Category Archives: current events

Chocolate Myths: Is It Really Good For You?

Just in time for Halloween, research finds that perhaps chocolate isn’t as good for us as we hoped. Vox reports that the Mars company has sponsored hundreds of scientific studies to show cocoa is good for you, leading people to believe that chocolate has all sorts of health benefits, including aiding everything from your memory to your heart health.  The truth is far more modest than we’ve been led to believe by flashy articles on websites, magazines and TV programs.

Research about the benefits of chocolate is available all over the web, and can be found in reputable sources. One examples of this research includes the article “To Improve a Memory, Consider Chocolate” in The New York Times, which explained that the study participants who drank the high flavanol beverage “performed like people two to three decades younger on the study’s memory task.” It sounds like an amazing finding, but you have to read more to discover that they are looking at the consumption of a specially formulated drink, and it would take the consumption of seven larger candy bars to get a similar amount of flavanols. The study also had a small number of participants and several other important caveats. Original research is often much more nuanced than articles in newspapers and magazines.

The lack of detailed analysis in many popular articles is compounded by the fact that many industries produce a substantial body of research to persuade consumers that their products have benefits, which may be overstated in secondary reports. This is where the library comes in! When reading reports on the web and in magazines, it is always best to try to go to the original source to see if the results have been reported accurately. For example, the HuffPost recently had an article 9 Reasons you should Eat Dark Chocolate Every Single Day; the original articles are often buried many clicks deep, but once you get to them, you’ll find full PDFs in library databases like Science Direct or PubMed. The original studies report results that are not nearly as dramatic or conclusive as articles like the HuffPost piece suggest. Sadly, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

For an amusing look at the ways food companies manipulate research about candy, watch John Oliver’s expose on Sugar.

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day

Have you ever wondered how many of our St. Patrick’s Day traditions are “really” Irish? The answer is probably not as many as you’d think!


In Ireland, prior to the Famine, St. Patrick’s day was a traditional Catholic feast day. Families celebrated with a meal and religious observances, and many businesses were closed for the day. In fact, until the 1970s, all pubs in Ireland were required by law to be closed on March 17th.


What we now think of as a celebratory day of parades, green rivers, and green beer is a relatively new occurrence that began in the mid-ninteenth century. As many Catholic families left Ireland for the United States, they were forced to define themselves and their culture within their new country. Many scholars argue that “the nearly 1.5 million Irish who fled famine conditions … identified themselves in terms of their families, villages, parishes, and perhaps counties. Forced into urban centers with Irish people from every town, parish, and county, however, the immigrants soon began to lose their old modes of identity. This process was accelerated as nativist hatred and common living conditions forced the immigrants to think of themselves as a single community.”


For immigrant groups like the Irish, as for any social group, it is communal rituals and commemorative ceremonies that help to define the group, reinforce those definitions of identity, and provide people with an organizing psychological and social structure around which to build and maintain a social and ethnic identity. “In the case of the Irish-Americans, one … [memory] site clearly outstrips all others in the power of its symbolic resonances: the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in America constitutes the “memory-site” par excellence because the majority of Irish-Americans, for whatever reason, came to believe that the ceremonies of the day could and should serve as reflections of Irish memory and identity, even—perhaps especially—when they disagreed over what form these ought to take. It was on St. Patrick’s day that Irish-Americans rhetorically and symbolically grounded their present in a remembered and constructed past: in sermons, speeches, and in the form of the festivities themselves, alternative conceptions of Irish-American identity were validated by linking them through commemoration with an “Irish past.””


Over the course of the late nineteenth century, St. Patrick’s Day in America came to be celebrated less as a religious feast day and more as a commemorative holiday celebrating Irishness, and more specifically, Irish nationalism. It was during this time that parades became a central feature of American St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The parades “depicted the past in terms of a pantheon of Irish nationalist heroes.” Now, our parades are often about celebrating a more generic “Irishness.” But St. Patrick’s Day remains a central event for the Irish American community, and often a chance to celebrate one’s links to Mother Ireland, no matter how small!


St. Patrick’s Day has become such an event in the United States that it is shaping how the day is celebrated elsewhere. Even, ironically, in Ireland. Wanting to capitalize on American enthusiasm for the holiday, in 1995 the Irish Government started a St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Dublin.


Moss, Kenneth. 1995. “St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and the formation of Irish-American identity, 1845-1875.” Journal Of Social History 29, no. 1: 125. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed March 7, 2017).



Fun Facts:

·        Why green? Originally, the color associated with St. Patrick is blue. Here we see the influence of immigration and ideas of Irishness circulating from mid-19th century forward: Green was the color of the Irish Land, Irish Nationalism, and the color of the shamrock, representing the trinity.

·        As of 2014, 33.1 million Americans, or 10.4% of the population, claim at least some Irish Ancestry. This number is more than seven times the population of the Republic of Ireland itself.

·        21.5%: Percentage of MA residents claim Irish Ancestry. This is the highest percentage of any state, next highest being NH.

·        42.3% of Braintree reports having Irish ancestry

·        NY is home to the world’s oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and the largest numerical Irish-American Population. Boston is actually not in the top three because it’s a smaller city. However, it has the highest number of Irish Americans as a percentage of the city’s total population (22.8%).

·        Lincoln’s first inaugural luncheon on March 4, 1861, included corned beef, cabbage and potatoes.

·        Is corned beef really a traditional Irish meal? Nope! “Corned beef and cabbage, as it would seem, is about as Irish as spaghetti and meatballs. Evolving from the Irish bacon and cabbage, it was Irish immigrants in America who quickly swapped in corned beef as a less-expensive substitute for pork.” In fact, they often got their corned beef from Jewish delis in New York City, because the two immigrant communities were nearby to one another. Want to read more about the history of corned beef?

Go On a Blind Date with a Book

This February, why not go on a blind date with a book or DVD?

Our Web & Social Media team has selected titles from a wide variety of genres, authors and directors. We’ve wrapped them all, so you won’t know what you’ve picked until you’ve checked out the book or DVD. However, we have written a few helpful keywords for each one as a preview; see them all below!

  • Fantasy, Knights, Graphic Novel
  • Biography, Women’s Rights, Graphic Novel
  • Memoir, Civil Rights, Activism
  • Art, Activism, Feminism
  • Comedy, Magic, Weddings
  • Secret, Obsession, Scandal
  • Dogs, Animation, Songs
  • Desire, Betrayal, England
  • Classic, Families, Race
  • Couples, Comedy, Holidays
  • Unlikely Love, Absurdism
  • So-Ho, Exes, Diabolical Plot
  • Mobster True Crime Story
  • Fictitious road trip with mayhem
  • Historical Romance with master spy
  • Fiction, all wars have rules
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Murder in a Quebec monastery
  • A Princess’s memoir
  • Adoption, Family, Love

Celebrating Black History Month

heroesThis month, the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Museum will all be celebrating Black History month. Initially a week-long celebration, the observance was founded by Cater G. Woodson in 1926.

“As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.”

In 1976 during the US bicentennial, President Ford expanded the celebration to last for a month.  “Since then, each American President has issued African American History Month proclamations.” You can view the documents related to these proclamations here.

This year, America’s cultural heritage institutions are beginning Black History Month with a screening of the film I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary by Raoul Peck that examines James Baldwin’s reactions to the assassinations of many civil rights leaders. Sponsored by the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, you can watch the streaming webcast of the documentary tonight. Visit their site for more information.

For information on additional events, visit the African American History Month website here.

Quotations from an essay by Daryl Michael Scott, Howard University, for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, found here.

Money Smart Week 2016

MoneySmartWeekThe American Library Association in conjunction with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is sponsoring Money Smart Week taking place April 23-30, 2016.  Take control of your personal finances with resources available from Money Smart Week.  There are lots of websites and apps available to help you budget and control spending.

Student Deirdre Clifford ’16 reviewed You Need A Budget (YNAB)

The biggest fear that college brings is no longer from classes, exams, or papers. For many, it is from student loans. With each student adding more to their loans each year, the idea of them can seem more and more over whelming. The idea of leaving college becomes even more intimidating when this new and growing worry is added to the mix. What is even more worrisome is the fact the many students do not know how to approach and handle their loans. Fear from this unknown can way you down until you take the time to fully consider the means of managing things like student loans once and for all. 

There is good news for us! YNAB is now free to use for college students. We know have access to YNAB4 while in school and can use their resources to graduate with less debt. 

YNAB uses four simple rules to help people pay off debt. Rule number one is give every dollar a job: this means prioritizing where your money goes. You can figure out the best way to manage an budget the money you earn so it is used most effectively. The second rule YNAB offers is to embrace your true expenses. This idea combines thing like set payments, unexpected payments and future payments do that they all begin to feel like monthly payments with some organization and planning. This leads into the third rule which states: roll with the punches. By having a clear and set plan in place, unexpected expenses can be handled without fear or panic. The final rule is to age your money. This rule pushes people to hold on to the money they make for longer. This leads to more money security and better financing. 

YNAB is offering their services free to students to help them get ahead of their loans. They can teach you how to take control of your money in less than an hour and lead you through their four steps more efficiently. 

Student Kenneth Gillpatrick ’16 reviews two personal finance apps:

Is managing your money not a strong suit? As college students, we are constantly struggling to monitor our spending habits. One solution is take out your smartphone (which a majority of us have) and download a few personal finance apps. Mint and Check are two great apps that allow you to budget your money, and provide you with a visual of where your money is spent. Personally, I prefer Mint because I am the type of person to use my debit card for most, if not all, of my transactions.  For people that prefer to spend cash, the app makes it somewhat difficult to track cash expenditures. Nonetheless, these apps will aid anyone trying to track their personal finances, and they can even tame the most reckless of spenders.

Student Chris Bruno ’16 reviewed two websites:
My Money
After spending sometime reviewing the MyMoney website it is clear that this site is a great tool for people of all ages who are looking for ways to control their money. The primary purpose of the website is to help students understand the risks and opportunities that college students are mostly susceptible to. The use of tabs at the top of the screen allows the website to be very easily navigable and it allows the viewer to find the main points with minimal difficulties. A big aspect of MyMoney is the “MyMoney Five” feature. This part of the site allows the viewer to look at the five most important building blocks for making the most of one’s money. The five keys are: spending, earning, saving/investing, protecting, and borrowing. The website features tabs for all five of these categories and ultimately makes it a focal point for the site. Overall is a great website for anyone trying to make the most out of their money and I recommend the site to all college students.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
The FDIC website is a great tool for anyone looking to manage their money more carefully. With quick links to tips about borrowing money, saving money, managing your bank accounts and much more, the site offers a variety of advice. While exploring the different features of the website a unique feature that I took interest in was the “Scams and Thefts” tab. This quick link takes you to a part of the website which explores many different risks that college students are highly acceptable to. Whether it’s how to avoid fraud, or protecting your privacy, this link allows the viewer to get a wide variety of scams and illegal actives that could involve one’s money. FDIC also provides many links to other websites that can give you more information about a specific financial topic that you may be interested in. Overall, the FDIC website is a starting point which offers an abundance of information for someone who is looking to manage their money better or perhaps learn about the risks that are involved with managing money.

For more information about Money Smart Week, please contact the Reference Librarians for more assistance by email or by phone at 508-565-1103.

February’s “Blind Date With a Book” is back in the Library!

IMG_2665This February, why not go on a blind date with a book or DVD?

Our Web & Social Media Intern, Deirdre Clifford ’16, selected titles from a wide variety of genres, authors and directors. We’ve wrapped them all, so you won’t know what you’ve picked until you’ve checked out the book or DVD. However, Deirdre has written a few helpful keywords for each one as a preview; see them all below!

  • “Math and Mental Illness”
  • “True and Wild”
  • “Modern World and Holy Wars”
  • “A Real Love Story”
  • “The Birth of Comedy”
  • “Privilege vs. Passion”
  • “Unlocked Fantasy”
  • “The passion of prisoners and miracles”
  • “Mentality and Mayhem”
  • “Political Power’s Punishment”
  • “Moby Dick’s Match”
  • “Love and the Roaring ‘20s”
  • “Burning Books”
  • “The Power of Stories”
  • “Comedic Compassion in World War I”
  • “Race and Reputation”
  • “Love and Life Through Sarcasm”
  • “The Funny Fight for Freedom”
  • “A History of Magic”
  • “Holden Caulfield’s Update”
  • “Cars and Crimes”
  • “Kisses and Family Curses”
  • “Culture, Politics, and Teenagers”
  • “Snapshots of the American Dream”
  • “Historical Fiction and Heroism”
  • “Cops and Robbers”
  • “Secrecy in the Suburbs”
  • “Price Tagged History”

Debunking Thanksgiving Myths

MayflowerAre you interested in learning more about the history versus mythology behind the Thanksgiving holiday? NPR, Project Archaeology, and the Library can help!

In 2006, Nathaniel Philbrick published Mayflower: a story of courage, community, and war: “From the perilous ocean crossing to the shared bounty of the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim settlement of New England has become enshrined as our most sacred national myth. Yet … the true story of the Pilgrims is much more than the well-known tale of piety and sacrifice; it is a 55-year epic. … Philbrick has fashioned a fresh portrait of the dawn of American history–dominated right from the start by issues of race, violence, and religion.”

To hear Philbrick talk more about his book, you can listen to two NPR pieces, entitled “Debunking Pilgrim Myths: Before Plymouth” and “Debunking Pilgrim Myths: The First Thanksgiving.”

The Library also has access to the streaming video, Desperate Crossing: Untold Story of the Mayflower; this film “Tells a different tale of the Mayflower and its Pilgrim passengers, a story bearing little resemblance to the popular myth of elementary school pageants.”

In addition, Project Archaeology, a website that “uses archaeological inquiry to foster understanding of past and present cultures; improve social studies and science education; and enhance citizenship education to help preserve our archaeological legacy,” has created a page devoted to Native American Perspectives on Thanksgiving, including short two-minute videos and educational resources.

If you’re interested in recording some of your family’s own history this Thanksgiving, consider participating in “The Great Thanksgiving Listen,” a project designed by StoryCorps.

Veterans Day: The eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918

unbrokenVeterans Day as we knowit  was originally designated by President Wilson as Armistice Day in 1919 to commemorate the signing of the armistice in 1918 that led to the cease-fire between opposing forces in World War I. At that time, World War I was considered the war to end all wars. This, however, was not the case; World War II broke out in 1939 and the US officially entered the war in 1941. World War II required the largest mobilization of troops in all of modern history. Recognizing the efforts and sacrifices, the US Congress passed legislation in 1954 to recognize November 11thofficially as Veterans Day to honor Americans that served in all wars, not just limited to World War I. Although we may honor those that served in recent wars and conflicts, it is still important to understand the history of Armistice Day and Veteran’s Day.

The MacPhaidin Library has an extensive collection of books that covers the history of warfare and World War II. Whether you are a researcher or you enjoy reading about history, one book comes to mind when I think of Veteran’s Day.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand captures the story of Louis Zamperini, a young man growing up in the midst of the Great Depression in Southern California. Zamperini was in and out of trouble as a teen, but he was also an impressive athlete. His talent for running – his speed and his stamina – gained him an athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California and then took him all the way to Berlin Olympics in 1936. The fighting in the Europe and Pacific theatres of the late 1930s and early 1940s meant only war was imminent to Zamperini. He enlisted in the US Army Air Forces as a bombardier in September 1941, just three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. While on a mission in April of 1943, mechanical problems caused Zamperini’s plane to crash in the Pacific. Zamperini and two other survivors drifted in a life raft for 47 days in the Pacific fending for themselves against shark attacks and storms while surviving off rain water and raw fish. After 33 days at sea, one of the crewmembers died. The Japanese Navy captured Zamperini and his crewmate as prisoners of war after drifting to the Marshall Islands.

While in captivity, Zamperini was transferred between multiple prison camps. Zamperini was targeted by the Japanese for his impressive finish at the 1936 Berlin Olympics – he was considered valuable and although he was not executed, the torture was unthinkable and extreme, and often by the hands of Japanese prison guard, Mutsuhiro Watanabe. He was starved and tortured, but his spirit remained unbroken despite being presumed dead and listed as killed in action to loved ones back home. He was released from captivity in 1945 at the end of the war. Watanabe disappeared and vanished from the prison camps without a trace, went into hiding, and was presumed dead. Once amnesty for Japanese war criminals was announced in 1958 did Watanabe emerge from hiding.

Hillenbrand captures Zamperini’s unbroken spirit as she details how he lived his life after returning to California. He became a heavy drinker and haunted by his experiences, but after finding and recognizing his faith, he became determined to better his life and others as well. He forgave the Japanese people for his experiences, but remained determined to find Watanabe. He founded a camp for young troubled boys with pasts similar to his in Los Angeles and devoted his time to charity.

Zamperini passed away in July 2014 from pneumonia at the age of 97. Even through his 80s, he still remained active and running at least a mile per day. In unthinkable conditions, Zamperini’s strength and spirit remained unbroken.

The film version of Zamperini’s story in was released as a film on Christmas Day, 2014. It received 3 Oscar nominations and won a Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble.

Celebrating Pi Day


While you were enjoying Spring Break, Pi Day was celebrated all over the world. If you missed it, don’t worry! It is never too late to celebrate Pi, perhaps the most famous and beautiful of all numbers. This year is the Pi day of the century because it is 3.14.15. Hopefully, if you celebrated Pi Day, you celebrated the full ten digits of Pi at 9:26:53 either AM or PM.


The Pi Day website explains the history of this most famous number:

piday2“By measuring circular objects, it has always turned out that a circle is a little more than 3 times its width around. In the Old Testament of the Bible (1 Kings 7:23), a circular pool is referred to as being 30 cubits around, and 10 cubits across. The mathematician Archimedes used polygons with many sides to approximate circles and determined that Pi was approximately 22/7. The symbol (Greek letter “π”) was first used in 1706 by William Jones. A ‘p’ was chosen for ‘perimeter’ of circles, and the use of π became popular after it was adopted by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1737. In recent years, Pi has been calculated to over one trillion digits past it’s decimal. Only 39 digits past the decimal are needed to accurately calculate the spherical volume of our entire universe, but because of Pi’s infinite & patternless nature, it’s a fun challenge to memorize, and to computationally calculate more and more digits.”

Many people celebrated Pi Day, including colleges, museums, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and even Penzey’s Spice where they are celebrating Pi and Pie. As Scientific American explains, this is exactly the right way to celebrate the holiday, “Pi fans [celebrated] this weekend with a wealth of math- (and baked goods–) related opportunities. Traditionalists will of course bake pies, both because of the pun and because of their circular nature (not to mention their tastiness). For the sugar-averse, pizzas have the right shape, and the right first two letters as well.”

To continue the Pi Day holiday the library has many math-themed movies including Good Will Hunting, A Beautiful Mind and Proof.

The library’s databases, including Academic Search Complete, JSTOR and ScienceDirect, also have good coverage of all things related to Mathematics.

Many people are celebrating Pi Day colleges, museums, even Penzey’s Spice where they are celebrating Pi and Pie. As Scientific American explains that is exactly the right way to celebrate the holiday,” Pi fans can celebrate this weekend with a wealth of math- (and baked goods–) related opportunities. Traditionalists will of course bake pies, both because of the pun and because of their circular nature (not to mention their tastiness). For the sugar-averse, pizzas have the right shape, and the right first two letters as well.”

To continue the Pi Day holiday the library has many Math Themed movies including Good Will Hunting, A Beautiful Mind and Proof.

The library’s databases Academic Search Complete, JSTOR and ScienceDirect have good coverage of all things related to Mathematics

The Saint Andre Lecture Series Presents Author and Activist, Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J.

Tuesday, March 3, at 7-9 PM in the Martin Auditorium

SrPrejeanSister Helen, a Roman Catholic Nun, is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph and a leading advocate of the movement to abolish the death penalty in the United States. After joining the Sisters, she spent her first years teaching religion to junior high school students. During this time, Sister Prejean realized that serving the poor is an essential part of the Gospel, and she moved into the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans and worked at the Hope House from 1984–1986.

deadmanwalkingAs an element of community outreach, she was asked to correspond with a death row inmate, Patrick Sonnier, at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana. She agreed and became his spiritual adviser. She began to correspond with additional death row inmates as well. After witnessing Sonnier’s execution, she wrote a book about her experiences. The result was Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. The book later became a major motion picture, an opera, and a play for high schools and colleges. The book also became a turning point in the national debate over the death penalty.

Now, Sister Prejean splits her time between counseling death row prisoners and informing the public about the injustice of the death penalty. Through her work with the incarcerated Sister Prejean realized that many innocent men were on death row. This realization inspired her second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, released in 2004. For more information about exonerated death row inmates, see The Innocence Project.

To read more about Sister Helen’s work visit her website. Sister Helen invites us to consider:

“The death penalty is one of the great moral issues facing our country, yet most people rarely think about it and very few of us take the time to delve deeply enough into this issue to be able to make an informed decision about it. This website is my invitation to you to take that time, to learn, to explore and to reflect. I hope you will accept my invitation.”

For more information on Sister Helen Prejean, the Film and her work, see our libguide.

Many professors have enabled the streaming version of the film Dead Man Walking in their course elearn pages. If you are interested in watching the film, check with your professor to see if this option is available to you. If you are a professor who would like to add Dead Man Walking to your course, contact Heather Perry.