Reflections from Guest Curator Sam Surowiec

“Doing” history has always been something I dreamed about but never actually had the opportunity to do. The closest I feel like I have ever been to “doing” history has been whenever I visit museums or historical sites. After those visits, I usually spend the car or train ride home on Google, trying to learn as much additional information as possible. Coming into college as a history major, I was prepared to read many primary and secondary sources that I would then have to analyze and write about, but never did I imagine that my sophomore year I would be doing hands-on work that explored my favorite period of American history in more depth than ever before. The opportunity to read through colonial newspapers and be able to pick my own advertisements to analyze was even more exciting to me than trying to test my Boston history knowledge against my Freedom Trail tour guide.

When first presented with the project, it seemed daunting. There were pages upon pages of newspapers to read through, much of them written in print so small that I had to look over them very closely, each including many different types of advertisements. Most of the newspapers could be accessed on databases available from the d’Alzon Library at Assumption College; however, some required that I make a trip to the American Antiquarian Society (AAS). For the last three semesters of college, I had driven past the AAS building, always wanting to go inside but not having a need. Sitting in that beautiful building that contains such vast archives as I completed my own digital archives only bolstered my love of being immersed in history.

Having to complete work that was actually going to be published online for the whole world to see was much more intimidating than the thought of completing a research project for my professors in other classes. Compiling the newspapers for my week was not as difficult as I imagined it would be, but choosing only seven advertisements to analyze started off as nearly impossible. There were so many advertisements that piqued my interest, many of them appearing in newspapers printed on the same day. Once I got over my indecisiveness and chose my advertisements, the rest of the project seemed to flow much more naturally. With each advertisement I researched and analyzed, I learned a new piece of a puzzle I have been working on since I fell in love with early American history in elementary school. Never have I felt more connected to the past I so ardently enjoy studying. One small detail, like the name of a cabinetmaker, could illuminate for me what type of furniture Virginia colonists wanted to display for guests in their houses. A single advertisement for a ship provided me with links between eighteenth century shipbuilding in my home state, Massachusetts, and the current status of the United States as the strong world power it is today.

It amazed me to learn just how important print culture in the colonies was, especially during the revolutionary era, while I completed the project. Since newspapers were a major form of communication between colonies, reading through them gave me insight to what household goods were more highly sought than others, in addition to what kind of sentiments the colonists truly held for the British. Knowing that I have been able to make a small contribution to the American history field is something I am so proud of. Working on the Adverts 250 Project helped to hone my information literacy and research skills that will help me through the rest of my college career and provided me with insight into the life of a historian.

 

 

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