraries in the United States. Founded in 1807 by prominent society gentleman, today the Athenaeum functions as a library and museum complete with its own archive. Each year, the library hosts numerous events each month, ranging from book talks to lively soirees. While these events, along with the library and art collections, are very popular with patrons, the archives of the institution are usually overlooked. This past September, however, the BA hosted a remarkable live performance event which would have been impossible without using the archive.

On the evening of Tuesday, September 19, 2017, the Athenaeum hosted “A Tale of Two Libraries,” a live event in which a cast of four actors read carefully curated correspondence between the Boston Athenaeum and the London Library. The correspondence was arranged to provide a chronological glimpse into the workings of these two institutions during two defining times, World War I and World War II. This temporal context added depth to an already outside-the-box event. A live reading of a bunch of old letters doesn’t sound all that exciting—and yet, imagine what it would be like to hear the words of four librarians working around bombings and the Blitz. What could have been extremely boring instantly became emotional, real—a good thing it did, too, because that was exactly what its creators intended. To understand how and why this event was so memorable, I sat down with Carolle Morini, the Caroline D. Bain Archivist at the Boston Athenaeum.

As it turns out, an event like this one takes approximately two years to plan. It all started in 2015, when the director of the BA received an inquiry from the London Library, who wanted to know if there was any history of a relationship between the two institutions. The London Library was pleased to learn that there was, indeed, a relationship, confirmed by thirty years’ worth of correspondence held in the BA’s archives. The existence of physical evidence led to a visit from both employees of the London Library, with employees of one of their supporting organizations, International Friends, in tow. In preparation for their visit, Carolle was asked to conduct further research so that she may answer any questions the group may have. She took it one step further by organizing a display case, which included some of the aforementioned letters. As you can imagine, these letters—dated between 1913 and 1945 and detailing the experiences of librarians during wartime—were not only rich in institutional memory, but fostered a personal affection for their authors.

The visitors from the London Library and Carolle discussed options to share these letters with both institutions’ member. It was decided that a live performance would be the best way to share these letters with the public. Jesse Marquese, a writer who had done similar work in New York, came on board as the scriptwriter. With the writing underway, the next step was to figure out the mechanics: who would fund this event? Where would it take place? In the end, it was agreed that the Athenaeum would provide an honorarium and travel expenses for the actors, all of whom were New York based and chosen by Marquese, and that the event would be hosted twice—once in Boston, once in New York City. Marquese shared his script with Carolle, who provided edits in order to provide some local Boston context.

And now we arrive to the night of the event itself. The live production was witnessed by 60 audience members, some of whom were trustees’ emeriti and current trustees and BA staff. Two days later, the production travelled to New York City’s Knickerbocker Club, this time sponsored by International Friends. It has since been suggested that the production travel to the London Library itself in 2018, although this is still in development. Hosting the production at different locations will not only allow more users to experience the performance, but it will also continue to advocate for the value of the Boston Athenaeum’s archives—an element of her job that Carolle admits is difficult to do on a daily basis. As an audience member, I can attest to the power of hearing my own institution’s history through the words of those who came before me.

In her ten years as the sole archivist at the Athenaeum, Carolle can only recall one other event that utilized the archives. This is not to say that the events coordinators are uninterested in using the archives, but there is often little correlation between book talks and the institutional archives. That is exactly why projects like the live performance are crucial in advocating for the important of Carolle’s work as the archivist and of the archives themselves. Carolle anticipated an increase in archival inquiries after the event, which has not (thus far) transpired. However, perhaps even more valuable is that all who attended—the Athenaeum director, patrons, and staff—were able to recognize the importance of the BA’s archives and of all archives. In the end, Carolle considers this project a success: “it made people see that the work that I do is important.” Recognition and respect should, after all, be the goal of any advocacy project.





Archival Sources On the Street

by Jenny DeRocher

La Crosse, Wisconsin is a city of about 50,000 people. It sits between tree-covered bluffs and the winding Mississippi River. The city’s downtown area is like many other industrial Mississippi River towns with traces of train tracks, red brick buildings with ghost signs, curving one-way streets, and a large green park bordering the river with a walkway. There are coffee shops, every kind of bar you could ask for, and an old-timey ice cream and soda shop. There are oddities, too. For instance, there is an authentic riverboat sitting on the riverfront waiting to give tours up and down the river. Above it is a faded thirty-foot statue of an unidentified Native American man that, offensively, has no markings of the local Ho-Chunk Nation’s culture (though it is meant to be a tribute to their culture). Farther up the river on the north side of downtown sits the world’s largest six-pack, thanks to the city’s history with brewing beer.

When I went to college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the charms of the historic downtown area gave me the same happiness as other students. However, the town-and-gown divide is felt fiercely in the La Crosse community. As soon as I became a Public and Policy History Major, I was immediately swept into the arms of Dr. Ariel Beaujot and her public history project Hear, Here. I was a newbie in the world of studying history and didn’t really understand what public history was—I just knew I wanted to go to school for library science after college. I didn’t know it at the time, but Hear, Here isn’t just a public history project, it’s a community archiving project that brings archival sources literally onto the street. Hear, Here is an oral history project that focuses on place-based stories that take place in the downtown area. It’s a grant-funded community project that is meant to bridge the town-and-gown divide, bringing voices of all kind to the forefront.

As students and community members working on the project in a classroom-setting, we had to network within the city to find at least two stories to contribute to the project. Once we found a story and an interviewee we wanted to pursue, we did primary and secondary research on the story. We interviewed the story-tellers as short oral histories with first-person narratives, and then edited these stories so they were 2-5 minutes long. Once they were edited, they were put into a phone system and assigned a phone number. Then, in the locations that these stories happened, we placed street signs that had the phone number for the story on them (see picture). People walking in the streets of La Crosse’s downtown area can see the sign, call the phone number, and listen to someone’s story of something that happened in the exact location they are standing. Some of the stories took place the same year we collected them. Others were from oral histories collected in the 1970s and took place as early as the 1880s. On the website, you can click on the gray icons in the interactive map, listen to stories, and read their transcripts. There are currently fifty stories in the project.

Photograph taken from an article written by the Wisconsin Humanities Council, a large funder of the project.
Photograph taken from an article* written by the Wisconsin Humanities Council, a large funder of the project.

The primary and secondary research each interviewer does for the stories is collected in an archival box at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center. This box also includes CDs with the full-length interview for each story and the edited version as well. For ongoing outreach, Ariel runs a Hear, Here Facebook page, where she keeps followers up to date with tours, story editions, and international Public History news. Every few months, she runs free walking and bike tours for the public to highlight specific stories. In early 2017, there was also a poetry contest, where community members submitted poems responding to stories. Winners received a cash prize and their poems are now also in the phone system for listeners to hear on the street. When you call the number, you can even leave a message to give feedback for the project or to connect with Ariel to record your own story; she’s always collecting new stories until the project’s end in 2020.

Hear, Here brings the history of the everyday person to light. We didn’t collect stories that support the already well-recorded narrative of the city. We collected stories about African American men getting wrongfully arrested in 2014, a woman chaining herself to a building to keep it from being demolished, a student from China excited to eat ice cream somewhere President Obama had reportedly been before, a Canadian tourist experiencing the Mississippi River for the first time, and a local Ho-Chunk man expressing his distaste for the offensive statue that’s supposed to represent him and his culture. We specifically tried to collect stories from voices that are often overlooked and have historically been underrepresented. Some stories are fun, others give voice to discrimination a community member has experienced. In either case, Hear, Here stories are concrete evidence that everyone experiences La Crosse in their own way and each one of these ways matters to the city’s larger narrative