When my great-grandparents fled persecution in Russian-controlled Ukraine in the 1890s, by luck or by chance, they immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts. They came to the United States hoping for greater opportunities for themselves and their children. They had no way of knowing that their decedents would become nurses, business owners, scientists, editors, and more. They were just a few of the vast number of people who managed to forge a new life in the United States throughout the many waves of immigration that have graced the greater Boston area. Immigrants have been a part of the history of Boston since the founding of the United States, and stories like those of my great-grandparents are representative of why the thrall of the “American dream” continues to draw immigrants to our country.
Global Boston is a digital history project from Boston College that studies and presents the history of immigration to the greater Boston area from the 1800s to the present. The project was created and is run by Boston College faculty from multiple departments including Dr. Marilynn S. Johnson, a professor of history, Dr. Deborah T. Levenson, a professor of Latin American history, and Elizabeth Graver, a professor of English. The K-12 Curriculum Developer is Sol Rheem, a teacher at Somerville High School in Boston. Work on the project is supplemented by undergraduate and graduate researchers. The project began in 2016 and is still being worked on. Global Boston’s stated goal is to highlight the importance of immigrants to the history and development of the Boston area and show similarities and differences between immigration experiences across time and considers itself, “A Portal to the Region’s Immigrant Past and Present.”
The website presents a myriad of topics surrounding immigration to explore. Information is broken up into the following categories: “Eras of Migration,” “Ethnic Groups,” “Immigrant Places,” “Nativism and Racism,” and “For Teachers.” There are also “Bibliography” and “About” pages. There is an incredible amount of in-depth information available in all of these sections. For example, the “Eras of Migration” section breaks up the history of immigration to Boston into four waves and even provides an interactive timeline that starts in 1820 and ends in the present. The “Immigrant Places” section has a map of the greater Boston area that shows the percentage of foreign-born residents in each municipality each decade, starting in 1870. Although the map is initially not interactive, a visitor to the site can access an interactive version by clicking a link.
Something that separates Global Boston from other similar digital history projects is the “For Teachers” section. This section provides a unit plan, lesson plans for seven lessons, and a summative assessment project. The summative assessment recommended by the curriculum developer asks students to conduct oral history interviews, encouraging the next generation of young historians. The lessons were created with the “2018 Massachusetts curriculum framework for US History I and II at the high school level” in mind but could easily be adapted for other grade levels. From this section, and the project as a whole, it is obvious that the project’s creators are doing everything they can to increase knowledge about immigration and encourage compassion towards immigrants.
When opening the “Nativism and Racism” page, the first thing one sees is a large image of a protest in Boston against former President Trump’s so-called “Muslim Ban” in 2017. Images like these serve to remind the project’s visitors that immigration is not a thing of the past, and connect challenges faced by immigrants in the first waves of immigration to what is happening in the current day. The project successfully communicates that while the origins of immigrants to the United States may have changed throughout the past few centuries, the treatment of immigrants has largely remained the same.
While there is a wealth of knowledge available through Global Boston, one area that is lacking is coverage of immigration during the American Civil War. On the page covering the “First Wave” of migration, from 1820-1880, the Civil War is only mentioned once, “during the Civil War, trans-Atlantic immigration was disrupted and continued to decline during the 1860s. It soon rebounded, but by the 1880s the sources of that migration began to shift.” Although it may be true that immigration declined during the Civil War, the project would paint a more complete picture by mentioning the role immigrants played during the Civil War. Additionally, because there is so much information hidden throughout the different sections of the website, the project would benefit from an internal search engine that would allow visitors to search for specific topics or documents. There are so many interesting subjects covered throughout the project, so it is a shame that one would not know much of it is there without clicking through every section. Submenus within each section may also help assuage this issue.
Global Boston is a very polished digital history project that connects current residents of the Boston area and beyond to the past our nation and the present. The dedication to the project on the part of all involved is apparent. The website is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about immigration and deepening their understanding of immigrants’ role in the development of the United States.