Researching Everyday Characters from Early New England,
with Mary Fuhrer

Saturday, March 16, 2019

10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Thayer Memorial Library, 717 Main Street, Lancaster, Massachusetts 

 If you have a yen to write about people from our early American past – real or imaginary – you may be wondering how to go about researching characters. The task can be challenging, as most common folk in 18th and early 19th century New England left no revealing memoirs of their daily existence. In this workshop, we will learn how to recover the details that add flesh to everyday life. We will explore the “accidental evidence” left by marrying, having children, dying, paying taxes, farming the land, etc. We will layer that evidence to recover the texture of life for everyday characters.

The workshop will begin with a guided visual tour through the documents of everyday life, and a discussion of where these documents can be found, how they can be interpreted, and how they can be used to recover past lives. We will examine the evidence for a real family from Lexington in 1775. Participants will be asked to interpret the evidence for one of those people, and to craft their own story – real or fictional –about their person on April 19, 1775. If time allows, we will share those stories so that participants can experience the broad range of narratives that can emerge when authors bring their own judgment, pathos, and imagination to evidence. Participants will take home a full set of materials, as well as detailed notes on sources of evidence.

Mary Babson Fuhrer is a public historian who specializes in using primary sources to recover everyday lives from the past and teaching others to do the same. She serves as advising historian to Freedom’s Way National Heritage area and consults for humanities and historical associations in Massachusetts, where she has taught numerous workshops on her craft. She is the author of several articles and the book Crisis of Community: Trials and Transformation of a New England Town, 1815-1848, which was awarded the inaugural “Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize.” She is an elected fellow of the American Antiquarian Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society, and she was honored by Mass Humanities with its 2014 History Commendation for twenty years of contribution to public history.