J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

“Making History” at Boston College through 11 December

I became curious about the discovery of the Ribchester Parade Helmet after visiting an exhibit now at the McMullen Museum inside Devlin Hall at Boston College. Called “Making History,” it consists mainly of material from the Society of Antiquaries in London.

Founded in 1707 and receiving a royal charter in 1751, the Society of Antiquaries provided a center for the systematic study of Britain’s past. In essence, it was Enlightenment thinking applied to history.

Among the society’s early work on display in Chestnut Hill are:
  • A 1785 reproduction of a painting of the coronation of Edward VI, showing a broad sweep of London at the time. This was useful since the original painting burned up in 1793.
  • Careful drawings of the great Stonehenge collapse of 1797.
  • A Bronze Age shield and a crucifix found on Bosworth Field, both found around 1778.
  • A drawing of that Ribchester Helmet, found in 1796.
  • A painting commissioned from young artist J. M. W. Turner in 1793 to record the look of the St. Augustine’s Gate at Canterbury. At the time the building was a brewery.
Among the items on display that helped influence American history are a copy of John Smith’s Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, which named this region, and a copy of the Magna Carta dating from some time after 1225.

The Antiquaries were on the forefront of historical preservation. Not many people in eighteenth-century Britain and America valued keeping buildings or artifacts around just because they were old if they could be useful some other way.

And the item displayed at the top of this posting? That’s a late-1700s ballot box from the Society. A member put his [naturally] hand into the hole and dropped a ball to the left or right to vote “YEA” or “NO.” The ball dropped into one of the two drawers at the bottom to be counted later.


John L. Smith said...

Hard to tell from the photo scale, so must've either been a big ballot box or a small election.

J. L. Bell said...

The hole is just big enough for a man to insert his fist holding a little wooden ball, and the drawers might contain a couple dozen balls. Somewhere on the web I saw a photo of several of these boxes lined up so an entire society could vote at once, or members could vote on separate issues or admissions at once.

Jen said...

What did you think of the exhibition? What were the highlights?

J. L. Bell said...

I liked seeing the items I wrote about above, and thinking about what they said about the study of the past in the 1700s. There are also quite a lot of items from the pre-Raphaelites, which didn’t grab me.