Meet Maggie Hoffman, Archivist at the Cambridge Historical Society

by Jasmine Bonanca

How can I talk about what’s in our collections and make sure that I’m bringing that forward into today and really getting people to ask serious questions about it?”

The Cambridge Historical Society (CHS) is an organization eager to connect the Cambridge community’s past to its present, and Maggie Hoffman is the organization’s enthusiastic archivist.  She’s part of a cozy staff of three that includes herself, the CHS’s Executive Director Marieke Van Damme, and the Program Manager Perri Meldon, all of whom report to the organization’s governing council.  Together, they all work to further the CHS’s mission of collecting the history of Cambridge and using it to provide insight on the community’s present, and hopefully its future.

Hoffman works part-time as both the CHS’s archivist and, as of 2019, their social media manager.  Much of her work involves working processing the organization’s backlog, carrying out preservation management, and answering reference questions.  She carries out about 20 reference interactions a month, which she receives from both researchers and the governing council.

Actively contributing to the Cambridge community’s dialogue about its history and trajectory is a sincere passion of both Hoffman and the CHS.  To that end, the CHS takes part in a number of outreach programs.  One that Hoffman highlighted was the CHS’s “History Cafés,” wherein speakers are invited to local restaurants, bars, etc., to discuss timely topics through a historical perspective.  These meetings are often built around the CHS’s yearly themes, which they pose to themselves in the form of a question.

2019’s theme is one that Hoffman is particularly excited about: “How does Cambridge Engage?”  Cambridge has a long history of being a socially and politically active community, and she’s excited to use the CHS collections to demonstrate the ways Cambridge community members have historically engaged with the goings-on of the wider world.  Specifically, she’s excited about the new exhibit she is currently working on, which focuses on a collection of papers from the Harvard chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, who during the Vietnam War era, protested both the presence of the ROTC on Harvard’s campus and what she referred to as “Harvard’s land-grabbing habits.”  Though she was aware of the anti-war protests, which were national in scope, the fact that Harvard students had also been protesting the school’s land purchases surprised her, especially as that is an on-going concern in the community.  It also adds a unique Cambridge nuance to what at the time was a national conversation.

Hoffman is especially grateful to work at an organization that allows her to create exhibits around such important and sensitive topics. “It’s a project that could be seen as a little bit controversial, but the fact that I’m able to do that makes me really happy and reminds me of why I love doing this work,” Hoffman said.  She believes that bringing making collections like these available to the community, and developing conversations around them, is both important outreach and part of what makes archival work so wonderful.

Other outreach activities the CHS undertakes include working with the Cambridge Historical Commission to participate in Cambridge Open Archives, Archives Hashtag Party, and a host of other events that both physically and digitally get the CHS “out of the house” and into the greater Cambridge area.

In all of her efforts, Hoffman tries to keep social responsibility in mind.  For example, when the CHS decided that 2018’s theme would be “Where is Cambridge From?” she realized that answering that question solely from the CHS’s collections would present an incomplete, cis-, white, male version of Cambridge history, and reached out to other archives with more diverse holding to help fill in the gaps as the organization told Cambridge’s history.  The CHS has also taken on a finding aid verification project that involves bringing finding aids up-to-date and when necessary rewriting them to make them more reflective of the collection’s content, especially content concerning historically marginalized content creators or significant subjects who in previous versions were not given their due space in the finding aids.

Maggie Hoffman strives to follow the CHS’s mission of using Cambridge’s past to understand and imagine its future.

For more information on the CHS, please visit their website:

For more information on the CHS History Cafe’s, see here: