UMass Boston Students Bring Community Up-to-Date on Early Boston History

Office of Communications | June 27, 2013
Students in the history master's program assembled this walking tour of Boston's North End for the Dante Alighieri Society.

Students in the history master's program assembled this walking tour of Boston's North End for the Dante Alighieri Society.
Image by: Harry Brett

Community Partners Include the Bostonian Society and the Dante Alighieri Society

From a walking tour to character cards that make early Bostonians resonate in 2013 to a blog that solves a mystery on the University of Massachusetts Boston campus, students in UMass Boston's history master's program are making early American history accessible to a modern-day audience.

Students in Jane Becker’s The Art and Craft of Interpretation in Public History class recently presented the results of their semester-long projects and partnerships with their community clients.

Graduate student Ashley De Pasquale and her two team members created a walking tour in Boston’s North End for the Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts, a nonprofit in Cambridge that promotes and fosters Italian language and culture, and its Italian-American Heritage Trail Project.

“[As we were working,] we were walking along this trail, watching Italians assimilate into this culture. I’d hope they’d want to see how this culture came into the North End and assimilated into an American identity,” De Pasquale said.

The students produced a brochure, with the idea that this tour could be turned into an app and expanded into a driving tour down the road.

“This is something that’s been on the back burner for many years. I think this helps us greatly. This is a good start —a very good start,” said Salvatore Bramante, the vice president of administration for the Dante Alighieri Society.

Three students worked with the Bostonian Society, the primary caretaker of the Old State House and its collection of Revolutionary American artifacts and records, to offer suggestions for an overhaul of the Mapping Revolutionary Boston website and app and to figure out a formula for tying in Revolutionary characters identified by museum staff into the website. Visitors to the Old State House are given character cards, and their tour is personalized based on the cards selected.

Graduate student Joan Ilacqua said the students recommended that the Bostonian Society keep character descriptions short, and profile multiple characters at different sites.

“We thought about someone standing on a corner with an iPhone, and how much do they want to read. We also wanted it to be entertaining. Why are these characters interacting? Why do they have different views?” Ilacqua said.

“I have to say, I set them up with a real challenging, high-order task. What I’ve got here are the recommendations that I can send on to our app developer. We now have really concrete direction, which is exactly what I needed,” said Nat Sheidley, historian and director of public history for the Bostonian Society.

The final set of students stayed close to home to educate the UMass Boston community about a piece of its own history.

“One building sits quiet and inaccessible. A chain-link fence surrounds this building, makes it more mysterious. There are no interpretive panels. It is our hope this new blog would answer some questions,” said graduate student Andrew Donovan, introducing his group’s blog on the Calf Pasture Pumping Station, created for the University Archives and Special Collections Department.

The station, which started operating on Columbia Point on New Year’s Day, 1884, was a model for treating sewage and helping to promote cleaner and healthier urban living conditions. The facility closed in 1968, six years before UMass Boston moved to Columbia Point. (The building is across from the track, adjacent to the B and D parking lots.) Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, ownership of the building was passed from the Boston Water and Sewer Commission to UMass Boston in 2011 in exchange for $2 million in scholarships.

Blog posts discuss what prompted the need for a modern sewage facility, why it looks like a castle, and what it looks like inside. The hope is that the community will comment on the blog, that University Archives and Special Collections will maintain it, and that signage could eventually be added to the site.

About UMass Boston
With a growing reputation for innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s ten colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 16,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit

Tags: graduate , history

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