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Discover the Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History

Special exhibition at Boston Public Library


Have you ever heard of poet Charles Sprague, who is buried in the Boston Common? Did you know that Edgar Allan Poe had an obsession with the Boston literati? Are you aware of how African Americans, women, and Irish authors turned to literature to prove their equality just a couple of centuries ago? If your answers to the above questions are no, then you should visit the new Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History show at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.

The exhibition focuses on literary life in Boston during the years between the Revolution and the Civil War and features letters, manuscripts, and early editions of works by many well-known authors, including Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jacob Abbott, Thomas Jefferson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The exhibition was created by Boston College faculty, staff, and students, and draws on collections from the Boston Public Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the American Antiquarian Society. It was curated by Paul Lewis, a BC English professor, whose students in the fall 2010 class Forgotten Chapters were given an opportunity to work on the project with Lewis last summer, funded by BC undergraduate research fellowships. Lewis’ students were able to examine archival materials, analyze the literary importance of poetry from old Boston magazines, and choose articles to include in the exhibition.

Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History is divided into six distinct sections, or chapters, including one on the development of children’s literature and another focusing on the early seasons of one of Boston’s first theaters.

Many of the names are familiar: John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Phillis Wheatley, and Henry David Thoreau. But the overwhelming majority—such as Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Susanna Haswell Rowson, and Olaudah Esquiano—have largely faded from memory. This show helps to restore their place in Boston’s rich literary history.

The Boston Public Library is in Copley Square, across the street from the Copley T Station. Take any MBTA Green Line trolley to Copley Station. The exhibition, which is free, runs until July 30. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. The exhibition is closed on Sunday. The sixth chapter of the exhibition, on the first seasons of the Federal Street Theatre, is on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston St.; free and open to the public, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Take any MBTA Green Line trolley to the Hynes Convention Center stop.

Andreia DeVries can be reached at adevries@bu.edu.


One Comment on Discover the Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History

  • Sophie Miller on 06.13.2012 at 9:16 pm

    Very interesting piece! I’ll have to make it over to the BPL soon to see this for myself!

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