Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum, Hadley, MA
This summer I worked as a Museum Assistant at the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum, a small house museum in Hadley, Massachusetts. Founded in 1949, the Museum focuses on the history of a remarkably well-documented family that occupied the property for over two hundred years. One of the most influential families in the area and still thriving today, the sizeable and ever-growing collection offers an opportunity to study early life in America through a number of lenses. When the Museum was first founded, it highlighted the achievements of the pious patriarchs who had occupied the House. Gradually, it evolved to tell the story of the women who wielded just as much, if not more, power in social and family life. The Museum is seeking to continue this historiographical evolution by processing new archival additions, reinterpreting its archives, and researching new material to tell a more balanced story. Part of my role this summer was to assist in this work.
My project focused on the family’s remarkably consistent commitment to educational endeavors across generations and geography. I researched the widest branches of the extensive family tree to find examples of teachers, school commissioners, founders, and patrons. With what was readily available online, I had created a catalog of largely male educational work in the family. To tell a more balanced (and more accurate) story, I sought out resources that could highlight the work of intergenerational education amongst women in the House, education that operated outside traditional institutions of knowledge. Further research and artifacts like a chalkboard with a lesson plan in the attic of the Museum helped to confirm my findings and added a depth to my writing.
Other material I found gained new meaning in the context of our contemporary moment: one piece I wrote compared the process of early nineteenth-century inoculation against smallpox (variolation) and its side effects as described in the diaries of one of the earliest inhabitants of the house to that of the vaccines against Covid, an example of how history can bring new meaning to the present.
Having recently declared my history major when I applied for this position at the Museum, I was hopeful that it would add perspective to what a career in history but outside of academia might look like—and that it did! My employer brought in local contacts to talk about their experiences which was greatly helpful in understanding a field like public history as a career path. The nature of my work also drew on skills from my courses at Williams and developed ones that I hope to incorporate in the future—doing self-directed research in archives will be informative in my decision to write a thesis as well.
I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to explore and share local history with national relevance, and I’d like to thank the Kraft Family and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for making my experience this summer possible.