Blast from the Past: Travel through time with Museum scrapbooks

Scrapbooking is a perfect indoor creative activity: time-consuming, expressive, and with a final product to hold onto afterwards. While you may think of scrapbooks as documentation of personal or family experiences, this is just a single example of what a scrapbook can be. 

Boston Children’s Museum has a collection of late-nineteenth century scrapbooks that range in size, shape, and genre. The scrapbooks have brittle paper, many small parts, and many parts glued in. This can make them difficult to use in the Museum in programs or exhibits, so we worked with professionals at Digital Commonwealth and Simmons University to digitize them so they can be shared and experienced online. 

Below are several examples of scrapbooking projects that you can try from home.

Scrapbook to a Family Member or Friend

Starting in the 18th century, people started keeping “friendship scrapbooks” which were created to document a friendship. People added cards that were sent to them, locks of hair, sketches, and poems. Understandably, these scrapbooks were often sent to the friend who they were created about. The Museum has several of this type of scrapbook, including a set made between sisters Katherine, Cora, and Lucy Bowditch. The page below was made by Cora and Lucy in a scrapbook for Katherine. Explore more of this scrapbook here.

What kinds of things would you put in a scrapbook for one of your family members or friends? What have you done together that you want to remember? What have you laughed at together? What vision do you have for your future? Will you keep it for yourself or mail it to them? 

Storybook Scrapbook

Another kind of scrapbook documents a specific story. You can be the author and illustrator, using media like magazine cutouts and cards to create a narrative all your own. The Museum has a scrapbook that a person made for her friend who had just undergone an operation. It documented, with humor, the friend’s experience and left room for her to add her thoughts. You can read the scrapbook online here.

What story can you tell? 

Dollhouse Scrapbook

You can also make a scrapbook to be a house for paper dolls. These scrapbooks often start at the front door and then enter into the more public areas of the house like the kitchen and living room. As the pages turn they go on to the more private portions of the house. There are often moveable parts like tissue paper curtains or books. In addition, the maker creates paper dolls to live in the house. The book becomes a plaything. 

One of the scrapbooks at the Museum was digitized by Simmons University School of Library and Information Sciencestudents in a Digital Libraries course. The students researched the history of these kinds of scrapbooks and the donor family, as well as carefully scanned each page and item. You can find the product of their hard work here.

What rooms would you create? What would you use for wallpaper? The bed? Could you make a garden too? What paper dolls would you make? Family? Friends? Your favorite character from a book or movie? 

Time Capsule Scrapbook

All of these scrapbooks document a certain point in time. Another project to consider would be to create a time capsule of this period in your and your family’s lives. Who are you right now? How are you spending each day? What are your favorite activities? Who do you talk to? What do you miss? What are you looking forward to? 

We are so grateful to Digital Commonwealth and Simmons University for making these materials available digitally. They are such treasures, and they give us inspiration for these times when we are looking for quiet activities to do—activities that connect us with friends and family. 

If you tackle any of these projects and create your own scrapbooks, we would love to see them! Send images to

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s