Student Snippets


Experience in an Archive

In my Introduction to Archival Methods & Services class, we were charged to write an overview of our experience using an archives, and part of that assignment meant coming up with our own research question and doing some digging into the resources we found.

 I chose to use the local history room at the Somerville Public Library. I chatted with a fellow librarian about some popular topics people come to research there, and one he mentioned was the Ursuline convent riots that took place in the summer of 1834. This really peaked my interest, and even though I don't have the space to go into all the details, I'd still like to give a brief run-through of what happened and the impression it left on me.

 Riding the wave of an increasingly anti-Catholic feeling in the community, a Protestant mob rallied and destroyed the convent over the course of two nights, everything from furniture, books, and religious items to the surrounding gardens. In their frenzy, they even desecrated the tombs of nuns buried on the property. The convent also functioned as a school for young women. There were 67 students and nuns inside the building when the riots took place. Thankfully they all made it to safety, but the damage was done and an ugly message was conveyed.

 The thing that shocked me the most about the event was not necessarily the violence or the intolerance toward a particular religious group. It was the reported inaction of potentially 2,000 spectators who watched what was happening and didn't intervene. For me, what started as a very objective paper turned into something of a personal lesson on social justice. I know that I've been a silent bystander in the past more times than I care to admit, and I certainly felt the call to be more active and vocal when I see situations of injustice happening.

 I was also struck that we have these valuable, albeit painful, pieces of history tucked away in our libraries and archives. I was inspired all over again that I'm able to be a part of this profession and share things like this--good, bad, and every shade of grey in between--with patrons and members of the community who might not hear about them otherwise.

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