The Birth of Boston: Reconstructing Boston’s Social History in 1648

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Molly E. Nebiolo

    Northeastern University

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With the earliest printed map of Boston appearing only in 1722, visualizing the early history of the city has been a challenge for centuries. The collaborative project, “

The Birth of Boston

” is an online GIS map of seventeenth-century Boston’s residents and major civic infrastructure. This project extends the work of Samuel Chester Clough, an early-twentieth-century cartographer who spent the last decades of his life producing an unpublished atlas of Boston’s residents before 1800, and Annie Haven Thwing, an amateur historian who produced almost fifty thousand index cards with the demographic, social, and legal histories of early Bostonians.

The creation of this project stemmed from the lack of resources on Boston’s colonial history for undergraduate students to interact with during an early American history course last fall. Christopher Parsons, the creator of this project, began researching the presence of pre-Revolutionary Boston history at the Massachusetts Historical Society and came across the rich collections of Clough and Thwing. With Nebiolo’s experience in the graduate certificate program for DH at Northeastern, and from funding through the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks and the Boston Research Center, we were able to generate a preliminary site depicting Boston’s social and spatial history in 1648.

Yet “The Birth of Boston” is just in its early stages of digital work. Clough’s papers include maps of the entire city with numbered parcels and ownership information for the additional years of 1633, 1638, 1676, 1722, and 1798. Our hope is to digitize the 1633 and 1638 maps and use the online versions of the others to provide a digital time-lapse of Boston’s early urban history, with the potential to extend the project into the 19

By presenting the work at DH2019, we hope to discuss with attendees how to best standardize the data and presentation of the project as it grows over the next few years, and whether our creation of the tool is useful and engaging. The project provides space at the conference for debate around best practices for digital colonial map projects and pedagogy for seventeenth century data resources like this one.
The poster is organized around the key questions, decisions, and objectives made for the creation of “The Birth of Boston” 1648 map. Some of these questions include:

What exists on Boston’s early colonial history?
How can this history be best presented for an audience?
What platforms should be used?
How should we present that data?
How can we incorporate the histories of other populations that were present in Boston, such as indigenous communities, slaves, and freed slaves?

Information on the dataset produced from the citizen data in the Thwing collection are present on the poster. We will also provide visitors the opportunity to interact with the map with a laptop.
The overall goals of “The Birth of Boston” poster presentation is to provide another example of how the field of early modern history can benefit from the methods of DH and how it can strengthen projects that focus on producing an educational, historical narrative for a public audience.

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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2019

Hosted at Utrecht University

Utrecht, Netherlands

July 9, 2019 - July 12, 2019

436 works by 1162 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (14)

Organizers: ADHO