Category Archives: External Collaborator

Reception at Boston City Hall: Celebrating the work of our students and the legacy of Mayor James Michael Curley

A special reception was held in the Mayor’s Neighborhood Gallery on Tuesday, March 24 from 4:00 to 5:00 PM in order to celebrate the work of Wentworth students enrolled in Digital Approaches to Boston Culture over the past year.  To date, 140  students have participated in this EPIC-Learning project, which has culminated in two exhibits currently on display in Boston City Hall until the end of March.

The reception was well attended, and featured speeches by project managers Chris Gleason and Jody Gordon as well as Wentworth adjunct professor Larry Overlan and Mayor Curley’s stepson, Richard Dennis (who actually lived in the Curley house at 350 The Jamaicaway).


CSG_Display Case_Mayors Office



The reception also served as an opportunity to acknowledge the project’s many supporters and external collaborators:

from Wentworth Institute of Technology:

Michael Anthony (Chair, Board of Trustees)

Zorica Pantic (President)

Russ Pinizzotto (Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost)

Chuck Hotchkiss (Associate Provost)

Pat Hafford (Dean, College of Arts & Sciences)

Ron Bernier (Chair, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences)

Larry Overlan (Adjunct Instructor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences)

Peter Greenberg (Interior Design, Wentworth Institute of Technology)

Wentworth MCCS Studio Students (140 students have participated in this project as of Spring 2015)


from the City of Boston:

Matt O’Malley (Boston City Councilor, District 6)

Liz Sullivan (Chief of Staff, Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley)

John Crowley (Director of Exhibits, Boston City Hall)

John Gleeson  (current Facilities Manager Trust, Treasury Department, City of Boston)

Joe  Byrne (former Facilities Manager Trust, Treasury Department, City of Boston)


from the Boston City Archives:

John McColgan (Chief Archivist)

Marty Crilly (Assistant Archivist)


from Feldman Land Surveyors:

Michael Feldman (President and Chief Executive Officer)

Stephen Wilkes (Director of 3D Services)


from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society:

Gretchen Grozier (JPHS President)

Charlie Rosenberg (JPHS Webmaster)


from the Boston Americana music scene:

Jimmy Ryan (Boston musician, who arranged and recorded three mandolin/guitar instrumental recordings to be used in conjunction with our project, adapting two of Curley’s favorite songs, “The Isle of Capri” and “The Minstrel Boy,” as well as the classic campaign song, “Vote Early and Often for Curley.”)


MCCS Studio Guest Speakers Re: Historical and Cultural Contexts:

Richard Dennis (James Michael Curley’s stepson, who lived in the Curley mansion)

Larry Overlan (Boston Public Works, Wentworth Institute of Technology)

Tom Putnam (Director of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum)

Jack Beatty (author of The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1874-1958)

Peter Greenberg (Interior Design, Wentworth Institute of Technology)

Gerry Burke (Doyle’s Café owner and local historian)

Jim Vrabel (A People’s History of the New Boston, UMass Press)

Fred Sullivan (former City of Boston District 9 Fire Chief)


MCCS Studio Technological Consultants/Guest Speakers:

Boston University (3D Photogrammetry):
Brandon Olson (Archaeology graduate student and specialist in GIS applications)

Northeastern University (Omeka):
Jim McGrath (NULab Scholar; Graduate Fellow Alumnus; Graduate Affiliate
Department of English)

Harvard University (WorldMap):
Jeff Howry (Research Associate, Semitic Museum, Harvard University)

M.I.T. (Annotation Studio):
Kurt Fendt (Director, MIT HyperStudio)

Rachel Schnepper (Communications Officer, MIT HyperStudio)

Jamie Folsom (Web Applications Developer, MIT HyperStudio)


Thanks again to everyone who has participated in this project and helped to make it such a success.  We hope we haven’t left anyone out!


Another visit from Curley’s Stepson, Richard Dennis

On Thursday, March 19, James Michael Curley’s 89-year-old stepson, Richard Dennis, visited Wentworth’s MCCS Studio for the fourth consecutive semester.    Mr. Dennis actually lived in the Curley house at 350 The Jamaicaway and is one of the foremost proponents of saving and preserving the house as a historical site.   He will be joining us at Boston City Hall on Tuesday, March 24 for a special reception connected to Wentworth Institute of Technology’s exhibition of work produced by students enrolled in the MCCS Studio course Digital Approaches to Boston Culture: Curating the Legacy of Mayor James Michael Curley.

(Globe File photo
Richard Dennis and the number 5 license plate he inherited from Mayor James Michael Curley
Richard Dennis and the number 5 license plate he inherited from Mayor James Michael Curley

Click here to learn more about the infamous number 5 license plate.

Collaborative Insights through Digital Annotation: A Workshop

On Friday, January 23, Wentworth Professors (and Curley Project Managers) Gleason and Gordon visited MIT for a day-long workshop focused on “Collaborative Insights through Digital Annotation” and led a Breakout Session on “Digital Public Humanities.”  Much of the day focused on best practices for Annotation Studio, an online application developed by MIT’s Hyperstudio.   Annotation Studio is one of the tools currently being used as part of the Curley virtual house museum project.

Read more about the workshop here:

Later this month, Gleason and Gordon will be filmed and interviewed by HyperStudio in order to serve as one of Annotation Studio’s Case Studies:



Gerry Burke and Fred Sullivan: Remembering James Michael Curley

On Thursday, July 24, Gerry Burke, owner / proprietor of Doyle’s Cafe in Jamaica Plain, and Fred Sullivan, retired City of Boston District 9 Fire Chief, visited both sections of MCCS Studio: Digital Approaches to Boston Culture.   Gerry and Fred, long-time Boston residents, shared their personal memories of James Michael Curley as well as their first-hand knowledge of Boston history and politics.

Burke-Sullivan Photos Burke-Sullivan Photos 2 Burke-Sullivan Photos 6

Relevant links:

“James Michael Curley; A Lasting Hurrah”
By Gerry Burke (Jamaica Plain Historical Society)

Doyle’s History Talk by Gerry Burke (Jamaica Plain Historical Society):

Boston Journal: At Doyle’s Cafe, a Sign Of the Mayoral Times
By Sara Rimer (October 31, 1993)



Jack Beatty, Author of The Rascal King, visits Wentworth

On Tuesday, July 22, Jack Beatty, author of The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley, visited both sections of MCCS Studio: Digital Approaches to Boston Culture. 

Jack Beatty_Annex Central 207_aBeatty, a Boston native, is the News Analyst for NPR’s On Point, and was formerly a Senior Editor at The Atlantic Monthly.  He has also worked for Newsweek and The New Republic.  He was the recipient  of a Gugenheim Fellowship in 1990, and The Rascal King was awarded the American Book Award in 1993.

Beatty_Gordon_Gleason_Library ExhibitJack Beatty also stopped by the Alumni Library (in Wentworth’s  Beatty Hall) to view the Feldman 3D laser scan of 350 The Jamaicaway and the exhibit of student posters from the Spring 2014 sections of MCCS Studio.

Jack Beatty_Feldman Scan

Reimagining the James Michael Curley House through MIT Hyperstudio’s Annotation Studio

IMG_4191Digital Curation through Digital Annotation at Wentworth Institute of Technology: Reimagining the James Michael Curley House through MIT Hyperstudio’s Annotation Studio


On Tuesday, July 1st, 2014, the students in our Media, Culture, and Communications Studies (MCCS) Studio Course, “Curating the Legacy of Mayor James Michael Curley,” engaged in a new type of digital analysis, i.e., the close reading of a primary historical document. The document we analyzed was the so-called, “Gertrude Dennis Manuscript,” which was kindly provided to our class by Curley’s step-son, Richard Dennis. Gertrude Dennis was Richard’s mother and Mayor James Michael Curley’s second wife, and she lived with the mayor in his palatial mansion on the Jamaicaway in Boston for around 20 years. At some point during the 1950s, Gertrude penned a 34-page, double-spaced description of the Jamaicaway mansion that was intended to preserve the Curley home’s charm and luxury for her young granddaughter, Leslie Ann Dennis. Yet, because the Curley mansion now lacks all of the furniture and objects that once complemented its gorgeous architecture, Gertrude Dennis’ testimony also serves as one of our only portals into understanding how the Curley home appeared when it was completely furnished during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Since our course is focused on the virtual curation of the James Michael Curley house as a museum, this primary source description of the mayor’s mansion is critical to the house’s successful curation, whether digitally or, in future, physically.

Due to the Gertrude Dennis manuscript’s importance to our project goals, we decided that engaging in a close reading of the text would be a valuable in-class exercise for several reasons. First, the text includes several esoteric terms related to period-specific home furnishings and objects (e.g., portières or ormalu) that most students were probably not familiar with that needed to be defined. Second, because close reading involves examining the microcosm (i.e., individual words) in order to understand the macrocosm (i.e., what the house’s furniture and objects say about James Michael Curley) we thought that such an approach to a primary document would get our students to engage with the text in a more interactive and less passive way that would be useful for their later curatorial projects. Third, we believed that through this exercise we could introduce the students to yet another digital tool, MIT’s open-access and open-source Annotation Studio [], a web-based annotation tool that permits the addition of textual commentary and multimedia annotations to words in a user-friendly HTML-based user interface. We had been introduced to Annotation Studio by Hyperstudio director, Kurt Fendt, last year, so we were eager to experiment with it once we found the appropriate document. Fourth, since Wentworth’s strategic plan involves integrating externally collaborative, project-based, interdisciplinary curricula (or E.P.I.C.) for Learning ( into students’ college experiences, we thought that this inherently project-based and collaborative exercise would enhance student skills in this regard.

Lesson Plan

Our one hour and fifty minute lesson plan involved the following features:

1)    Introduction to Annotation (20 mins) – Since our students had already been introduced to the Gertrude Dennis manuscript as a historical resource for their curation projects, we started the class by briefly lecturing on the history of annotation as a practice (e.g., discussion of medieval marginalia up to TEI and Rap Genius) and how close readings can enhance our understanding of both a text’s specific features as well as its larger meaning. We also highlighted the collaborative nature of annotation, especially when it is conducted in a classroom setting utilizing an almost real-time, web-based tool.

2)    Introduction to Annotation Studio (20 mins) – Following a discussion of why we annotate, we introduced students to the main features of MIT’s Annotation Studio tool. First, we discussed how the tool helps to enhance the text by moving beyond learning-intensive TEI-type metadata additions to permit democratizing annotations that allow anyone to add commentary, tags, discussion, images, and video easily. Then, it might seem amazing, but we were able to teach the students how to create an account and add all of this metadata in a few short minutes through the videos uploaded to the Annotation Studio channel on YouTube and through going through a few annotation examples within the document (which had previously been uploaded by the professors).

3)    Signing up for Annotation Studio and Assigning Pages to Annotate (10 mins) – We then got each student in our class to sign up for an annotation studio account and join our class group called “GDSM.” Then each student was assigned one page of the manuscript to analyze. Because we have around 34 students, and there were 34 pages, this division of labor worked perfectly.

4)    Tagging and Annotation Protocols (20 mins) – We then introduced our students to a prepared document that outlined the protocols for annotating and tagging words encountered within the Gertrude Dennis Manuscript [see guidelines here: Annotating_Getrude_Dennis_MS]. The purpose of this document was to answer the questions: What should be annotated? How does a specific word tell us more about James Michael Curley? For each category, a group of questions was provided for the student so that these questions could be asked about the word. For example, for the “objects” category, the student was provided with the following questions:

  1. In 3-5 lines, describe this object. What were its key features?
  2. What is the object made of?
  3. Where was this object made?
  4. Can you add an image, video, link, or further data about this object?
  5. What do you think this particular object’s significance was to the Curley house or Curley himself?

In addition, each category of word was given a tag that could be added to it so that patterns could be discerned. The categories included: People, Family, Object, Geographical Places, House, House Exterior, Architectural Features, House Rooms, Topic-specific or Dated Vocabulary, References to James Michael Curley, Memories, Historical or Political Events, Boston, Ireland/Irish Culture, Religion, Dates and Time Periods, Popular Culture Allusions, Metaphors, Figurative Language, and Tone.

5)    Individual Annotation Time (40 mins) – The remainder of the class was devoted to helping students get started with annotating and adding different types of multimedia metadata. Students were able to learn to annotate incredibly rapidly and within 20 minutes or so, many sections of text were highlighted, tagged, and commented on with the addition of links, images, gifs, and embedded videos. The learning curve is steep with Annotation Studio. Students seem to go from no knowledge to complete usability in one class period. As students annotated, we walked around the class and asked them about what they were working on and frequently refreshed the master document that was projected at the front. The point of refreshing the digitally projected document was so that the students could see how rapidly our knowledge base about the document was being collaboratively improved through close-reading and how rapidly this process was occurring via a collaborative effort that was literally engaging the entire class at the same time. Thus, overall, not only did the students learn about specific pages, they learned to collaborate on the creation of knowledge and were able to see the fruits of their work in almost real time. Within 40 minutes, nearly every page of the manuscript had annotations that enhanced its meaning, and most students were able to walk away having learned a new digital skill that could be utilized on a host of other projects that require the collaborative analysis of texts (be they legal documents, computer code, building codes etc.).


Pros and Cons of Annotation Studio in its Current State of Release

In general, Annotation Studio proved to be an effective and user-friendly digital interface to use with college-level students working on a primary historical document. The interface is minimalist, and the learning curve is steep. In short, it is very easy to get a college-level student group working with this tool within a two-hour class period. Also, because annotating forces students to engage with a text and think about the best ways to elucidate it (often using multimedia), we believe that this can be an excellent learning exercise. This practice further seems to involve a different cognitive experience than simply passive reading. Moreover, once a text is annotated with explanatory commentary and provided with multimedia visual enhancements and links, it comes alive in a manner that certainly seems more interactive and illustrative and that might be easier to relate to for millennial students who have grown up with such multimedia technology. We definitely think that students got more out of the text through this close reading, digital exercise than if they simply passively read the text in a traditional fashion.

Annotation Studio is therefore a powerful digital tool that has the potential to bring texts to life for college-level millennial readers. Yet, at present, this program still has its functional problems. First, when we were trying to add chapters to the manuscript to split it up page by page, the instructions were too confusing to be helpful. Second, although we wanted students to tag words so that patterns could be discerned, the tag function has very little use right now since there is no way to aggregate tags into a word cloud widget (e.g., c.f. wikispaces) or to show the patterns via searching words. Future releases of Annotation Studio really need to address the tag analysis issue since this really hampers a feature of the program that could be valuable to text researchers. Third, when one is annotating, it would be good to be able to make the annotation window bigger (especially when drag-enlarging images)—and perhaps the fonts as well—as this would facilitate annotations and re-reading. Fourth, the fact that there is no way to make an annotated document available to the public as a read-only document at this stage is not very helpful. It would be great if the class could annotate a document seriously and then make this annotation available to interested readers. Such functionality would be very useful for our project in particular. Fifth, it would be better if the master document would update itself periodically (say once a minute) in quasi-real-time. If it did this, students could see their collaborative research add up and allow the professor to monitor rapidly the progress of individual students as well as the class as a whole. Finally, sometimes some annotations would simply not save; we are not sure why this error occurred, since when we re-added them, they appeared. This problem could have been related to specific student computers or connectivity, but it did not seem like this was the case at the time.


Summing Up: Annotation is a Useful Skill

Overall, based on personal communication, it seems that our students enjoyed our class on digital curation through digital annotation. This result may have been because it was more interactive than a typical lecture and because it was computer-based. Nevertheless, students also left the class with some sense of the history of annotation and how close reading could help one to better understand not only a specific text, but also its larger, overarching subject matter. Also, students learned to use a novel tool with Annotation Studio, which, although it currently has a primarily academic use, could also be used for a myriad of other uses—including business applications—within the course of these students’ future careers. Despite the fact that it still has a few functional problems, Annotation Studio has the potential to be a valuable classroom tool for a variety or research purposes, and especially within a history class like ours that deals with primary historical documents. Our students’ use of Annotation Studio has already enhanced our understanding of this key text for interpreting and curating the Curley House’s interior, the Gertrude Dennis Manuscript, and, as a result, we are encouraging our students to seek out additional uses for this platform within their large-scale curatorial projects.


A Few More External Collaborators!

Earlier in June, we visited the City of Boston Archives, where we met with City of Boston Chief Archivist John McColgan and Assistant Archivist Marta Crilly (both of whom have also worked with Northeastern University and Jim McGrath) on the Our Marathon project).   The City of Boston Archive has lots of Curley-related materials, including Curley’s top hat!

MartaCurley Top HatHat Band Inscription

And just this week, Wentworth Interior Design professor Peter Greenberg visited our classroom and presented a very timely and engaging lecture titled “The Architecture of the House Museum and Historic Preservation.”

Greenberg guest lecture

Our most recent external collaborators

On Tuesday, June 17, Jim McGrath from Northeastern University visited our classroom to talk about Digital Curation using Omeka/Neatline and offering examples from NULab’s Our Marathon project:

IMG_4124On Thursday, June 19, Jeff Howry from Harvard University visited our classroom to talk about WorldMap, an exciting and incredibly versatile, open-source digital mapping tool:


Student Work Slated to be Displayed at City Hall

Yesterday we met with John Crowley, Director of Special Exhibits at City Hall, and Liz Sullivan, Chief of Staff for Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley, in order to make plans for the installation of a Curley Project poster exhibit at City Hall.

This exhibit will feature student work previously displayed in the Casella Gallery ( at the end of the Spring 2014 semester, as well as new student work that will be produced during the Summer 2014 semester.

Crowley gave us a tour of various potential exhibition spaces within City Hall.

Mayor's Neighborhood Gallery
Details are still being worked out regarding the exact gallery space and dates for the exhibit.  We’ll post an update as soon as we know more.

As an added bonus, we had the opportunity to visit The Curley Room, which is located inside the Boston City Council suite on the 5th floor of City Hall.

Curley Room_No Food or DrinksCurley Room_portrait

External Collaborator, Jimmy Ryan: Mandolin for the Mayor

For more than a decade, Jimmy Ryan has electrified the Boston music scene with his fusion of Bluegrass pickin’ and driving edge rock. In addition to playing acoustic mandolin, he also plays mandocello, 5-string and 8-string electric mandolin, all custom crafted since he’s a left-handed player. He recently arranged and recorded three mandolin/guitar instrumental recordings to be used in conjunction with our project, adapting two of Curley’s favorite songs, “The Isle of Capri” and “The Minstrel Boy,” as well as the classic campaign song, “Vote Early and Often for Curley.”

“Vote Early and Often for Curley”:

“The Minstrel Boy” :