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Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston

11/06/2003 6:00 PM e25-111
Nancy Seasholes, Author, Gaining Ground; Research Fellow, Department of Archaeology, Boston University

Description: After years of determined sleuthing, Nancy Seasholes can now state for the record that one-sixth of Boston, or 5250 acres, consists of "made" land _ that is, land created by overcoming incoming tides with mountains of fill. Surprisingly, before Seasholes, only one other historian had attempted to trace the growth of Boston by land fill, and it turns out he got quite a bit wrong. Seasholes, an archaeologist by training, came to her task in a roundabout way, as a consultant in the environmental review process on such large projects as Boston's "Big Dig." In her effort to learn whether excavation was taking place on original or "made" land, she consulted a cornucopia of primary sources: city and state records, corporate and municipal commission reports. She uncovered a number of unsavory episodes, including Boston's effort in the 1840s to keep the famine Irish from settling in the city. By filling in some sewage-filled tidal flats of the South End and Back Bay, Boston created upscale residential areas to entice the wealthy Yankee residents to stay in the city. Today, in these same neighborhoods, falling ground water levels are rotting the wooden pilings on which many historic homes rest, which will be costly to repair, and be extremely vulnerable in an earthquake.

About the Speaker(s): Nancy S. Seasholes is an historian and historical archaeologist. She has an A.B. in history from Radcliffe College, an M.A.T. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in archaeology from Boston University. In addition to her research fellowship at Boston University, she is an instructor at the Harvard University Extension School. She was a contributing author to Mapping Boston (The MIT Press, 1999).

Host(s): Office of the Provost, MIT Libraries

Tape #: T17836

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