Reflections from Guest Curator Zachary Dubreuil

Working on this project taught me to dig deeper into the colonial and revolutionary times and how people lived their lives. Sometimes I just skim the surface of my research and brush by the key parts. This project allowed me to do more research. This project also gave me the opportunity to go to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, and use their databases to look at the newspapers and other documents. These newspapers showed me different items that were used in colonial and revolutionary times that we do not usually use today. For example, my first entry about potash threw me a curve ball because I had never heard about something like that. When I did further research, I learned that it was used to make soap and other items. Along with that, the colonists were consumers who purchased the potash kettles and coolers. Then they were integrated into the whole consumer revolution. This broadened my spectrum of consumer culture.

When looking into newspapers from colonial and revolutionary times, I also learned more about slavery. The Slavery Adverts 250 Project made me realize that enslaved men, women, and children had more of a story than what was pictured. When I was searching through the newspapers I was shocked to see the volume of advertisements that were about slaves. Within some of the southern newspapers, there were dozens of advertisements that had to do with slaves. Those advertisements engulfed much of the newspaper. That shows that slavery was an important part of society and that the slave trade was a huge business during colonial and revolutionary times. Also, the variety of advertisements that had to do with slavery was different from what I had known before working on this project. At first, I thought they would only mention people trying to sell slaves. In reality, a lot of newspaper advertisements talked about runaway slaves as well as selling slaves that had particular skills that made them more valuable and huge quantities of slaves that were brought to the colonies. The Slavery Adverts 250 Project showed me that by looking at these newspapers we could compile a more complete story about these enslaved people.

The Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project constantly challenged me. In the beginning, I thought it would be a breeze. However, it proved to be quite difficult because with each advertisement I had to pull a specific detail. I am used to looking at the broader picture and describing it. So, I had to come at this project differently than most other college projects. I had to constantly revise because I would look at more than one detail and lose track of what I was writing about. Also, finding sources was a challenge because I had to find sources that were credible and not something that someone just threw up online with no facts included. I had to search for sources that had enough information that I could relate it to the advertisement. I think the best part about this project was learning more about how the people lived in colonial and revolutionary society and to see the different services that were offered at that time. This is different than many other projects that I have done in college because it allowed me to do the research on whatever advertisements I wanted and to go into depth with them. Some college projects only touch the surface. It was also cool to see all the people that come to this website from different countries because it makes my work even more important. I hope that with my time at Assumption College I can do another project like this one because it had taught me so much.

Reflections from Guest Curator Luke DiCicco

This project really helped me expand my knowledge about American life during the Revolutionary period and how important print culture really was. I came into this class thinking it was going to be just like some other history classes I have taken, a class with lectures the most of the time and writing down everything the professor said and then repeating it all back on either an exam or an essay. However, this course is obviously not like those classes and that made me a little skeptical at first. I didn’t know what to expect of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. I wasn’t a fan of them when I first started working on them. However, as I got deeper and deeper into the projects, I started to come across things that I never thought I’d learn and realized that this project was teaching me things about Revolutionary America that I had never thought were important before. For example, when we started talking about newspapers and the role they played during this time, I rolled my eyes because I thought it would be boring and unhelpful. Learning about how newspapers, and especially advertisements, helped with the exchange and passing along of information was actually interesting and gave me a newfound respect for print culture altogether.

This project is very unique and challenged me in ways that I had never been challenged before. It wasn’t a project that I could do in just one night. It’s a project that I had to start early and continuously work on as the weeks progressed. I had to actually think about what I wanted to include and I got to pick what I wanted to write about, which I thought was cool because I rarely get to pick my own topic for an assignment. Reading all of the advertisements and seeing how different they were from advertisements in newspapers today was really cool. Once I chose my advertisements and started to write about them for the project, that was when I was really challenged. Every advertisement is different, so I had to find something intriguing about every advertisement and write about it. I felt pressure because I knew that this would be published and a lot of people were going to see it so I felt that I needed to pay attention to every detail and make sure that it was as well put together as possible. After I was done with all of my advertisements for the week, I felt a sense of accomplishment because I knew my work was going to be published. It was cool to see my work published online for a project of this magnitude and also to see people’s reaction to the work I had done. I have never done anything like this before and it was gratifying to see how many people across the world look at this project and see the effort that I have put into my work. When I look back on the project now, it was not as hard as I thought it was going to be, but it still challenged me and made me step outside my comfort zone. I am happy that I got to do this project because of the sense of accomplishment that it brought me and because of the lessons that I have learned while working on it.

Reflections from Guest Curator Olivia Burke

In the twenty-first century, many people, including myself, skim over advertisements that appear in newspapers or magazines and oftentimes find them annoying. Before partaking in this project, I had little experience with interpreting advertisements nor had I given much thought to advertisements in the eighteenth century. However, as I dove into this project, I quickly began to recognize the importance of these advertisements as manifestations of culture in the eighteenth century.

In that period, print culture was an important aspect of society that I was able to see firsthand in the Adverts 250 Project. Newspapers were one of the colonists’ primary basis for communication with each other. In looking at them in the twenty-first century, they serve as a methodology in learning about everyday life in the American colonies in 1769 and the era of the American Revolution more generally. Analyzing advertisements from the newspapers printed in the colonies in 1769 improved my interpretation skills but also gave me a primary source glimpse into colonial life.

The Adverts 250 Project allowed me to “do” history. I had to not only read and understand the variety of advertisements that were printed, but I also had to do background research from credible sources to be able to get an inside look at the significance of the advertisements at this time. I took data from digital databases, primary sources, and secondary sources to be able to research and analyze each advertisement and then make it available to a variety of public audiences. Research to gain a full understanding of the topic was crucial, but I also had to keep in mind that this is a public history project. Picking advertisements that would be interesting to the general public was important. Because many others view this project daily, correct information and insightful analysis was crucial. An example of how this project allowed me to do history was the advertisement for a paint store I analyzed on March 4. In today’s society, anyone can buy a $30 can of paint and color their house white, red, blue, or tan without much thought. However, back in the eighteenth century, paint was expensive and certain colors were only available to the wealthy. It is important to look at these advertisements with an eye focused on the culture of the eighteenth century and how it differs from the twenty-first century and be able to relay that to the public.

Carl Robert Keyes and Olivia Burke examining eighteenth-century newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society. (Courtesy Assumption College Office of Communications)

I was able to go to the American Antiquarian Society to access their databases and see original editions of some of these newspapers with my own eyes. Students at Assumption College are blessed to be so close to the Antiquarian Society, where I was able to access the largest collection of early American newspapers in the world. Thanks to this research library, I was able to contribute to the Adverts 250 Project by using their collections to get a more complete view of American culture in the eighteenth century.

One of my favorite parts about this project was really digging deep into certain subjects. I used outside sources to be able to fully analyze and understand the cultural importance that a short advertisement can provide. For example, the advertisement I analyzed on March 7 was about flour of mustard. An archeological study of mustard bottles found at a Loyalist homestead in Canada showed the shift from imported British goods to goods grown and sold in the colonies and, eventually, the new nation. The advertisement proudly states “The best New-England Flour of Mustard.” Through this advertisement, we see the important shift from reliance of British goods to the colonies attempting to become more self-sustaining. However, this was also one of the most difficult aspects of the project. There are so many avenues that I could research in each ad that sometimes it was difficult to choose what part I wanted to analyze.

This brings us to another important aspect of the Adverts 250 Project that I loved.   Advertisements were a window into an emerging pride and nationalism in colonial America. As the colonists become more connected with each other through print culture, including newspaper advertisements, thoughts about revolution began to swirl. As I mentioned earlier with the mustard advertisement, colonists were trying to become self-sufficient and did not want to rely on Britain for everything. This is exhibited in advertisements in the eighteenth century newspapers that I was able to explore in the Adverts 250 Project.

The Adverts 250 Project got me thinking: in 250 years will historians look back to our society now and analyze the advertisements in our newspapers and other media? What will they tell future researchers about the early twenty-first century? Overall, this project enriched my understanding of the products and services that people in the colonial and Revolutionary periods relied upon. We can see their needs on a day-to-day basis. I was able to participate in writing history by asking the question: “why does this matter?” With each advertisement I interpreted, I was able to go deeper and discover different aspects of colonial society. I am fortunate to be able to participate in the Adverts 250 Project this semester and I hope to be able to work with Professor Keyes again in the future.