Real Archives

Real Archives: Bringing Cambridge’s History to Life

Emily Gonzalez, Archivist for the Cambridge Historical Commission, shares insights into the new Real Archives series and the some of the collections in Cambridge’s archives.

The City’s Historical Commission has a new video series called Real Archives – what can you tell us about this new production?

Real Archives is a quick, easily-digestible and engaging way for us to reach out to folks who are either unfamiliar with the Commission’s collections or are familiar but wish to get a behind-the-scenes look at our archives. We hope to present some of the most interesting, surprising, or lesser-known materials in our collections.

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What types of collections does the Historical Commission have in its archives and what might we see in future episodes?

One of the great things about working at the Historical Commission is the variety of materials that we have in our collections.

Our collections are strongest in the city’s architectural and social history. It’s really a treasure trove, though. You’ll find old maps and atlases of Cambridge; photographs of the construction of the original subway; aerial views of Cambridge neighborhoods; personal papers and photographs from Swedish or Portuguese families in Cambridge during the early 20th century; old menus and advertisements, and many objects from Cambridge’s booming industrial days.

We also have a very interesting research library.

For future episodes, we’ve talked about highlighting Cambridge’s candy-making history (we have some great Squirrel Brand advertisements); how to research your home with an atlas; and long-gone/demolished buildings in the city.

Why is it important for the City to preserve the types of materials you have in your various collections?

By preserving these materials, especially our building files, photographs, and architectural papers, we are able to give a fuller historical context to Cambridge’s built environment.

Cambridge continues to have a constantly evolving architectural landscape, and so as buildings and neighborhoods change – or are preserved – it’s important that we have tangible things to show people and give them an appreciation of our City’s past. Plus, so many of the materials in our collection are just plain fun and beautiful to look at.

Is the Historical Commission’s archives the only Cambridge focused archive in the City?

We are lucky to be surrounded by other City of Cambridge offices and institutions that focus specifically on Cambridge history:

  • The Cambridge Room at the Cambridge Public Library, staffed by archivist Alyssa Pacy;
  • The historical collections of the Department of Public Works, cared for by George Stylianopoulos; and
  • The collections of the City Clerk’s office, cared for by City Clerk Donna Lopez.

What advice would you give someone if they were looking to do research on Cambridge’s history?

You can start your research journey in several ways:

  1. Check out our website  or blog to browse some of our collections
  2. Email us or call us at 617-349-4683 to set up a research appointment
  3. Check out the re-launched Cambridge Archives Project website, which is a compilation of several archives and collecting institutions around the City. This site will also tell you which archives specialize in what kind of information. For example, the Historical Commission specializes in materials on Cambridge’s built environment, while the Historical Society specializes in the social history of Cambridge during a specific time period.

About Emily Gonzalez: 

Emily Gonzalez has served as the Archivist for the Cambridge Historical Commission since 2015. As archivist, Emily coordinates the arrangement, preservation, and accessibility of collections; supervises archives assistants and interns; manages the off-site collections; and coordinates outreach for the archives, including the annual Cambridge Open Archives event and archives lunchtime chats for City employees. Emily received her MS-Library Science/MA-History from Simmons College in 2013, and continues to be an active member of the New England Archivists, Society of American Archivists, and Lone Arranger groups.


Published by

Lee Gianetti

Director of Communications and Community Relations

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