Rare book from Northeastern Archives Selected for Illuminated Manuscripts Display


The palm-size 15th-century Dominican Prayer Book from Northeastern’s archives at Snell Library was selected to be part of the “Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections.” Photo courtesy of the Northeast Document Conservation Center

A palm-size 15th-century book from Northeastern’s archives at Snell Library was selected to be part of the multi-venue exhibit “Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections.” Described by its curators as “the largest exhibit of pre-1600 manuscripts ever mounted in North America,” “Beyond Words” features more than 260 items spanning the 9th to the 17th centuries donated by 19 Boston-area libraries and museums.

Northeastern’s contribution is a Dominican Prayer Book of more than 500 pages, with text in Latin handwritten in the Gothic bookhand style. It has just a single illustration—a grotesque inside a large blue “R” on the first page—but red and blue text is sprinkled throughout. The decorations are what characterize it as “illuminated.” The manuscript includes components of a Book of Hours, prayers that were to be said at specified hours of the day, and the prayer cycle Office of the Dead, among other devotions. Tiny tabs extending from the edges of certain pages indicate where particular sections begin.

“It is our earliest book and our only medieval manuscript,” says Giordana Mecagni, head of special collections and university archivist at Northeastern. An article in the February 1976 faculty and staff edition of Northeastern Today lists its acquisition along with other rare books in Northeastern’s collection, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Hanging of the Crane, from 1875, and Charles Dickens’ The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, from 1909.

Mecagni and her staff turned to the Northeast Document Conservation Center, in Andover, Massachusetts, to prepare for the exhibit, including mending the lining of its parchment spine and re-attaching some leather that was separating from its binding. The NEDCC also produced a digitized version of the book, which resides in Snell’s repository.

This summer, students in the class “History of Books,” team-taught by Erika Boeckeler and Ryan Cordell, both assistant professors of English at Northeastern, more precisely determined the date of the book’s creation. Careful research revealed that a book including prayers related to St. Vincent and Catherine of Siena, as their book did, would have been created after 1461.

Our special collections are growing. They show the lineage of changes in the book industry and are garnering interest on the national scale.
— Giordana Mecagni, head of special collections

In the exhibit, Northeastern’s rare book joins others from institutions including Harvard University, Brandeis University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Armenian Museum and Library of America, and the Boston Athenaeum. The materials are displayed in three locations, each with a specific theme: Harvard’s Houghton Library features manuscripts for the monastery; Boston College’s McMullen Museum, where the Dominican Prayer Book is displayed, focuses on those that are meant for private libraries; and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum concentrates on Italian Renaissance books.

“One of our missions is to provide access to materials that professors can use as teaching tools,” says Mecagni, citing the “History of Books” class. “Our special collections are growing. They show the lineage of changes in the book industry and are garnering interest on the national scale.”

The Dominican Prayer Book will be on display at Boston College’s McMullen Museum, 2101 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, through Dec. 11, 2016. For more information, call 617.552.8587 or email artmuseum@bc.edu.

Boston Data Projects

haymarketHere is a scratch pad of mapping, data, history projects related to Boston.  I will continually update it as I come across additional projects




Tufts’ Boston Streets Project (2004)  http://dca.lib.tufts.edu/features/bostonstreets/

Collection consists of 11 Boston City directories converted in to structured data, >3000 images from Bostonian Society photographic collections, and browse-able atlases from 1874, 1898, and 1928.  “Orthographic images of modern day boston, and vector data from the boston redevelopment authority and MassGIS are used to ground the Boston in its modern context:”

Mapping Boston at HistoryPin


Mapping Boston’s Religions, 1800-1880: Brandeis Omeka project 


USGS Historical Coastal Topographic Map Image


City of Boston’s Enterprise GIS system https://www.cityofboston.gov/maps/   

It also has a great indexed property viewer.  Each parcel in the city has a number http://app01.cityofboston.gov/parcelviewer/

Boston Redevelopment Authority’s links to available current maps:


Massachusetts Historical Society digitized maps, 1648 (depicted)- 1814


Boston Public Library’s Leventhal digitized map collection


Boston Area Research Initiative (via the Dataverse)


Metro Boston DataCommon: An interactive data portal and mapping tool with information about the region’s people, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and environmental resources.

Boston Public Library’s open data initiative



Boston Displacement mapping project


Citizen Noise sensing project


Archivist sees bright future in collections of past — Northeastern News

GiordanaNortheasternNortheastern News, September 13, 2013 by Joe O’Connell

In the basement of Snell Library, new university archivist and head of special collections Giordana Mecagni is settling in among thousands of papers, photos, and films that document the past of both Northeastern and the city of Boston. Mecagni started working at Northeastern about three months ago and is excited to grow the University Archives and Special Collections (within the Northeastern University Libraries), which collects, preserves, and describes a vast array of historical documents. She comes to Northeastern after working at Har­vard University’s Archives and Special Collections for 11 years. “There is so much to do,” Mecagni said. “There is still quite a lot of material to collect, and we are actively collecting.” The extensive collections include correspondence from former university presidents, 1,667 reels of film from athletic events, and scrapbooks from camps at the YMCA where Northeastern was founded as a night school in 1898. Pieces are available to students, faculty, and staff for research. The archives boast both online collections and physical materials housed in two secure stacks at Snell Library. The second area was recently built, and Mecagni said it is her job to fill it. In addition to Northeastern history, the archives’ collections house a broad collection of Boston’s social justice history, including the history of the city’s African-​​American, Asian, Latino, and LBGTQ communities. Mecagni said the library would soon embark on a project to accumulate pieces related to the relationship between built environments and natural environments throughout Boston’s history. One of Mecagni’s roles as an archivist is to make people and groups comfortable with contributing something to her department. “We need to spend a lot of time convincing people we will keep it, take care of it, and preserve it,” Mecagni explained. “Once it is here, people are so proud and that is really a great thing. It gives it some stature.” As the world continues to evolve in the digital age, Mecagni said the archives will soon follow suit. The infrastructure is set for the library’s new digital repository to collect pieces electronically on a grander scale, some­thing that was not available to previous archivists. To get familiar with history between Northeastern and the surrounding community, Mecagni has embarked on a listening tour in which she has met with various cultural organizations. She has also met with faculty to learn how pieces from the archives are being used in classrooms. Mecagni said her goal is to incorporate the archives across all facets of Northeastern’s campus. “I think the archives could be used in every aspect,” she said. “There are data sets that should be in the archives and available for research. For the arts, there are posters from past Northeastern activities. It’s just a matter of knowing it’s here.”

See more at: http://www.northeastern.edu/news/2013/09/archivist-sees-bright-future/#sthash.MJ0o5POA.dpuf

Second Lives

Heavy Metal //

Northeastern Magazine, winter 2013

Giordana Mecagni has only worked at Northeastern for a few months, but she’s already making noise. When she’s not performing her duties as university archivist and head of Special Collections, she’s the “head thumper” for the Boston Typewriter Orchestra.

She plays a mean Underwood 5, keeping the beat on the classic, nearly indestructible office workhorse of the ’50s and ’60s. The orchestra, which includes five other members she says outshine her in eye-hand coordination, performs a percussion-dominated repertoire combined with elements of performance, comedy, and satire.

“My nerdy friends were forming the group 10 years ago. I jumped on the bandwagon two years later,” she says.

The group has done a few covers—notably an interpretation of “Wipe Out” called “White Out,” and a riff on the Gil Scott-Heron classic “The Revolution Will Not be Televised” titled “The Revolution Will be Typewritten”—but the musicians usually create their own rhythms and scripts.

They’ve played with Amanda Palmer, the rock performer who gained fame as half of The Dresden Dolls, and at rock, jazz, soul, and poetry festivals around New England. To keep their fingers in top shape, the orchestra practices once a week, “and beer is involved,” says Mecagni.



An original idea bears fruit: Couple bottle their own cider

An original idea bears fruit:  Couple bottle their own cider

By Christina Pazzanese Globe Correspondent / November 23, 2008

Tough economic times call for ingenuity, thrift, and more than a little optimism. So when life handed urbanites Giordana Mecagni and her husband, Peter Chipman, fruit, they decided to make juice.
The couple has been churning out hard cider for the past few months, using apples they’ve found in trees growing in an unlikely place: East Boston.
Chipman and Mecagni, who moved from Union Square in Somerville three years ago, like to call themselves “urban homesteaders.” They have solar panels to help power the hot water heater in their condo, they’re avid recyclers, and Chipman likes to dabble in home brewing.

Mecagni said they first got the idea to gather fruit found in public places after seeing countless grape arbors over driveways, including their own, in their old Somerville neighborhood. The ripened fruit would simply hang there until it dropped on to the pavement, she said.

Not wanting the fruit to go to waste, they had been making their own crushed grape drink, “I Love Lucy” style, for some time using Concord grapes picked from anywhere they could find them, said Mecagni. But after one unsuccessful fruit-picking excursion, they decided to switch gears and give hard apple cider a try.

Buying apples at a supermarket or farm stand was expensive. So the pair began walking around the neighborhood by Shay’s Beach, Piers Park, and the Belle Isle marshes and, in no time, hit pay dirt.

“On our way home, I suggested that we stop by at an apple tree we had seen walking around the neighborhood – in the Shay’s Beach area,” said Mecagni in an e-mail. “We cleaned the tree, and got to work, washing, quartering, grinding, pressing, and brewing. A few days later we noticed some more ungleaned trees over by Piers Park . . . and picked those as well.”

The couple cashed in their economic stimulus check last spring to buy a grinder and press. They also bought an apple picker, a long wooden pole with a wire basket at one end – to make collecting a little easier.

“I guess once you start noticing abandoned trees, or grape vines for that matter, you notice them all over the place – a pear tree in the abandoned railroad bed near Bennington Street, a few trees down by Belle Isle Marsh, in a church yard on Brooks Street, an apricot tree in a friend’s yard,” said Mecagni.

Though this is the first time they’ve tried making hard cider, Chipman used to work on an apple farm and the couple got advice from a friend who owns an apple orchard in Maine.

Mecagni, 34, works as an archivist at Harvard Medical School and performs in the Boston Typewriter Orchestra. Chipman, 38, is a lexicographer for the American Heritage Dictionary at Houghton Mifflin.

Brewing your own hard cider is a fairly messy and time-consuming hobby, they say. Before pressing, apples have to be washed and examined for worms and other significant defects. Surprisingly, the ugliest, mealiest apples make for the best-tasting cider, said Chipman.

“Both of us are very involved in recycling and old-timey things, so we understand that doing things from scratch takes time,” said Mecagni. “I don’t think we realized how long . . .,” she added with a laugh.

Once the fruit is pressed, some wine or champagne yeast is added and the mixture is stored in a 5-gallon plastic jug to ferment for about four weeks, said Chipman. Finally they put the cider in old Corona beer bottles they collect on trash day and sterilize.

Besides fermented cider, the pair enjoy brewing their own beer, a fizzy, ginger-honey mead and an aged concoction they call “grape juice+” made from grapes they pick at Wompatuck State Park in Hingham.

The drink, whose name they took from a beverage served in “Escape From the Planet of the Apes,” is not as smooth and complex as wine.

Lightly carbonated, it’s slightly sweet and fruity, reminiscent of sangria. The pair even served some to family and friends at their wedding reception two years ago.