Mass Memories Road Show

"We Cannot Live WIthout Our Lives" rally against violence against women in 1979 At its June meeting, the Foundation’s board approved a new co-sponsorship. MFH is joining forces with the Massachusetts Studies Project to support the next phase of the Mass Memories Road Show. Based at the Graduate College of Education at UMass Boston, the Road Show sponsors public scanning events organized around a theme (currently immigration and arrival). A collaborative team drawn from the local library, historical society, schools, and other community-based organizations helps promote and arrange the events, which are held in a variety of venues. Residents bring photographs to be scanned and entered into a online database (accessible at, receive free information and advice from volunteer professionals  from the New England Archivists, and have the opportunity to record brief oral histories.

As Project Director Joanne Riley told The Boston Globe, MMRS takes off on the idea of the PBS hit Antiques Road Show — “people coming and bringing their precious objects,” in this case photographs and documents. Riley’s dream is eventually to collect images, documents, and oral histories in every city and town in the Commonwealth and use them to build a database of “bottom up” Massachusetts history.

With funding from the Massachusetts Historical Records Advisory Board, the project hired consultants to help develop a handbook that will soon be available on the website. Designed to ensure that the protocols used to collect and preserve data are legally, archivally, and technically sound, the handbook will guide future Road Shows and similar projects undertaken by other organizations.

Valerie Stephens-Washington holds a picture of her mother, Marlene Stephens at the rally against violence against women in 1979Norwood was the site of the first Road Show in 2004. In 2005 the Mass Studies Project applied to MFH to fund three Road Shows in Dorchester, one of Boston’s largest and most diverse neighborhoods. The board awarded MMRS a $5,000 grant for a project it considers an extremely promising model for engaging people in exploring the history of their families and communities.

In the winter and spring of 2006 the Mass Studies Project partnered with Social Capital, Inc. (SCI Dorchester) to hold Road Shows at the Vietnamese American Community Center, the Codman Square branch of the Boston Public Libary, and the Dorchester Historical Society. The most successful took place on the one of the rainiest days imaginable. On May 13th, more than 100 people, including a group of intrepid senior citizens, braved a downpour to bring their photographs to be scanned at the Historical Society’s William Clapp House, where volunteers scanned 114 photographs and videotaped 21 “stories-behind-the-photos." All of this material is being processed and uploaded to the project website, and plans are underway to use the photographs in curriculum projects and exhibits. In addition, with the help of the MFH, the Mass Memories Road Show website is undergoing a redesign and upgrade to provide a more interactive and user-friendly interface.

The Road Shows were well received in Dorchester, and SCI Dorchester proved to be an excellent partner, but it soon became clear to both the Mass Studies Project and the Foundation that creating a sustainable model for the project means making the Road Show a local initiative. This requires enough ongoing financial support to allow MMRS to identify, mobilize, and train community residents to do both the outreach and the data collecting. This will be the focus when the Road Show moves to Quincy in 2006-2007.

For more information or to inquire about bringing the Mass Memories Road Show to your community, go to or call Joanne Riley at (617) 287-7654.

©2006 The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities

Published in Mass Humanities, Fall 2006