Reflections from Guest Curator Jonathan Bisceglia

During my time working on the Adverts 250 Project I spent quite a lot of time trying to decipher the meaning of sometimes very vague advertisements for things as basic as lodging and as complex as slavery. I feel this taught me more about history than pretty much anything I have ever done. The reason this was so powerful and effective for me was because it was real and in most cases I could see the actual thing I was learning about and working with. These were not just some boring anecdotes in a text book or a slow documentary. They were actual advertisements in newspapers created 250 years ago. Working with this type of primary sources is something that I have never had a chance to do, which was scary at first, but once I started doing my research it became a lot easier to decipher meaning in these sources.

I cannot stress enough the meaning this project has to me. There are several different reasons why I was hesitant to even work on the project but having worked through it I feel changed in many ways. I know this sounds cliché but for me this project changed quite a bit in my life and gave me new meaning for the future.

At the beginning of the Adverts 250 Project I thought the most difficult part would be gathering the information and then composing my summary and analysis. This was not the case. This project created a revival in what was a dwindling passion for history. The hardest part of the project was coming to terms with the idea that I wanted to change my prospective future career. I had originally planned on being a high school history teacher but the Adverts 250 Project made me realize that I would not enjoy that but rather I would enjoy teaching upper-level students who can appreciate it more.

This would become the meaning that I found during the course of my week guest curating for the Adverts 250 Project. I would also say that this was also one the most rewarding parts of the project. The other was the amount of information that I learned through my time curating the project. This is not just how to look at a primary source and deduce what it is about, but actually what can be learned from every single advertisement. For instance, my advertisement from April 19, 1767, by James King was an open advertisement to try to get men who were “Genteel” to lodge at his abode. Through my years of history class, we had never even used the word genteel. Of course I had known what it meant today but this new curiosity led me to so much new knowledge about the topic and ideas about gentility in colonial and Revolutionary America that I had never had before.

As I already stated, this project really meant a lot to me. It was challenging at times, rewarding at others, but for the most part it was a fun project. I have now realized the importance of doing work like this in college. It has opened my eyes to the possibilities of the future but more importantly it has shown to me that I truly am interested in history and I want to devote my life to this sort of studying and teaching.


Reflections from Guest Curator Shannon Dewar

For as long as I can remember, History has been my favorite subject in school. I can remember doing full body outlines of prominent women in the Revolutionary War, basket weaving, and making our own countries up and creating their own governments throughout my days as a student in elementary school. Middle and high school challenged me to delve deeper into both primary and secondary sources and I grew a passion for uncovering knowledge about the past. My fondest memory was the summer going into junior year when we had homework for AP U.S History: it was to read John Adams by David McCullough. While most others in my class found the book long and considered it boring, I found it enriching and insightful. It was from that point on that I knew my love of history would be with me forever, and it ignited in me a spark to continue that passion as a major in college.

Being a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project has given me the opportunity fall in love with history all over again. I have been able to view it from an entirely new perspective. Instead of just reading sources and integrating them into essays for classes, I actually get to do history. I was able to take what I’ve learned, and actually create my own pieces to be posted for many historians and others to view. After all the years I had been the one reading people’s work, now I can actually know that someone is reading and learning from mine.

While serving as guest curator has been an amazing and insightful experience, it has not come without its challenges. I have had to learn about an entirely new topic, advertising. In addition, I have had to delve deeper into commerce and business in the colonial and Revolutionary periods and learn about the economy in a new light. Though challenging, this project has allowed me to see more into the daily life of Revolutionary America and enabled me to acquire new knowledge about the period.

Just as this project has had challenges, it has also had many rewards. I have absolutely loved the chance to work on a project that allows me to address readers not just within in the small realm of my classroom on campus, but way beyond that, including both national and international readers. The thought of someone reading my work who does not know me is quite amazing. Also, I’ve grown in confidence in my ability to write about history, and take chances in my work, allowing myself to interpret what I read and see differently than how others may. Throughout the process, I have loved to work with sources at the American Antiquarian Society and in online databases that I have never seen before. Being able to work at the American Antiquarian Society, I believe, has been my favorite part, because it is places like that where history is still alive and flourishing.

Going forward, I hope that I get the chance to work again in some capacity with a digital humanities project. It has allowed me to grow in confidence as a writer and historian, as well as provided me with undergraduate experience in a different kind of project. Guest curating the Adverts 250 Project has taught me skills that will take me farther into my future endeavors.

Reflections from Guest Curator Ceara Morse

My second round of Adverts 250 was an interesting one to say the least. It took my experience from last semester and tried to find better sources. Sometimes I failed and at other times I excelled. Last semester I used JSTOR for all my sources but I found that to be difficult. This semester I tried to broaden my sources. I found a lot of better fitting sources and I found some very interesting stories to tell. This made my analysis that much better because I found sources I really enjoyed reading. Overall, this part of the project was the easiest. Of course there is always room for improvement. If I ever had an opportunity to do this project again, I think I would want to do more research on words I do not know in the advertisements. Plus, for some reason I thought brewers and distillers were one and the same. I learned something new.

I will say there were some crazy moments, however. I was juggling multiple projects, one of which was giving me loads of stress, but that’s a whole other story. In the beginning, I thought I was going to have an upper hand on the project because I had already done it once before, but nonetheless, life is full of curveballs and it was not as easy as I thought it would be. I wouldn’t have it any other way though, because it would not have been so satisfying to finish if it had been as easy as I expected.

I got to learn so many new things about life in the colonial and Revolutionary eras. I think my favorite thing to learn about was Eastern White Pine and the Pine Tree Riot of 1772 because that’s not something in most of the history books but it had an impact on the rising tension between the English and the colonists that led to the Revolutionary War. Another interesting thing I learned about was William Jackson. He had an interesting start thanks to his mother and he is riddled into American history, such as not participating in the non-importation agreements to being captured when he tried to flee Boston because he was a Loyalist.

I think the most rewarding part of this experience was the fact that I knew people were reading my work and getting something out of it. Most of the things I wrote about I had never even heard of before so I hope to some people who read my analysis learned something too. We gained this opportunity to read into advertisements and got the chance to delve into why certain items were so popular while others were unique. Being able “do history” is such a rewarding experience because there is always something new to learn about and then can teach that new information to someone else.

Overall, I once again thoroughly enjoyed working on this project. Learning about the past helps us in the future and I find it fascinating how some of the items being advertised can lead to much larger stories that could even relate to today. I am looking forward to continuing the Slavery Adverts 250 in a week and delving into the commercial trade of slaves.

Reflections from Guest Curator Daniel McDermott

I have previous experience in public history and historical interpretation as a Park Ranger for the National Park Service, and I have looked at and interpreted primary sources for other history classes and for tours, so heading into this project I felt comfortable and within my element. The project did still push me to further my interpretation skills and ability to analyze primary sources, all within a public history setting. I especially was pushed to find my scholarly voice as well. I feel I learned a lot about the purpose of the project and about digital humanities projects, which I find to be an importation means of linking the academic world to the public through digital platforms. I came across unexpected challenges, such creating the content to reflect the audience of the project. Researching specific sources and documents for the posts was also a welcomed challenge.

The research topic and general theme of the project allowed me to really dive into learning about everyday live in colonial and Revolutionary America. A lot of my work and writing allowed me to compare our current everyday life and find similarities and differences to eighteenth-century life. Newspapers were a particularly fascinating primary source, a means of cultural communication that is still in place today, in paper or digital. Understanding the primary sources and taking on the viewpoint of a colonist helped me develop different perspectives. It pushed me to become the audience and ask myself questions. Then being able to step outside of that perspective and write about it in present terms to make it available for the public to use and learn was engaging. I tried to focus my work on an array of topics to allow readers to see that colonial life was just as complex as today. See, specifically, my post on the different textiles, baize and tammy. I realized they seemed like unfamiliar goods, but today when I see an advertisement, I automatically know what each product is. I asked myself if readers of the newspaper would read the advertisement and automatically know everything as well. I began researching the two I personally found interesting and it eventually led to me finding Abigail Adams mentioning baize in a letter to her husband John. I wanted to make clear comparisons to today as well; I hoped this would interest readers.

As for my long-term academic plans, I feel this project will help me in different aspects. It gave me a taste of being an actual historian, doing work that I might experience when I plan to continue the study of history in graduate school. Interpretation of primary sources and researching historical topics for public history use will help develop my interpretation skills as a Park Ranger. I hope to continue linking scholarship to the public through different means, especially through digital humanities which gives it easier access to people. For doing public history in an academic setting, I thought I learned a lot of the behind the scenes work it takes, and embraced the challenges not usually found in a typical classroom setting.

Reflection from Guest Curator Samuel Birney

I will admit this project was a new challenge for me as an historian. I have done research for essays and, for the most part, delved into books and treatises or reviews regarding medieval or early modern Europe, which has been the focus for most of my studies at Assumption College. So, researching eighteenth-century newspapers from colonial America was a new transition for me. It was interesting to read through the newspaper advertisements and get an impression about what life was like for colonists just prior to the Revolution that defines most of American history.

I had assumed that colonists would have been more removed from European culture and influences, but they proved to be more interested in fostering and strengthening their ties and identity to England and Europe. The colonies were also widely involved with other colonial settlements and powers, such as the West Indies, Africans, and the Dutch and French, to name a few. As I suspected, alcohol played a large role in the colonists’ lives, due to its establishment as a far more reliable drink than water or milk. I learned a lot about how colonial life varied depending on one’s economic and social standing, from transportation in single seat private carriages for the elites to a relaxing drink at work for a poor laborer. The newspaper advertisements were interesting gateways to examine colonial life and culture, from a period when the American identity had yet to form, in spite, or perhaps, because of emerging tensions between colonists and the British.

For my research I mostly focused on sources available through a simple google search because the work was going to be featured on a blog page, admittedly one that goes through a somewhat extensive research review and editing process, and as such should have been easily accessible for readers. It was also much easier to scour through google for related articles and information on the newspaper advertisements and products or related subjects than going through a college database and having to narrow down the search results. Although because of this it was a little more difficult to find creditable sources of information, although I suppose that’s where the editing and reviewing process with Prof. Keyes came in to either give a go ahead or provide alternative options. It was nice being able to send in an analysis of my research and get suggestions for improvement or new articles to explore and incorporate. I would have to say that it made the experience less stressful than I thought it was going to be.

All in all, I would have to say that this has been a bit of an eye-opening experience for me as a historian. I have seen how useful it is to have other historians available to assist and guide one’s research and writing, something that has also been a part of special topics courses and the capstone research seminar. I have utilized newspapers, and advertisements, in a way I had never considered before, due to either a lack of interest or the lack of relevance with regards to my previous classes. It’s been difficult at times trying to juggle constantly working on this project with other assignments from both the main coursework and my other classes, but as with any project or essay, seeing the final result is a pretty cathartic experience. I got to learn more about a period of history that I had been sorely lacking in knowledge and appreciation of up until this point, and as an American and a student I am grateful for this experience.

Reflections from Guest Curator Shannon Holleran

When the Adverts 250 Project was first assigned and I discovered I would be the first guest curator, I felt very intimidated and overwhelmed by the responsibility I was being tasked with. Luckily, once I started to explore the digitized newspapers and select my advertisements, the project became fun and much less overwhelming. As my week as guest curator is coming to an end, I realize I have acquired a greater knowledge of colonial and revolutionary-era America as well as many new techniques for reading and analyzing sources. During this experience, I have faced many challenges along the way; however, the result has been extremely rewarding.

The first step in this process was to select seven advertisements from eighteenth century newspapers, made available online. This was one of my favorite parts of the project because while I was selecting the advertisements I wanted to post about, I was able to see countless colonial and revolutionary-era newspapers and advertisements. I found this to be so fascinating because I could see how much newspapers and advertisements have changed over time. During the eighteenth century, newspapers were a major form of communication for the colonists; however, in today’s society, we often rely on social media as a main form of communication and advertising.

Once I had selected my seven advertisements, I was then tasked with finding other sources (primary, secondary, digital) to tie in with my post. This was one of the most challenging parts of the project for me. I found myself having a difficult time finding reliable, historically accurate sources for the time period I was posting about. I also faced problems with paraphrasing some of my sources and putting them into my own words. I found this challenging because the sources I used were filled with so many interesting facts; however, Professor Keyes gave me extremely helpful tips to avoid simply repeating what my sources had already said. Through this process of tying in other sources, I was able to acquire much more information about the colonies in the eighteenth century.

This digital humanities project helped me expand my knowledge about everyday life and commerce in colonial America. After seeing and analyzing many different advertisements, it was clear that the colonists’ society and economy had become completely Anglicized. It was interesting for me to see how many of the advertisements were about English goods. Many of the advertisements I worked with, specifically my indigo advertisements, revealed how Great Britain would exploit the colonies for their natural resources. The colonies, in return, would import a wide variety of British goods. This helped the economy in colonial America to flourish. Many advertisements revealed the colonists’ rapidly growing economy and the effects this had on society.

Although at times this project was challenging, it was extremely rewarding in the end to see my work published on the Adverts 250 Project website. It was very exciting to see the entries I had worked so hard on be seen by the public. This was the first time I was involved in a project that was published for the general public to see. I was, of course, very worried at first about people viewing my work; however, it was a very neat experience to be a part of. As a history major, I always love learning new things about our nation’s history and gaining new experiences, such as working with digitized resources and having the opportunity to visit the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester. I am thankful I was given the opportunity to work on such an interesting project. I am looking forward to curating the Slavery Adverts 250 Project and once again having the opportunity to work with these eighteenth-century newspapers.

Reflections from Guest Curator Patrick Keane

To me the best part about this project was learning about some of the background information about the people or products that were being sold. William Ewen, for example: I had no idea what “vendue master” meant. After looking it up I found out about William Ewen and that he had a very significant role in the colony of Georgia. At first I thought that with such small advertisements there wouldn’t much to it, but I could find out very significant information to give my entries more meaning. For other aspects of what I researched, such as the European goods, other people might not have known why colonists wanted to buy them. I learned in class that colonists did it to keep up with the styles in Europe.

Looking at the advertisements and then doing research on them really helped make it easier. I learned where these products were being made and by whom. Others might not have known that sugar was made in the Caribbean by slaves working at the sugar plantations during the colonial times. While knowing where these products were coming from this was a good way to inform others who had no idea about this information to really understand what these times were like. This could also give the reader more motivation to do some research of their own to learn more about certain questions they have about these times.

The background information could sometimes be the most difficult aspect of the project. Some advertisements that I chose really didn’t give me much information to research. Picking out specific parts of the advertisements is what made it easier. With one of my advertisements I didn’t even really talk about the goods it was selling, but how the shopkeepers had a lot of competition from others in Boston due to it being one of the biggest cities. Just talking about the products being sold probably doesn’t really make other people want to read, so I wanted to talk about the significance of those advertisements and even compare them to others. Advertisements sometimes gave me a lot of information that could help me find more information, or very little, making it harder. Not directly speaking about the advertisements sometimes helped. Instead of talking just about the advertisement sometimes I talked about who was in it (such as William Ewen) or why colonists loved to buy what was in it.

This project wasn’t just about me learning about these advertisements; it was also to show other people my ideas about them. That is why this project was fun to do, creating a way for others to do their own research, whether the part of the advertisement I chose or something else that they wanted to do research on. There is so much information about these advertisements that I didn’t know about: colonial America was such a different age. When I read the advertisement about real estate I had no idea I would end up learning about the person in that being a patriotic leader in the American Revolution.

It’s those little things that made the project that much better: one search of a name or product in the advertisement and I could learn so much about it, making me want to show everyone else what I found. When I found out about that I couldn’t wait to show others how significant that advertisement really was. There is significance to every advertisement on the newspapers during these times. All the products and people (whether leaders or not) played a huge part in their colonies. These people all helped develop their colonies. They also left behind sources that still bring attention to their communities: we are still reading their advertisements today.


Reflections from Guest Curator Mary Williams

As a senior History major, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve solidified my routine of how I go about tackling historical essays and responses. Writing history papers has become a formula for me. It’s a calculated process with a set order to things. I am given a very specific topic, and I focus on defending a very specific answer.

When I sat down to write my first Adverts 250 response, I was overwhelmed with the freedom I was given. There was no prompt, and if there was a formula for success, I didn’t know it. At first, I figured the safest thing that I could do was to just pick an item from the advertisement that I was already familiar with. That way, I could provide an analysis that was similar to my usual history essays and responses. I could remain within my comfort zone. Thankfully, a few sentences in, I scratched that approach.

I began searching random phrases and words from the advertisements. I found numerous articles, books, blog posts, and pictures. One search would lead to another, and each valuable find would inspire me to ask new questions (which would then again result in more searches). I got into this cycle of digging through material, finding keywords, asking new questions, changing my original questions, and searching for more material all over again. It was such an unorganized process, unlike the history work that I am so used to.

Having the chance to “do history” through this project was both refreshing and exciting. I felt like I learned so much more from being able to engage in the research process myself. I really enjoyed being able to choose my own sources. I think the most difficult part about choosing my own sources proved to be finding dependable and recent sources. Sometimes I would find a relevant source, but it would be from so long ago that I would need to find another source that was published more recently to make sure I was getting updated information.

My favorite topic that I wrote about in this project was on my entry on November 14 from the New-Hampshire Gazette. I chose to research buckskin and sheepskin gloves that were advertised as the “neatest made Gloves for Funerals.” I knew absolutely nothing about funerals in colonial America, so I was extremely curious about how gloves related to colonial funerals. When I learned that families of the deceased distributed gloves to funeral attendees, I was shocked. Giving a parting gift, especially one that could be pricey, to funeral-goers was a practice that seemed so foreign to me. It’s so interesting to me that at one point in time, specifically 1766, this listing wouldn’t have been shocking to colonists in the slightest. The beauty of learning through analyzing advertisements is that it shows us the consumer culture at the time. Consumer culture gives us information about what sorts of things people wanted and needed, which tells us a lot about what kind of lives people from the past lived.

I can honestly say that I am disappointed that I didn’t have too many opportunities to do research like this in my previous history classes. I really enjoyed the independence that came with finding important information on my own. I am not only majoring in History, but also in Education. This project has given me a lot of inspiration about what kind of work I want my future students to engage in. I have retained so much more information from this project than my usual history work. I believe this is because I was not just skimming some assigned source and writing a response to it; instead, I was active in the process of finding information, which made it so much more valuable to me. I’m really thankful that I got a chance to guest curate the Adverts 250 Project, and I’m excited to read future entries posted by my classmates.

Reflections from Guest Curator Carolyn Crawford

I thought that the Adverts 250 Project was a challenging task to complete. However, when I officially completed the project, I felt accomplished and proud for all of the hard work that I had done. I am pleased to call myself a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project. I was glad to have participated in the project and share my work with others.

Throughout my entire education, I have always expressed an interest in history. During middle school and high school, I was never given a project so extensive and detailed as the Adverts 250 Project. Usually my classmates and I were asked to analyze documents and then participate in a discussion. Following this, we would usually be asked to write an essay on the documents discussed or a reflection on what we thought of them. I did not always benefit from this repeated routine because we either needed to stay within a set of boundaries or we did not discuss the documents as explicitly as we should have.

After choosing my own week for the Adverts 250 Project, I was asked to gather advertisements from 250 years ago that week. My goal was to find advertisements for colonial goods being produced, sold, or purchased. I was free to select any advertisements for goods of my choice from a vast number of newspapers.

I browsed through the newspapers for quite some time because I wanted to find advertisements that I knew either little or no information about. Some reflected upon something that I knew about, while others gave me a whole new learning experience. In regards to the newspapers, some were longer and more detailed than others. Thankfully, I managed to find an unfamiliar advertisement for each day as guest curator.

Once I chose my advertisements, I found it challenging to decode the text of each advertisement and choose a particular part or word to respond to. With that being said, it was difficult to visibly see and comprehend some of the terminology and phrases that were written. I wonder if it was because part of the text was naturally smudged when printed during the colonial era. In addition, I found it challenging to find online articles or databases that connected to either a word or phrase that I decided to focus on for my responses. I knew that I could not use one particular source multiple times for my responses. Despite these challenges, I knew that it was essential to continue searching for clues and connections that referred back to my advertisements. By doing so, I was able to expand my knowledge of colonial life and even imagine myself living during the era.

Prior to completing the Adverts 250 Project, I did not have a well developed understanding of the difference between various kinds of sources, such as primary and secondary sources. Additionally, I had a difficult time determining whether or not an article or website was accurate enough to use. Before I was a student at Assumption, I was briefly taught about source documents and the accuracy of websites and articles in high school. With that being said, I never fully developed a concrete understanding of either of these two concepts. Ultimately, it affected me and the way I analyze and write essays when I came to college. Thankfully, the Adverts 250 Project and my Colonial America class, in general, cleared up my past misconceptions and confusion of these two concepts. After completing this project, I feel like I’d be able to accomplish any other school project that involves primary and secondary sources or determining the accuracy of articles or websites.

I’ll admit that before I started this project, I never had my own Twitter account. At first, I was a bit apprehensive about completing this project because I did not understand how the social media site worked. Once a friend helped me create an account and taught me the basics of how the social media site worked, I felt more confident and prepared for what I was supposed to do. The Adverts 250 Project not only got me on Twitter but it allowed me to share my accomplishments and communicate with other history students and historians across the United States.

Upon my completion of the project, I learned how to accurately analyze a primary source and determine if an article or website is accurate or not. Additionally, I was able to expand my knowledge of colonial America by examining various goods that were bought and sold. Although this project had a lot of work and components involved, I encouraged others to experience it, whether that is by looking on the blog, the Twitter feed, or becoming an active guest curator.

Reflections from Guest Curator Ceara Morse

Before this project, I didn’t really know about the advertising aspect of colonial America. Delving into these advertisements opens many doors into the actual lives of colonists. I got to see what type of items the colonists were interested in and what was offered to them through Britain and other countries that imported goods into the colonies. Not only did I get to learn history that isn’t normally in the textbooks, I also got to work with historical documents and learned how to better navigate through both primary and secondary sources.

Most people think what they are learning in the textbooks is all they need to know about history. However, this project pushes those boundaries of just reading and remembering dates that so many believe is what history is about. Prof. Keyes pushed me to find out what is behind these advertisements, why items were sold, what was their importance, and so on. While this may sound easy, at the same time it was quite challenging. First I had to find something I wanted to look into. Then I delved into secondary or primary sources on that topic, finding information that pertains to what I wanted to talk about. Nonetheless, I was up for the challenge.

I personally found the American Antiquarian Society most helpful in that they have a vast number of newspapers to choose from, which helped make picking these advertisements in the first place much easier. Then for secondary sources, I normally turn to either Google Scholar or JSTOR to help me back up my analysis. This proved beneficial at times, but also hindered because it was harder to find specific articles that pertained to some of my topics.

During this project, I focused on vastly different topics day to day. One of my favorites that I focused on was the advertisement for an almanac. Finding an article about magic and astrology and focusing on the parts that mentioned almanacs was quite interesting. The best part was finding out that there were some people who did enjoy reading the almanacs and even put them up there close to the Bible, which back then definitely meant something since many colonist were very religious. Another one of my favorites (but actually what proved to be one of my harder advertisements) was my last one, about a piece of land being sold in Georgia. With the previous ones, I focused on a certain item or where these items came from. However, with this advertisement I had to take a completely different route. So I researched selling land in Georgia and I came across Jonathan Bryan. The fact that one man could be that influential at one time over so much land astounded me, but that’s what history is about for me: finding out facts and learning something new that I didn’t know before, especially something that expands my knowledge like this project did.

Coming into this project, I didn’t know what to expect from it. Just by going over the gigantic packet of instructions it all seemed very overwhelming and quite frightening. Nonetheless, once I actually got started with researching for articles that backed up my analysis, it became quite easier, especially after I had a few advertisements under my belt.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed working on this project. It has succeeded in broadening my horizons into the life of the average colonist. I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me on my exploration of history as I work on earning a history degree. I also look forward to spending more time in the American Antiquarian Society.