National History Day Resources

National History Day 2023
Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas

Primary sources at the Boston Athenaeum

The Boston Athenaeum holds a wide range of materials related to the 2023 National History Day theme.

Online & Digital Resources

The Athenaeum has thousands of current, rare, and special collections items available in digital format at no charge.

Use Digital Collections

Search the library catalog 

Schedule research appointments in special collections when the Special Collections Reading Room is open (free, on-site service).

Teachers can schedule live, in-person library and research orientations for their students through academic tours.

Contact education@bostonathenaeum.org or reference@bostonathenaeum.org for help finding primary sources related to your topic.

Abolitionist Movement in Boston

Robert Morris Papers, 1820-1874. Robert Morris (1823-1882) was the second Black lawyer in the United States. During the 1840s and 1850s he played an integral part in the anti-slavery and civil-rights efforts in Boston.

Secondary Sources:

Bilder, M.S. and Davis, L. Robert Morris : lawyer & activist. Boston, 2017. (rare books/tract, not digitized).. The catalog record.

Collison, Gary. Shadrach Minkins : from fugitive slave to citizen. Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 1997. The catalog record.

The Harriet Hayden Albums

Full digital collection here.

“Harriet (Bell) Hayden (1816-1893) was a survivor of slavery and an anti-slavery activist married to famed abolitionist Lewis Hayden (1811-1889). Originally from Kentucky, both Harriet and Lewis escaped slavery in 1844 with the assistance of a white northerner, Reverend Calvin Fairbanks, traveling first to Ohio and ultimately finding refuge in Canada. After only two years of freedom, the formerly enslaved couple returned to the United States in 1846, jeopardizing their own freedom to join the fight in emancipating others.”

[Robert Morris] [graphic] : [three-quarter length, standing portrait (photograph)].
Catalog record and digital copy.

Secondary Sources:

Greenidge, Kerri. Boston’s abolitionists. Beverly, MA : Commonwealth Editions, 2006. (not digitized)
Catalog record.

Jacobs, Donald M. (editor). Courage and conscience : Black & white abolitionists in Boston. Bloomington, IN : Indiana University Press, 1993. Catalog record and limited eBook available.

Newby-Alexander, Cassandra. Virginia waterways and the Underground Railroad. Charleston, SC : The History Press, 2017. (not digitized). Catalog record.

Marquis de Lafayette

Lafayette: An American Icon. Access digitized collection.

“Beginning in 1777, when he left France for America to offer assistance in the American Revolution, he enthralled his countrymen and earned the adoration of the rebellious Americans. Within a year, George Washington thought of the young Frenchman as an adopted son, Lafayette considered himself to be a “citizen of two worlds,” and American patriots commonly referred to him as “Our Marquis.””

Barber, Charles Edward (creator). The Lafayette Dollar. 1900. The American Numismatic Society, New York.

Mourning Ribbon [Mourning ribbon for Lafayette] [realia] [1834?]

Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, marquis de. Memoirs, correspondence and manuscripts of General Lafayette. Published by his family. Vol. I. New York : Saunders and Otley, 1837. Get catalog record.  Access ebook

Secondary Sources:

Cecil, E. Life of Lafayette : written for children. Boston : Crosby, Nichols and Company, 1860.  Catalog record.

Duncan, Mike. Hero of two worlds : the Marquis de Lafayette in the age of revolution. New York : PublicAffairs, Hachette Book Group, 2021. Catalog record.

Chaffin, Tom. Revolutionary brothers : Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the friendship that helped forge two nations. New York : Public Affairs, Hachette Book Group, 2021.  Catalog record.

Ground-breaking Boston artists

Constantine Manos Bostonians 1976 Photographs  

“Manos’s varied and intimate series reveals Boston at a particular moment of growth and change. This dynamism can be felt through the photographs, allowing viewers to make connections with anonymous city dwellers from decades past. As a complete portfolio and as singular prints, the photographs celebrate Boston and its people.”

Manos, Constantine (artist). Bostonians 1976. Boston MA, 1976. Collection of the Boston Athenaeum.

Allan Rohan Crite Drawings and Watercolors 

“Crite became one of the most prolific artists of his generation, creating a vast body of work in a variety of media, from oil paintings and watercolors, to lithographs and drawings. Early in his career he exhibited with members of the Harlem Renaissance as he developed what would become one of the great themes of his work: the daily life of ordinary African-Americans. He resisted the stereotypical views of African-Americans prevalent in the 1920s and 1930 and sought to “paint people of color as normal human beings.”* He would remain true to this radical vision for the rest of his long life; his commitment resulted in an extraordinary visual and historical record of African-American life in twentieth-century urban America.”

Access the digital collection of Crite.

Crite, Allan Rohan (artist). 7 a.m. car. Boston, MA. 1943. Collection of the Boston Athenaeum. Catalog record. 

Secondary Source:

Perry, Regenia. Free within ourselves : African-American artists in the collection of the National Museum of American Art. Washington, D.C. ; San Francisco, Calif. : National Museum of American Art in association with Pomegranate Artbooks, 1992. Catalog record.

Railroads and Transportation

Boston and Albany Railroad Company and South Station (digital collection)
Boston & Albany R. R. – Boston Yard and Construction of South Station, Boston, Mass. are two distinct collections of cyanotype photographs recording the railroad infrastructure in Boston in the 1890s.
Link to digital collection.

Harrington, C. S. 011- Unidentified Train Yard with Laborers In the Boston & Albany R.R. – Boston Yard Collection. Boston. 1898. Collection of the Boston Athenaeum.  Catalog record and digital copy:

Georgia, General Assembly, House of Representatives. Committee on Western and Atlantic Railroad. Report of House Committee on Western and Atlantic Railroad. Milledgeville, Ga. 1862.
Catalog record and digital copy.

Hedley, Oswald Dodd. Who invented the locomotive engine? : with a review of Smiles’s Life of Stephenson. London : Ward and Lock. 1858. Catalog record andd digital copy:

Holbrook, G.R. Holbrook’s New England railroad guide. Boston: Geo. R. Holbrook. 1849. (not digitized). Catalog record.

Lynn & Boston R. R. Co. The Lynn & Boston Railroad summer guide : a directory of the pleasant trips on the electric lines of the Lynn & Boston R. R. Co. : the direct route to all the pleasure resorts of the North Shore of Massachusetts Bay. Boston(?) : Lynn & Boston R. R. Co., 1897. (not digitized). Catalog record.

Williams & Co. Railroad & township map of Massachusetts. Boston, MA : Boston Map Store. 1882. (not digitized). Catalog record.

Inventions

WW II Propaganda Poster
National Association of Manufacturers (U.S.) Inventions make– more jobs and higher wages, more goods for more people, more leisure [graphic] : the American patent system stimulates invention and research — rewards “modern pioneers” who create new jobs, new products, new opportunities. United States(?) : National Association of Manufacturers(?), between 1941 and 1945. (not digitized) Catalog record

Steam Siphon Broadside –
Horace McMurtrie & Co. Lansdell’s patent steam siphon. Boston, MA. 1866]. Catalog record. Digital copy.

Accum, Friedrich Christian. A practical treatise on gas-light : exhibiting a summary description of the apparatus and machinery best calculated for illuminating streets, houses and manufactories, with carburetted hydrogen, or coal-gas : with remarks on the utility, safety, and general nature of this new branch of civil economy. London : Stereotyped and printed by Davies, Michael, and Hudson, Poppin’s Court, Fleet Street, for R. Ackermann, 1816.  Catalog record. Digital Copy.

Democracy in practice

Nineteenth-Century Political Ballots (digital collection)

“The use of paper ballots in Massachusetts as an official mode of voting dates from the colonial period… Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to produce and distribute an official ballot. The state-issued ballots listed all the candidates, not just the candidates of a particular party, and names were grouped together in blocs according to office sought. Moreover, by taking the responsibility for producing and distributing ballots away from the political parties the Australia ballot system now allowed voters to fill out ballots in relative secrecy.

Sons of Liberty. S.O.L : for governor, John Quincy Adams, of Quincy. For lieutenant-governor, Joseph Tucker, of Lenox … For representative to General Court, James A. Hervey, of Medford. Medford, MA. 1869 (?).  Catalog record. Digital copy.

Secondary Sources:

Keyssar, Alexander. The right to vote : the contested history of democracy in the United States. New York : Basic Books, 2000. Catalog record.

Bausum, Ann. With courage and cloth : winning the fight for a woman’s right to vote. Washington, D.C. : National Geographic, 2004.  Catalog Record.

Foner, Eric. The second founding : how the Civil War and Reconstruction remade the Constitution. New York, NY : W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2019. Catalog record.

New forms of banking and finance

Provident Institution for Savings in the Town of Boston Records, 1816-1985 (digital collection)

“The first savings bank to be incorporated in the United States, the Provident Institution for Savings in the Town of Boston was founded by James Savage and other prominent Bostonians… The founders’ aims were predicated on the idea that savings banks would encourage thrift and self-improvement of the poor of Boston without subjecting them to the so-called moral corruption associated with outright charity.”

Link to digital collection.

Whitehill, Walter Muir. The Provident Institution for Savings in the town of Boston, 1816-1966 : a historical sketch. Boston : Provident Institution for Savings(?), 1966. (not digitized). Catalog record.

Secondary Sources:

Hammond, Bray. Banks and politics in America, from the Revolution to the Civil War. Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1957. (not digitized). Catalog record. 

Miscellaneous

Architecture of New England
Hunt, W. H. New England architect and home builder : a magazine devoted to home building, furnishing and decorating [Vol. 1, No. 1]. Lynn, MA : W.H. Hunt Publishing Company. 1903.
Catalog record: http://catalog.bostonathenaeum.org/vwebv/holdingsInfo?bibId=555430
Digital Copy: https://cdm.bostonathenaeum.org/digital/collection/p15482coll3/id/4678/rec/3

Cooking
Carter, Charles.The complete practical cook, or, A new system of the whole art and mystery of cookery : being a select collection of above five hundred recipes … London : Printed for W. Meadow, 1730.
Catalog record.  Digital Copy.