UMass Boston Helps Dorchester Uncover its Past

Anna Fisher-Pinkert | May 03, 2017
Two images depicting life in Dorchester.

Two images depicting life in Dorchester.

When most people think of Boston history, the images that come to mind are the Old North Church, the brownstones of Beacon Hill, or the Old South Meeting House. UMass Boston history professors and students are working to expand our knowledge and understanding of the history right in the university’s own Dorchester neighborhood through two new projects.

On April 22, Jane Becker, internship coordinator and history lecturer, and Monica Pelayo, assistant professor of history and director of the public history master’s program, collaborated with John McColgan, city archivist, to host “Building a People’s History of Dorchester” at the Dorchester Historical Society. The event was designed to encourage current and former Dorchester residents to take part in telling the story of their neighborhood.

Approximately 30 people attended this initial meeting, and contributed ideas for building a timeline of Dorchester history. For Pelayo and Becker, this is just the beginning of a conversation about how to help the community tap into their own history.

“What’s important about this process is that it comes from the bottom up, not from the top down,” Pelayo said.

She added that people don’t always realize that their family photos, documents, or keepsakes are potential historical resources for their communities. Pelayo and Becker plan to have more events in the future to encourage individuals and community organizations to participate in the project.

UMass Boston public history master’s students are also involved in revealing a piece of Dorchester’s history. This semester, students partnered with city archaeologist and UMass Boston alum Joe Bagley to tell the stories of women and girls who lived and worked at the Industrial School for Girls in the 1860s. The school was founded in the 1850s to train poor girls to work as domestic servants. The history graduate students wrote about the women and girls at the school, and created a website to share their findings with the public. Much of the information on daily life in the school came from the objects uncovered by Bagley in a 2015 archaeological dig.

The graduate students and Bagley will present their findings on May 10 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Massachusetts Archives and Commonwealth Museum. The event is free and open to the public.

Tags: archaeology , boston , community , dorchester , graduate students , history , neighborhood , public history , research

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Comments (2)

Posted by Marijo McCarthy | May 09, 2017 - 8:58 a.m.

Clearly, Boston has always been a place where young people could find and make the most of opportunities in its neighborhoods. Makes me proud to be a UMass Boston alum, right here in the heart of the historical Dorchester neighborhood. The website for the Industrial School is fascinating.


Posted by Tracy | May 05, 2017 - 6:47 p.m.

This is so interesting!!