Monday, March 18, 2013

Massachusetts Research Adventure: Days 1-5

In the spirit of my previous travelogues, such as the California Research Adventure (parts III, III, and IV) and the Hawaiʻi Research Adventure (parts I, II, III, IV, V, and VI), I hereby present, "Massachusetts Research Adventure," in one act.

Day 1: Arrival in Boston

Woke at 5:30AM to wander through the dark of Manhattan to 11th Avenue (no man's land) to catch the Megabus to Boston. I slept part-way through the journey, waking near Worcester, a city I have fond memories of. (My favorite memory is from 2005 when I got stranded in a snowstorm and was forced to stay at a fancy hotel downtown for a few days. My only amusement? Wandering the deserted, snow-filled streets for hours on end, eating lots of Chinese food because everything else was closed down.)

Arrived in Boston around 11AM, and from South Station I moseyed through Chinatown to the South End, to my lodging for the next four nights: 40 Berkeley, a really nice, inexpensive hostel.

My private hostel room on the fifth floor of 40 Berkeley

A Room with a View. From Berkeley Street to the Back Bay of Boston.

After checking into my room at 40 Berkeley, I packed up my research items (laptop? check. power cord? check. digital camera? check. dramamine for microfilm-reading-induced motion sickness? check. Just kidding, but I've thought about it). Then I walked through the Back Bay, past Copley Square (where I once helped a homeless man out of the cold, brought him to a nearby McDonald's, and he peed all over the floor of the bathroom), past the Hynes Convention Center (where I lived for four days of my life last time I was in Boston), past the Berkelee School of Music (which I hadn't seen since 2000/2001 when I was applying to college and I applied to Berkelee. I didn't get in). Finally, just before tumbling into the fens, I made it to my destination: the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston

Everyone at the Massachusetts Historical Society was friendly and helpful. I had only a few hours there my first day, before they closed up at 4:30pm. So I requested a few manuscripts: a ship's log from the 1810s, a letterbook from the 1820s. Yes, it turns out that Bostonians wrote about and discussed Hawaiʻi all the time back then, and more than a few of them visited Hawaiʻi.

In fact, the Massachusetts Historical Society's collections are so essential to understanding the history of Hawaiʻi, I believe, that I have applied for two different fellowships for the opportunity to conduct further research there. We'll see how that goes...

I had "rice bowl" for lunch, with spicy tofu (yum!), and then for dinner, I walked all the way back to the South End and ended up getting an eggplant sub from a local Italian joint. (N.B.: every restaurant in a one mile radius of where I was staying was an Italian restaurant!) 

That evening I watched Brothers on the Line (2012), a documentary about the Reuther brothers and the UAW (United Auto Workers). Watched it on my laptop while sitting in my hostel bed eating my eggplant. What an evening!

Day 2: Back to MHS

Nothing out of the ordinary here. Woke up at 7am, got free breakfast at the hostel (eggs, french toast, juice, black coffee), walked to the Massachusetts Historical Society, got there around 9:15am, did research until noon, left for a lunch break at a Thai restaurant (pad see ew with tofu), back to the archives at 1pm, until 4:30pm, then walked back to the South End, went to a pizza place and while waiting for my dinner to be made, I had some hard cider and studied people sitting at the bar, then took my personal pizza back to the hostel, and ate it while watching another documentary film, As Goes Janesville (2012), about our Great Recession and its effect on the city of Janesville, Wisconsin. 

At the historical society, I looked mostly at microfilms all day. Ugh...too much microfilm! But it was interesting stuff. Mostly ship's logs. My favorite part of this was typing in the latitude and longitude data from the ship's logs in Google Maps on my laptop while working through the materials. That way I can "trace" the path of these ships in satellite view. I kept thinking how cool it would be to translate hundreds of these ship's logs into data that could be plugged into Google Maps, then animated, to show all the ships moving back and forth across the Pacific Ocean during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. If I ever figure out how to do this, and if I can get tons of research assistants to actually do the hard work of data entry, then I will do this!

Day 3: Back-to-Back MHS

Same story as before. Wake, eat breakfast, walk to MHS, do research, take lunch break (veggie hot dog!), do more research, get sick of looking at microfilm, walk back to hostel, find local greasy food, eat it. 

The only difference on Day 3 was that I ran out of labor-themed documentary films to watch in the evenings on my laptop, so instead I spent the evening beginning to write reviews of the two aforementioned films (a little writing project I am working on) as well as writing a draft of testimony that I plan to deliver on March 19 to the SUNY Board of Trustees in opposition to mass incarceration and in favor of free education for all New Yorkers! (Yes, they are related!)

Day 4: Northeastern University

Northeastern University, Boston

On Days 4 and 5, I attended a graduate student conference at Northeastern University on the topic of "Migration, Mobility, and Movements: Crossing Borders in World History." It was truly a great conference! Lots of nice, clever people, and a very friendly and collegial atmosphere for scholarly (and, of course, non-scholarly) conversations. 

I was scheduled to present on Day 5, so my role on Day 4 was just to "cheerlead" friends who were presenting, and otherwise keep an open mind (and keep my eyes open—waking up at 7am or earlier four mornings in a row was killing me!). But they had lots of free coffee and snacks. Indeed, I did not spend a single penny on food or drink during my last two days in Boston!! I've never been so successful in capitalizing on the generosity of others!

I attended the conference from 8:30am until about 7pm on Day 4. In the midst of the day, we also were able to visit the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), across the street from Northeastern, for free for an hour or so. (More on the MFA at the bottom of this post.)

At the end of the day, my colleague from Stony Brook and I headed over to the reception, drank lots of wine and ate fancy foods. We became good friends with the woman who was bartending, and after a few drinks I really couldn't help keep my mouth shut when talking with colleagues about how "graduate students need to organize into unions!" 

From there we wandered over to a local dive bar. It is apparently the favorite spot of Northeastern grad students—at least in the history department. Pitchers of beer circled around, and I got even more "free" nourishment. Somehow, I ended up the last non-Northeasterner among Northeasterners, deep in conversation with a "public herstorian." (Public history + feminism. On that note, I just read a great article about how only 10% or so of Wikipedia contributors are female, and this has resulted in a very male-centric perspective. I never really thought about that.)

Got back to the hostel around midnight.

Day 5: Goodbye Boston!

St. Patrick's Day in Boston. All this NY Jew has to say about that is: oy

But I was able to avoid the people-in-green for most of the day. I presented my paper in the morning. Had lots and lots of coffee, again, to keep myself alive. Had more great conversations with Northeasterners. (These are good people!) Eventually, around 3:30pm or so, the conference was over. I got on the "T" for the first time in my five days in Boston and I traveled back to Chinatown, then wandered on foot to South Station. I found South Station full of people-in-green, people smelling of alcohol, speaking/screaming in very loud voices. But I found a small nook in a corner of the station to sit and read a book about leprosy in Hawaiʻi. (Fun.) Then got on a 6:30pm megabus back to NYC.

I arrived back in the city around 11pm. All around a great research adventure!!

Addendum: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The MFA is a great museum. I had not been there in maybe four or five years, so I was very happy to have the opportunity to visit again. Of course we saw many Copleys and Reveres, but I wanted to see the museum's Oceanic art collection. It consisted of just one room—of course! It's always just one room! 

Oceanic art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

They did not have any Hawaiian objects, so I moved on quickly from there to the Islamic wing (just one long corridor). I am scheduled to teach a class this summer on the history of the Silk Road, and the intersections between Chinese and Central Asian histories. So I was happy to find a good selection of Iranian ceramics that evidenced relationships between Iran and China during the Tang, Song, Yuan, and Ming periods (in Chinese-history-periodization-speak). 

Iranian ceramics from the 10th through 17th centuries, featuring designs and colorations similar to Chinese ceramics. It is not that there is a "Chinese" style and an "Iranian" style, but that they were both mutually influencing and influenced.

And from the China collections, evidence of Central Asian influences:

Chinese brush rest with Arabic script (16th century); flask with representations of Central Asian musicians and dancer (6th century); statues of female polo players on horseback (circa 7th-9th centuries)

That's all folks! If I win a fellowship to return to Boston, then I will continue this research adventure over the summer. If not, well, I'll always have great memories!

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