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 Samantha 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.

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.