Welcome, Guest Curator Parker Sears!

Parker SearsParker Sears is a 2020 graduate of Assumption College.  He double majored in History and Political Science. He is planning to attend graduate school to get a master’s degree in Statecraft and International Relations. He specializes in political philosophy, diplomacy, politics of the Middle East, European history, and American political thought. During his senior year at Assumption College, he received a Daniel Patrick Moynihan Scholarship and participated in the Model Senate. Parker earned Dean’s List honors throughout his junior and senior years.  Parker served as guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project during the Fall 2019 semester as part of his senior capstone seminar.  He composed tweets for advertisements republished by the project during the fall and conducted the research and prepared the entries for six weeks in late June through early August 2020.

Welcome, guest curator Parker Sears!

Welcome, Guest Curator Jenna Smith!

Jenna SmithJenna Smith is a 2020 graduate of Assumption College. She double majored in History and Political Science. Jenna has taken a variety of history courses that cover different periods and parts of the world ranging from the ancient Middle East to the modern United States. Her true passion when researching and learning history is focused on the human element of every time period.  She finds deep satisfaction and gratitude when hearing people’s stories or reading about them. Jenna earned a spot on the Dean’s List at Assumption College every semester. She lived and studied in Rome, Italy, and Berlin, Germany, during her time as an undergraduate at Assumption.  Her passion for travel and connecting with different cultures was shown through her Study Abroad Ambassadorship. Jenna was also a History, Political Science, and Writing tutor at the Academic Support Center on campus. During her last semester at the school, she also participated in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Model Senate Project where students recreated significant Senate debates that have occurred throughout the history of the United States. Jenna served as guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project during the Fall 2019 semester as part of her senior capstone seminar.  She composed tweets for advertisements republished by the project during the fall and conducted the research and prepared the entries for six weeks in May and June 2020. The Assumption College History department presented her the Achievement in Public History award in 2020.

Welcome, guest curator Jenna Smith!

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 30 (January 19 Old Style) in 1749.  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831). American Antiquarian Society.

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 271st birthday, Isaiah Thomas!


[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

Happy Birthday, Mathew Carey!

Though Benjamin Franklin is often considered the patron saint of American advertising in the popular press, I believe that his efforts pale in comparison to the contributions made by Mathew Carey (1760-1839) in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Franklin is rightly credited with experimenting with the appearance of newspaper advertising, mixing font styles and sizes in the advertisements that helped to make him a prosperous printer, but Mathew Carey introduced and popularized an even broader assortment of advertising innovations, ranging from inventive appeals that targeted potential consumers to a variety of new media to networks for effectively distributing advertising materials. In the process, his efforts played an important role in the development of American capitalism by enlarging markets for the materials sold by printers, booksellers, and publishers as well as a host of other goods marketed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who eventually adopted many of Carey’s innovative advertising methods. Mathew Carey will probably never displace Benjamin Franklin as the founder of American advertising in the popular imagination, but scholars of early American history and culture should recognize his role as the most important leader in eighteenth-century advertising among the many other activities and accomplishments of his long career in business and public life.

Mathew Carey (January 28, 1760 – September 16, 1839). Portrait by John Neagle, 1825. Library Company of Philadelphia.

Carey’s efforts as an advertiser were enmeshed within transatlantic networks of print and commerce. Though he did not invent the advertising wrapper printed on blue paper that accompanied magazines in the eighteenth century, he effectively utilized this medium to an extent not previously seen in America, Ireland, or the English provinces outside of London. The wrappers distributed with his American Museum (1787-1792) comprised the most extensive collection of advertising associated with any magazine published in North America in the eighteenth century, both in terms of the numbers of advertisements and the diversity of occupations represented in those advertisements. In Carey’s hands, the American Museum became a vehicle for distributing advertising media: inserts that included trade cards, subscription notices, testimonials, and book catalogues in addition to the wrappers themselves.

Located at the hub of a network of printers and booksellers, Carey advocated the use of a variety of advertising materials, some for consumption by the general public and others for use exclusively within the book trade. Subscription notices and book catalogues, for instance, could stimulate demand among potential customers, but exchange catalogues were intended for printers and booksellers to manage their inventory and enlarge their markets by trading surplus copies of books, pamphlets, and other printed goods. Working with members of this network also facilitated placing advertisements for new publications in the most popular newspapers published in distant towns and cities.

Carey also participated in the development of advertising appeals designed to stimulate demand among consumers in eighteenth-century America. He targeted specific readers by stressing the refinement associated with some of his publications, while simultaneously speaking to general audiences by emphasizing the patriotism and virtue associated with purchasing either books about American history, especially the events of the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution, or books published in America. In his advertising, Carey invoked a patriotic politics of consumption that suggested that the success of the republican experiment depended not only on virtuous activity in the realm of politics but also on the decisions consumers made in the marketplace.

For my money, Carey is indeed the father of American advertising.  Happy 260th birthday, Mathew Carey!

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston. Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.” Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well. Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention. Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising. Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade. The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children as well as notices offering rewards for those who escaped from bondage.

Advertisement for an enslaved woman and an enslaved child from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies). The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries. This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741). Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising. Happy 314th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Reflections from Guest Curator Patrick Waters

During my week as a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project, I learned quite a bit about what it was like to live in revolutionary America. What I found most interesting about the advertisements were the subtle things that people were inferring through them. For example, there were many printers that took out advertisements in search of used linen cloth. To most it would just look like a potential buyer who is searching for linen, but the underlying message is much deeper. These people are searching for cloth so that they can make their own paper and resist Parliament’s taxes by hindering the British economy through boycotts. This was part of the larger idea of how print culture allowed colonists to quickly disseminate propaganda and news throughout the colonies.

While reading through dozens of advertisements in search of ones to write about, I found it interesting how the wealthy people lived in colonial and revolutionary America. There were so many advertisements that were aimed at selling high-end products that most people would be unable to afford. What I learned was that the wealthy people of 1769 were not much different than the wealthy today. They could not spend their money on lavish vacations and foreign cars; however, they bought certain items that were designed specifically to flaunt their wealth to their neighbors and guests, such as silver kitchenware, furniture, and even fruit. I found the fruit to be the most interesting way to show off how much money they had because I never thought of how difficult it would be to get fresh produce from a farm to a new destination hundreds of miles away.

While I enjoyed working on the Adverts 250 Project, it certainly came with its difficulties that I had not anticipated. The first issue that I came across was the difference in the English language today and the English language 250 years ago. I simply did not think of the fact that our language was not the same and that I would have to look up certain words for clarification or have to look at strange grammar. It was strange to me the way that they capitalized certain letters or even entire words, which would be considered improper grammar today. The biggest issue that I had to overcome was that their letter “s” looks much more like our letter “f.” This was extremely confusing at first but I eventually stopped noticing it and just read the words as they were supposed to be.

What I really enjoyed about this project was that I felt like a real historian. I have only taken a few history classes as an undergrad but I have never felt like a historian quite as much as when I was at the American Antiquarian Society searching through primary sources. I felt like I was truly unearthing something new while I was sitting in their reading room and searching their digital archive for copies of newspapers. Sitting alongside other historians while searching through primary sources was certainly my favorite part of this project.

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.



Reflections from Guest Curator Bryant Halpin

Looking back at the two projects I worked on, the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, I went through a lot of digitized newspapers dating back 250 years ago. They were originally published in revolutionary America. I dealt with many different topics in those advertisements, ranging from spermaceti candles to runaway slaves.

When working on the Adverts 250 Project and when I was learning about the process of “doing” history I was amazed by all the work historians have to do for a living. But at the same time I was loving going through old newspapers and discovering all different kinds of products or services colonists put in newspapers. Then after looking at just the surface of the advertisements by themselves, I than had to do further research to fully understand the topic that I would be presenting to an audience of readers. I used scholarly sources, such as essays from Colonial Williamsburg, which were great sources for historical context and more information. This really helped me dig deeper than just the newspaper advertisement itself. That is what I felt “doing” history was really about, taking that further step to understand the advertisement I picked and deliver a summary that went beyond the advertisements to give good background information.

I thought it was pretty rewarding at the end of my week as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project. One reason it was rewarding was because it was a lot of work at the beginning all the way to the end of the project. Having to gather the digital copies of the newspapers and learning how to uploading them to Dropbox was rewarding. Going to the American Antiquarian Society and having to get an official reader card, my first library card in a long time, was rewarding, along with working in their reading room and accessing digital copies of certain newspapers only from their website was pretty cool. Another thing about this project that I thought was rewarding was analyzing advertisements and writing summaries of everything that I learned from those advertisements and then having them posted on a public history website for the whole world to see. Overall, everything that had to do with the Adverts 250 Project was rewarding, especially after putting the long hours of work. Seeing my entries viewed by an audience outside of Assumption College was a great experience.

It also made it more rewarding because this project was more difficult than I expected. The process was tiring and time consuming. It was a lot more work than what I expected. I thought we were going to look at some newspaper advertisements and then write about them and be done. Instead it was much more than that. It involved looking at all the newspapers for my week of April 7-13. Within my week I had to look at more than twenty different newspapers and decide which advertisements I wanted to pick. After that, I had to do a lot of more research than I thought. Then I had to revise them according to suggestions by Prof. Keyes before I could have them published on the website. All of that was not what I was expecting and made it difficult for me to adjust my way of thinking and start to meet all the requirements. But at the end of it all even though it was a difficult process it was well worth it and I was glad to be a part of the Adverts 250 Project.


Reflections from Guest Curator Aidan Griffin

With my week of curating for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project ending today, I will reflect on it. What I think is most important is that “doing” history is fun and interesting rather than boring. History is much more enjoyable once someone looks deeper into it and discovers that connections between then and now are numerous. Although the past has passed, that does not mean that it has no effect on the present.

Looking back at the advertisements, one of the most striking changes from revolutionary America to now is the language used. I was especially struck by the long form of “s,” as I never saw it before, and it looks kind of like “f.” Additionally, I saw that advertisements have not changed that much since the eighteenth century, as big, blocky words were used to describe whatever was being advertised and then all the other information was smaller. One difference I noticed is that there was no fine print in any of the advertisements, which is different from today. I learned about revolutionary American politics by making connections with something that was advertised and an event or process. My advertisement for April 4 provides an example of this: I made a connection between English goods being advertised to the consumer revolution in colonial America before the Revolution began.

All of history is interconnected; historical events have effects on the present day. I learned that history is connected from doing research with primary sources. I also learned that even though all the people from the advertisements I chose to examine are long dead, they still felt alive when I did research about them. The advertisements made it possible to recreate part of someone’s life.

Before I started this project, I thought it would be difficult. I remember I was filled with apprehension when I first heard about it. However, actually doing the project was not as difficult as I imagined and quite interesting and enjoyable. The most difficult part of this project was working with the newspapers from 1769. This is because some of the newspapers were partially damaged before they were digitized, so now in some advertisements some letters in multiple words are missing. The worst was when at least one word was missing, as I had to guess what word would have been there. Additionally, some of the advertisements had words that were sometimes hard to read, so trying to decide what some words said was problematic.

I think making connections with things beyond the newspapers made this project more enjoyable. At first, I just had one advertisement, but then by making connections with other events and daily life in early America, I gained a larger collection of knowledge. I think making those connections was the most rewarding part of this project.

Reflections from Guest Curator Sean Duda

After my experience as a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project, I believe that I have taken many things that I will carry in my life going forward. I learned about how one person can make a whole group of people that would have otherwise been disinterested in early American history actually look independently and enjoy learning about history. I never knew that one person could have that kind of effect on others. All of my friends from back home have been actively looking at my posts and commenting on them to me. The single most rewarding part of this project was being able to talk to my family about my involvement in this project, because they were all enthusiastic and they all recognized that this project was a great thing for me to get involved with, and this is speaks to Professor Keyes’ dedication to trying to get his students involved with his project.

When we were first talking about the project in class I thought that it was going to be very challenging, and I was not wrong about this expectation. I think I grew as a historian and developed a few skills that I would have otherwise not had at this point if not for working on this project pushing me to learn. These skills include how to do research with digitized archives and public history sites. I believe that these new skills will help me as I continue my studies as a History major. Once work started on the newspapers, I learned that there is great attention to detail that is required when looking at primary sources, and I learned that sometimes the most important things within a primary source can be the briefest statements, depending on your perspective. An example of this would be my entry on March 26 about the harpsichord. I have had a great fascination with the history of music and with learning how to play new instruments throughout my life. When I saw the advertisement for the harpsichord I knew that I needed to talk about it.

While I really liked the harpsichord advertisement, it was not my personal favorite out of all the advertisements that I had the pleasure of researching. My favorite advertisement was actually the one about Jolley Allen from March 27. I had never actually thought about how loyalists were displaced during the war. I also liked working on the runaway slave advertisement from March 29, because I think that both of these advertisements work together to strip away the story of “good guys” and “bad guys” in the American Revolution. One of these advertisements helped me learn about loyalists as the victims of war. The other helped me to explore how the British often looked to be the best possible option for enslaved people to gain their freedom, being as the Continental Army would not even allow slaves to fight in their ranks for a portion of the war.

The Adverts 250 Project was a great opportunity for me, and I am very fortunate that I was able to contribute to it. I am hopeful that I will be able to have more experiences like this in the future at Assumption College. I also appreciate Professor Keyes’s dedication to the project and the guest curators working on it with him.