“Boston’s Little Syria” exhibition on display in Grossmann Gallery

Author: Sabrina Valentino, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the Public History MA Program, UMass Boston

Boston’s Little Syria, an exhibition currently on view in the Grossmann Gallery on the fifth floor of the Healey Library, takes viewers on a journey through Boston’s little-known first Arab neighborhood. Located in what is now Chinatown and the South End, Little Syria became home to immigrants fleeing blight and violence in Ottoman-controlled Syria and Mount Lebanon. The exhibition will be open through May 31, 2024. 

The Boston’s Little Syria exhibition uses property maps, photographs, interviews, and memoirs of Syrian and Lebanese Americans who lived in this neighborhood to build a map of the creation and eventual migration of Little Syria, blending the history of the modern Middle East and Boston’s urban history. The items on display not only tell individual stories of the lives of immigrants, but also shed light on a rich cultural center in Boston that has been pushed aside and largely forgotten. 

In the 1880s, immigrants from Ottoman-controlled Greater Syria chose to leave their homes to escape war, famine, and the collapse of the silk industry, leading many to build new homes in Massachusetts. Starting in what is now Ping On Alley, the community grew and created a thriving life for themselves, reaching 40,000 people expanding south down Shawmut Avenue by the 1930s. However, despite the community’s growth and success, the residents of Little Syria faced hardships such as being denied citizenship status, and eventually began to relocate due to the Boston Redevelopment Authority uprooting urban blocks. 

Syrians sitting on a front step on Hudson Street, black and white photograph, photographer unknown, 1909. Courtesy of the Trustees of Boston Public Library.

The exhibition originated from a larger project that began with walking tours in 2022, and eventually grew to include an interactive digital map and a bilingual article published in the online journal Al-Jumhuriya as well as exhibitions at both MIT’s Rotch Library (2022-2023) and the Massachusetts Historical Society (2023). 

The exhibition is curated by Lydia Harrington and Chloe Bordewich. Lydia Harrington received her PhD in Art and Architectural History from Boston University in 2022 and was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT in 2022-2023. She is currently the Senior Curator at The Syria Museum, which is one of the sponsors of this exhibition. Chloe Bordewich is a postdoctoral fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute and Critical Digital Humanities Initiative at the University of Toronto and  received her PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University in 2022.

Boston’s Little Syria is sponsored by the Syrian American Council, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library, and the University of Massachusetts Boston.

For additional information on Boston’s Little Syria, visit bostonlittlesyria.org.

The Grossmann Gallery is open during Healey Library hours.

University Archives and Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives and Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives and Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

Launching the Boston Teachers Union Collection

Author: Maci Mark, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the Public History MA Program at UMass Boston

The Boston Teachers Union (BTU) has an essential place in Boston’s history. It was formed in 1945 and today has over 10,000 members. With this long history comes a lot to explore, especially when considering that the BTU had an important role in school desegregation and fought against affirmative action after the firing of 710 teachers. The BTU does not shy away from its history, both positive and negative. UMass Boston graduate students getting their Masters in Public History explored this legacy with Professor Nick Juravich in his spring 2022 course HIST 682: Digital Public History.

Screenshot showing 12 separate BTU contract booklets
Screenshot of HIST 682’s digital exhibit on the Boston Teachers Union contract timeline

Over the course of the semester this class (this author being a member of it) met with numerous digital public historians from across the country, studied the ethics and best practices of digital public history projects, and met with BTU members to gain insight about what these members wanted to learn more about. Students then jumped into creating digital exhibits using the recently donated materials in the Boston Teachers Union collection to look at various aspects of the BTU’s history. Digital exhibits range from looking at the year 1981, Kathy Kelley vs. Kevin White, the changes in the BTU contract, and more. My own exhibit looking at solidarity within the BTU also draws from other archival collections from UMass Boston like the Tess Ewing collection and its run of Hazard Lights, the school bus drivers union (USWA Local 8744) newsletter. 

The Boston Teachers Union collection is made up of three parts: digitized copies of The Boston Union Teacher from its 1963 through 2010 run, an oral history project run by Professor Juravich and retired BTU Secretary-Treasurer Betsy Drinan, and items collected from the Boston Teachers Union Digitizing Day in 2018 which kicked off the beginning of this relationship and hinted at what was to come. This collection also contains a complete run of the BTU contracts which have not yet been digitized.

Image of 1970 Issue of the Boston Union Teacher that includes a headline reading "School Committee Tactics Leading to Crisis"
The Boston Union Teacher, March 1970

This collection was launched on May 3, 2022. Students from HIST 682, leadership from the BTU, many active and retired BTU members, and families gathered to have a celebration of this monumental collection. This celebration included speeches from the BTU leadership, Professor Juravich, and Betsy Drinan commemorating the work that went into this project and the significance of interrogating one’s own legacy, including the good and the bad. Students presented their exhibits, discussing their inspiration and personal connections. This also allowed students a chance to meet the people we had been writing about, as many people who had been interviewed in the oral histories attended the launch event, and former president of the BTU Richard Stutman paid a virtual visit as well. 

The author Maci Mark stands at a podium in front of a screen projecting an exhibit about the BTU
HIST 682 student Maci Mark presenting at the BTU collection launch event, May 3, 2022

Overall as a student it was an incredible experience to get to be one of the first people to have hands-on experience working with these materials and to do so alongside the BTU. The type of partnership that is created here is a unique one that will hopefully benefit many students and the BTU down the line.

Explore the Boston Teachers Union digital collection. Contact library.archives@umb.edu for research assistance.

Digital collection now available: Stephen Lewis poster collection

This gallery contains 3 photos.

University Archives and Special Collections (UASC) in the Joseph P. Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston is pleased to announce that more than 500 activist posters from the Stephen Lewis poster collection, circa 1921-2017 are digitized and available online. UASC has been working with Stephen Lewis to digitize more than 3,000 posters through […]

Videos from “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” Mass. Memories Road Show available online now

The 42 videos collected at the “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” Mass. Memories Road Show: The Hip-Hop Edition are available online now.

Held at the Boston Public Library in May, the event was a collaboration between UMass Boston’s Healey Library and the Boston Public Library. It was part of a larger project called “Local Rappers, DJs, B-Boys, and Graff: Documenting the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Community from the 1970s to the present” and was supported by a Common Heritage grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor and the UMass President’s Creative Economy Initiatives Fund. Learn more about this project here.

Contributors shared memories of their roots in the Boston hip-hop scene and launching a wide range of careers as visual artists, dancers, musicians, and producers. Many artists described their experiences creating original music and choreography, touring local, national and international stages, and producing events. Local success stories include major performing and record contracts which brought widespread recognition to Boston hip-hop and inspired up-and-coming artists.

The videos in the collection also testify to the significant contributions of Boston hip-hop artists in the development of innovative MCing, DJing, engineering and production techniques and technologies. This pioneering work led to cutting-edge recordings and the founding of independent Boston-based hip-hop record labels, which gained global audiences and recognition. Contributors described the importance of historic albums and recent discs to the hip-hop legacy.

Additionally, the video collection documents contributors’ stories about launching a number of Boston-area radio programs such as Hip-Hope Nation and TV shows such as The Somerville Line, which shared local hip-hop music and culture with wider regional and national audiences.

A few of the videos in the collection further highlight contributors’ experiences launching projects and founding organizations to use music as a vehicle for social change.  For example, the Loop Lab engages Boston youth-at-risk in training programs that address the opportunity gap, by teaching audio and video production skills. Other contributors have started peace-building initiatives to end violence through hip-hop and produced hip-hop performances that explore social justice and other current political issues. All of these initiatives illustrate how members of Boston’s hip-hop community have shaped a local music scene that communicates messages of hope for future generations.

Note to contributors: We need your help to finish processing this collection! If you see something incorrect or misspelled–names and spellings of individuals and performing groups, for example–we want to fix it.  Please email carolyn.goldstein@umb.edu with the details and our team will make the corrections as soon as we can. Thank you!

Logo for National Endownment for the Humanities

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations in this program do not necessarily express those of the National Endowment of the Humanities.

If you have questions about the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, please contact an archivist at UMass Boston, connect with the project on Facebook, or click here to explore the collections and learn how you can contribute materials.

University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives & Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

Amesbury Mass. Memories Road Show materials available for research

The photographs, stories, and videos gathered at the Amesbury Mass. Memories Road Show are now available online for research.

Black and white photo of Merrimac Hat employees

Merrimac Hat employees, 1947. ‘It represents many people who worked for years for the Merrimac Hat Corporation, including my father James F. Manning who is on the right of back row. They were on their way to the Durham Conference. Pictured, from back to front, left to right: Joe Charles, Phil Lees, Harlan Main, Bob Wilbur, James F. Manning, (front) Francis Smith, Lenny McDonald. Location: Cedar Street.’ Contributor: Elizabeth Dion.


Organized by the Amesbury Carriage Museum and the Amesbury Senior Community Center, the event was held at Amesbury High School on Saturday, April 21, 2017.  Collaborating partners included the Amesbury Public Library, Amesbury Cultural Council, The Whittier Home Association, Amesbury Lions Club, and Amesbury 350th Celebration Committee.

More than thirty local volunteers joined a team of UMass Boston staff members, public history graduate students, and “Roadies” to welcome nearly 100 adults and children with connections to this town on Boston’s North Shore.

Community participants contributed nearly 300 images spanning three centuries of history. Many photographs depict the everyday lives of Amesbury’s residents in the early 21st century, gathering for family celebrations, sharing memorable moments with friends, and enjoying the town’s natural landscapes, outdoor activities, and sporting events.

Launching the whale boat at Lowell's Boat Shop built by apprentices

Launching the whale boat at Lowell’s Boat Shop built by apprentices, 2013. ‘Executive director Graham McKay’s vision became reality as the apprentices successfully launched and rowed this boat that was commissioned by Mystic Seaport’s Charles W. Morgan. As part of this great award, I became the education outreach coordinator for the museum, a position I have loved by bringing students to learn local history.’ Pictured: the seven apprentices who built the boat. Location: Merrimack River.’ Contributor: Patty Hoyt.


The former mill town’s industrial development in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is also documented in the collection. Contributors shared images of antique homes, historic structures and monuments, and carriage, automobile, and other manufacturing in the downtown area as well as haberdasheries and shipbuilding operations along the banks of the Powow and Merrimack rivers.

Biddle and Smart factory floor

Biddle and Smart factory floor, early 20th century. ‘Carriage manufacturer, Biddle and Smart, factory where my grandfather worked. It was located on Chestnut Street. Pictured: (second from right, in overalls) my grandfather Edgar H. Gill and other unidentified workers.’ Contributor: Paula Parker.


Additional materials relate to Amesbury’s legacy of social reform and activism and its rich cultural heritage.  Contributors shared memories of a number of poets, artists, and writers who once inhabited the town, as well as stories of those residing and working there today.

Halt war. Portraits of Charles H. "Bud" Dolan.

Halt war, 2013. ‘The “Dear World Project” visited the area in 2013. I asked my dad, Charles Dolan, if he would like to be photographed to share a message with the world. He was usually a very private person but he quickly agreed, stating he knew what he wanted to say. This photo captures the intense emotions my dad held inside–from his experience as a young soldier in the infantry during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. There is urgency, fear, anger and sadness in his face. We had never seen these emotions but he was ready to share his message with the world. In his words, “I look like I just came off the battlefield.” I some ways, he had. He never thought of himself as a hero–he was just lucky. Despite being a Bronze Star recipient, he has never felt comfortable or deserving of applause. At a ceremony in Newburyport, my dad received a standing ovation. He welcomed the applause and attention in a way uncharacteristic of him. This time, however, he was being applauded for his message–his beliefs. We all saw a difference in my dad afterward. He had finally come home from the war. RIP Charles H. Dolan 9/19/1923-8/14/2014. Pictured: Charles H. “Bud” Dolan, Sr. Location: Tannery.’ Contributor: Charlene Dolan.


Through their contributions to the archive, local community members expressed great pride in their community service and public institutions. Civic engagement, volunteerism, and involvement in local organizations feature prominently in the collection’s images and video testimonials.


George Edwin McNeil sign dedication

George Edwin McNeill sign dedication, 2016. ‘This sign is at the site of George E. McNeill’s birthplace. He was a work advocate and often called the “father of the eight-hour workday.” The Amesbury Improvement Association along with the McNeill family funded the renovation of a memorial plaque and created an historical sign. I am the president of the Amesbury Improvement Association. Pictured, from left to right: Roger McNeill, Carol McNeill, and unidentified members of the McNeill family. Location: George McNeill monument.’ Contributor: Anne Ferguson.


Browse the Amesbury Mass. Memories Road Show collection.

The Mass. Memories Road Show is a statewide digital history project that documents people, places and events in Massachusetts history through family photographs and stories. In partnership with teams of local volunteers, we organize public events to scan family and community photographs and videotape “the stories behind the photos.” The images and videos are indexed and incorporated into an online educational database. Since its launch, the project has gathered more than 10,000 photographs and stories from across the state. It is supported in part by the Patricia C. Flaherty ’81 Endowed Fund at UMass Boston.

University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives & Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.