A DIY Encyclopedia: G. William Patten’s iconography and symbolism notes

If you are on the hunt for a DIY encyclopedia, look no further than Glancy William Patten’s personal papers. G. William Patten, a local Boston artist, kept meticulous notes about symbolism and meaning ranging from animals to persons to flags of the world.

As discussed in more detail elsewhere on our blog, Patten, born in 1907, began drawing at a young age. Throughout his life, he had numerous jobs that revolved around design, illustration, and engineering, including monument designer, editor of American Art in Stone, and positions at architectural firms. During World War II, Patten even drew fighter plane designs for Vought aircraft company.


G. William Patten drawings of angels, Box 9, Folder 9, G. William Patten papers (MS2003-042), John J. Burns Library, Boston College

In his 30s, Patten began scrupulously recording a world of symbols. Patten’s collection, entitled, “Iconography and symbolism notes, circa 1940s-1980s”, meticulously documents meanings behind every-day objects, animals, and words. What is classified as notes is less marginal jottings than an intensely organized mini-encyclopedia of symbols and meanings. Some of the headings include: Animals A-Z, General A-Z, Groups and Organizations, Countries, Numbers, and Persons A-Z. Almost all categories contain hundreds of entries, many of which are illustrated

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Hearing the Past

The term “archives” may call up images of vellum pages covered with beautiful cursive (or indecipherable scribbles) but, as previous blog posts on material culture highlight– see What’s in a Game? Some Examples of Board Games at Burns Library and From Chasubles to Spider Puppets: The Lessons, Joys, and Challenges of Curating at Burns Library they are frequently so much more. Among the many formats in our collections, Burns Library holds a wealth of recordings within the Irish Music Archives, as well as recorded history within numerous literary and historical collections. 

Image of Audio recordings from the Howard Belding Gill papers

Audio recordings from the Howard Belding Gill papers, MS.1995.018, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Frequently, as an archivist describing collections, I’ve been stumped by the black-box nature of audiovisual recordings. When a folder of papers has a terse or nonexistent title, I can look inside to find out more. To date this was untrue for cassettes and discs; nothing on the box meant no description, since listening to or viewing an item could potentially ruin it. The result was unhelpful and unsatisfying description: “untitled audio recording, undated.”  

A recent Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Recordings at Risk grant supported the digitization by an outside vendor of two collections of traditional Irish music from New York and Boston on audio reels, and propelled us to set up a dedicated laptop for researchers to access digitized audiovisual content in our reading room. Among other things, this new access model drove an initiative to make audiovisual contents more readily available by digitizing them at the same time that collections are being described. This effort is currently limited to formats that can be digitized in our digital lab, but that list already includes audio cassettes, phonograph discs, and video cassettes of multiple types (from tiny miniDV up to the nearly-ubiquitous home video format, VHS). The result is that I can now listen to a portion of the mystery cassette or disc via the access copy made by our Digital Archives Specialist Jack Kearney as often as I need without fear of consequences to the original item. Instead of transcribing the outside, “Mr. Gill, room 212, Bascon Hall”, I can reflect the content, “‘The Juvenile Panorama’ guest lecture”.


Digitization equipment from the lab

A sampling of what the Burns Library has already been able to describe and make available for research includes:

Very shortly two new collections that bridge poetry, music, and Irish culture will also have audiovisual components available. The papers of Washington, D. C.-area author and traditional Irish composer and performer Terrence Winch include recordings of poetry readings with fellow poets Michael Lally, Doug Lang, Ted Berrigan, Tim Dlugos, and Diane Ward, and concerts, often with Winch reading poetry and short stories as well as performing as part of his band Celtic Thunder. Another multi-faceted contemporary author, Irish poet and literary critic Gerald Dawe, has recordings that complement his writings. He was a frequent contributor to BBC Radio Ireland and RTE Radio broadcasts, and his papers include draft texts of his talks, poetry readings, and interviews, complemented by audio recordings of the broadcasts. 


Terence Winch’s band Celtic Thunder in 1978 as documented in a newspaper article, photograph, and concert recording, Terence Winch papers, MS.2017.005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Why should you care about this small segment of the archival collections that was previously inaccessible? Because it’s a particularly vivid evocation of the past. Hearing a voice or seeing a figure in motion brings the past into the present in a way that text or artifacts alone cannot. 

-Lynn Moulton, Processing Archivist, John J. Burns Library

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Snapshots of Hawai’i’s Past: The Hopkins Family Collection

This summer, thousands of demonstrators blocked construction of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) that would sit atop Mauna Kea. Demonstrators noted the sacredness and environmental significance of Mauna Kea, and many Native Hawaiians and supporters highlighted Hawaiʻi’s controversial annexation into the United States over 100 years ago. At Burns Library, we hold pieces of Hawai’i’s political power, cultural renaissance, and global presence in the 19th century.

The Hopkins Family Papers (1825-1919) collection contains correspondence, photographs, and ephemera from the Hopkins family, ranging from 1826-1989. Most of the materials pertain to Manley Hopkins and his wife Catherine, as well as letters with their son, British writer Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ.

Letter from David Kalakua - 1875

Letter from David Kalakua, 1875, Box 13, Folder 3, Hopkins family papers, MS1991-023

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The Changing 20th Century: A Look into the Margaret M. Fitzgerald Papers

While Burns Library has papers from notable figures such as Tip O’Neill and W.B. Yeats, there is still much to discover in the collections about those who may not be in history textbooks or literary canons. Margaret Mary Fitzgerald is one such example. A Boston native, Fitzgerald was born in the South End in 1891, and by 1906, she was working in Filene’s, the famed Boston department store. Fitzgerald’s papers document both the career of a remarkable woman as well as the changing economic and political norms for women throughout the 20th century. 

During her career at Filene’s, Fitzgerald worked her way up from cashier to buyer for three departments. She also became the president of the Filene’s Cooperative Association,the company union, and worked on an effort to determine a fair living wage for the women working at Filene’s. 

Image of Fitzgerald's Line-A-Day diaries

Fitzgerald’s Line-A-Day diaries, Box 1, Margaret M. Fitzgerald papers, MS.2000.009

Much can be discovered in these papers about Fitgerald’s daily life. A meticulous user of Line-A-Day diaries, her papers contain seven of these diaries, tracking her life from the 1940s into the 1970s. Even without reading a word, the idea that someone could so faithfully fill out a line for every single day for multiple decades gives insight into her personality!

Her papers can also be used as a window into changing economic and political norms throughout the 20th century. Fitzgerald’s records chronicle her work in Filene’s, her time as a member of the Retail Store Wage Board of the Minimum Wage Commission of Massachusetts, and her many speeches to various Boston area clubs and churches as a member of the Catholic and Professional Business Guild. 

Image of proposed clothing expenditures for retail workers

Proposed clothing expenditures for retail workers, Box 2, Folder 9, Margaret M. Fitzgerald papers, MS.2000.009

As part of her work advocating for Filene’s workers, Fitzgerald collected information on the living situations of retail workers. This data, as well as memos discussing proposed wages for Filene’s workers and copies of Fitzgerald’s own tax returns for 1918-1934, highlights the day-to-day working conditions of female retail employees in the early 20th century.  One of the most interesting factors considered in this wage discussion is the personal wardrobe the workers were expected to have to work in retail. A proposed budget lists exactly what clothing women should own, and how much the estimated cost of each item was. Continue reading

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Using Defined Learning Objectives in the Burns Library Instruction Program, Fall 2019

Burns Library Instruction Services Banner Image

In the Fall 2019 semester,  Burns Library staff has run 42 instruction sessions for almost 850 Boston College students. Working with faculty across 11 disciplines, we’ve custom designed active learning sessions around defined learning goals. We are tired, but we are really happy to see our efforts pay off as students acquire and sharpen their research and inquiry skills, both in the classroom and in follow up visits to the Reading Room. 

A big part of what we do is demystify special collections and demonstrate that these unique materials are accessible to all BC students for any reason. Sometimes simply having students get their hands on rare books and archival material is all it takes to get over the concept that Burns Library is only for “real” scholars (whatever that is) and graduate students. As we routinely tell them, researchers come from around the world to use these collections that are in your backyard, so you might as well take advantage of them, too. 

The Fall 2019 semester has challenged us to be creative in how we use our collections to develop a range of skills related to primary source research. We’ve tried lots of new things, and each session proves to be just as much a learning experience for the librarians as for the students. We’ve enjoyed planning and teaching all our classes, and have highlighted a few below from different disciplines that have been ideal collaborations between the instruction team, faculty, and students, and resulted in some robust special collections experiences.

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Keeping Time: The Sir Jimmy Shand Family’s Music Collection

Burns Library is delighted to announce the availability of a Scottish and Irish music collection from the family of the Scottish accordionist, bandleader, and composer Sir Jimmy Shand (1908-2000). Shand was known worldwide for his musicianship, strict tempos, and devotion to Scottish country dance audiences.  In 2017, Boston College acquired the books for Burns Library’s Irish Music Archives from accordionist, bandleader, and composer Jimmy Shand, Jr.

Born in East Wemyss, Fife, Shand Sr. taught himself to play melodeon and other instruments. The sixth of nine children, he left school at 14 to work in the nearby Lochhead Colliery. After the mining strike of 1926 he moved to Dundee, accepting a travelling salesman position in 1933 with J.T. Forbes to demonstrate and sell accordions. His accordion demo skills led to recording opportunities in the studio and on radio. He began making regular solo accordion broadcasts in the mid 1930s, and by 1940 was leading a Scottish country dance band. After World War II, the Shand Band toured extensively throughout Scotland, Britain, and beyond.

The collection’s 88 printed music titles, dating from the 1850s to the 1980s, were part of the family’s personal library and a local resource for the community. A number of the books in the Shand collection are signed by either Jimmy Shand, Sr. or by Jimmy Shand, Jr., who performed regularly with his father’s band and also had an accordion repair business.

The titles offer insights into the family’s musical interests. About half comprise music for Scottish bagpipes. The collection also includes songs, fiddle music, and music for piano. Connections with Ireland and Irish music are evident in titles such as Captain Francis O’Neill’s The Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems, signed by six members of the musical group The Chieftains.

The Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems, by Francis O'Neill. Signed by The Chieftains.

The Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems, by Francis O’Neill. Signed by The Chieftains.

Growing up in County Clare, Ireland, Boston College’s former Sullivan Artist-in-Residence Seamus Connolly recalls the excitement of hearing Shand on the radio:

“The name Shand is synonymous with the traditional music of Scotland. The rock-solid rhythm and strict tempo of master accordionist and composer Sir Jimmy Shand are forever embedded in my mind. Joyous memories of Mr. Shand’s music have remained with me all my life. They take me back to my youth in Killaloe, as we tuned our crackly radio to the Scottish airwaves to listen to the star of radio and television playing with his band.” 

Connolly, Séamus. “Dominick McCarthy’s Irish Barndance” by Jimmy Shand, Jr. The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music, accessed November 12, 2019. https://connollymusiccollection.bc.edu/document/408

In 1954 Shand and his band made their first tour of Ireland, where they were met with overflow crowds. They crossed the Atlantic in 1955 to tour Canada and the United States, and their first tour of Australia and New Zealand came in 1961. Shand composed over 300 tunes and his band recorded for several labels. His worldwide influence on behalf of Scottish culture was recognized by various honors, including an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in 1962, an honorary Master of Arts degree from Dundee University in 1985, and knighthood in 1999. 

The printed music collection from the Shand family is one of several Irish Music Archives collections with a Scottish component. If you would like to access the collection in Burns Library’s Reading Room or submit a question, we invite you to contact us using Burns Library’s contact form

— Elizabeth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian

Sources consulted:

Also of interest:

  • “Bluebell Polka,” performed by Jimmy Shand and his band, YouTube (accessed November 25, 2019)
  • A collection of rare volumes from the Shand family at Wighton Heritage Centre at the Central Library in Dundee, Scotland, 
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A Heckler in Washington

Imagine walking into the House of Representatives on your first day as a newly-elected member of Congress and seeing only ten other women among a total of 435 Representatives. That was Margaret Heckler’s reality as she began her career in Washington in January, 1967. Having won her seat by defeating Republican incumbent Joseph W. Martin, Jr., a former Speaker of the House who had been serving since 1925, she was described as “perky” and “petite” but also “no shrinking violet.” She had already earned a reputation as an astute politician from her two terms on the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, and she was ready to make her mark in Congress. Heckler would go on to champion women’s issues and co-found the Congresswomen’s Caucus, all while navigating the male-dominated world of politics.

Photo of Headline from a Boston Globe article about Heckler, January 15, 1967.

Headline from a Boston Globe article about Heckler, January 15, 1967. Margaret Heckler papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

John J. Burns Library holds Margaret Heckler’s Congressional papers as well as materials from her later career as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and ambassador to Ireland. For the past year, I have been arranging and describing her papers (what archivists call “processing”) to make them available to researchers. As Alison Harris mentioned in her blog post about processing the Edward P. Boland papers, Congressional collections often do not come to a repository in a well-organized manner, due to a number of circumstances surrounding reelection, staff changes, and committee assignments. It has been a challenge to make sense of all of the materials documenting different parts of Heckler’s career. As I near the end of this project, I am gratified to see the collection coming together in a way that I hope will be meaningful to researchers.

Margaret Heckler began her Congressional career during the period of second-wave feminism, when women’s rights advocates turned their focus to a broader range of issues: legal rights, domestic violence, reproductive rights, and workplace equality. She often described the difficulty she had getting a job in a Boston firm in the late 1950s  as a recent law graduate. One congratulatory letter from another Representative stated that “We need more good men like you in Congress,” and, throughout her career, she would receive letters addressed to Mr. Heckler or Dear Sir. But Heckler appears to have been unshaken in her quest to advance her career and the rights of women. As a staunch proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), she fought unsuccessfully to keep support for passage of the ERA on the Republican platform at the 1980 Convention. Heckler was particularly interested in women’s economic rights, and was involved in the 1974 passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act which prohibited discrimination in credit transactions on the basis of sex or marital status. She fought for Social Security benefits for homemakers and widowed women, and for affordable, safe child care for working mothers.

Poster advertising child care hearings in Fall River, MA, 1971. "Security of knowing your children are safe while you work" Support the need for more Quality DAY CARE CENETERS in Fall River

Poster advertising child care hearings in Fall River, MA, 1971. Margaret Heckler papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

I was excited to discover, however, that women’s issues were not the only thing that Margaret Heckler cared deeply about. A member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee during her 16 years in Congress, she was a tireless champion of veterans’ health care and education benefits. Her papers include extensive files on G.I. bills, Agent Orange hearings, and veteran senior citizen health care legislation. Heckler also served on the Agriculture Committee where she was involved in food stamp and nutrition legislation. Although not from a large agricultural state, she felt that these issues were important and that her voice on the Agriculture Committee would benefit her constituents. She was also a proponent of the development of alcohol fuels and gasohol, pumping the first gallon of gasohol in the state of Massachusetts at a Raynham gas station in 1979. She was deeply concerned about the cost of home heating oil in Massachusetts, and worked as part of the New England Congressional Caucus on energy issues.


Margaret Heckler lost reelection to Rep. Barney Frank in 1982, but was quickly chosen by President Reagan to replace retiring Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Richard Schweiker. Despite having no background or experience in medicine, she vowed to be a “catalyst for caring” at her Senate confirmation hearing. During her two and a half years at HHS she named the AIDS epidemic as the department’s number one priority, increasing research funding. One of her biggest accomplishments at HHS was the landmark Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health, known as the Heckler Report, which identified the differences in health outcomes of whites and minorities in America. In late 1985, after criticism about her HHS management and commitment to conservative Republican values from White House aides and officials, she was asked to give up her HHS position and become Ambassador to Ireland. Heckler seems to have thrived in her role representing U.S. interests in the country of her parents’ birth. The papers from her time in Ireland include warm correspondence between her and government officials, business leaders, and friends.


Photograph of Margaret Heckler with her Irish wolfhound, Jackson O’Toole, in the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Dublin, Ireland, circa 1986-1989.

Heckler with her Irish wolfhound, Jackson O’Toole, in the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Dublin, Ireland, circa 1986-1989. Margaret Heckler papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Processing the Margaret Heckler papers has been an eye-opening experience for me, both in terms of learning about Congressional collections and in getting a glimpse of what it was like to be a woman in politics in the 1960s-80s. One of the primary conclusions that I can draw from my experience with Heckler’s papers is that bipartisanship and collegiality were very much alive during most of her career in Washington. I’ve been surprised to discover that, as a moderate Republican, many of Heckler’s views would be considered liberal today. Senator Ted Kennedy introduced Heckler at her Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Health and Human Services. It would be hard to imagine a Democrat presenting a Republican Cabinet Secretary nominee today. Collections like this document important periods in our nation’s political history, and John J. Burns Library is looking forward to opening the Margaret Heckler papers to researchers early next year.

  • Katie Lamontagne, Project Archivist, John J. Burns Library


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