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‘Forgotten Chapters’ Brings To Light Boston’s Lost Literature

Students Research Boston’s Forgotten Literary Works

Heights Staff

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Students in an English seminar class are preparing for an upcoming exhibit on which they have worked all year long, titled Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History. The exhibit will feature a wide variety of mid-19th century literature that today’s culture has not preserved. This elite class, taught by Paul Lewis, has researched disregarded Boston-area novelists, poets, and journalists, along with their works.

Each student selected a writer or piece of writing to research and then prepare a display on for the exhibit, which will be shown at the Boston Public Library. There is a section on children’s writers, a section on literary magazines, a section focused on Edgar Allen Poe, and a variety of other literary topics. For one section,  titled “Treasures or Turkeys?” the students looked at a wide range of literature to decide what was worth including, and what was a “turkey” and perhaps better left forgotten.

Kristen House, A&S ’12, prepared her display on children’s novelists. “Any children’s author that we don’t know about that was relevant at the time, I’m sure no one knows who they are today.” House commented also on her tie to the city of Boston and how, as a native to the city, this project was particularly eye-opening. “I’ve lived in Boston my whole life, and I’m coming across this information for the first time. This whole project was pretty enlightening and shed some new light on Boston’s past.”
Kelsie Dorn, A&S ’12, focused on a different side of Boston’s literary past. Dorn researched Judith Sargent Murray, an essayist and playwright who she describes as “suffering in silence.” Dorn’s experience with what she found was as astounding as House’s. She described the project as a process of “unearthing priceless, centuries-old pieces of Boston’s history.” Dorn also commented on the chemistry of the group of students as a whole, all “[bringing] something different to this puzzle.”
The students, led by Lewis, were given access to the rare books section of the Boston Public Library, as well as collections from the Massachusetts Historical Society and the American Antiquarian Society. House also elaborated on field trips to particular historical literary sites in the Boston area. House commented on the lack of preservation involved, remarking on visiting a former literary landmark and discovering it had been converted into a Qdoba. “Literary landmarks in Boston aren’t really kept up,” House said. “Our research and the exhibit really give light to where these places actually are.”
All of the students, despite their varying literary focuses, realized the same theme about their extensive project: to educate the Boston community on aspects of history that have been forgotten. Developing the anthology was an attempt to shed light on pieces of literature that were acclaimed at the time, but for whatever reason, ended up misplaced.

Alexandra Mitropoulos, A&S ’12, commented specifically on the importance of their project. “It’s so easy to walk around Boston and just see what’s in front of you without understanding the history. I think it’s really important to understand the past to be able to see how much of the city has changed, or hasn’t changed, since it was built. This project really helps an era of Boston come back to life.”
House also mentioned that the exhibit is geared toward students and citizens of Boston: “The project is for people who visit and for people who live here to let them know that this is a part of the history.”
The exhibit opens at the Boston Public Library on Wednesday, Mar. 28, and is scheduled to remain on display for the coming months.

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