Boston Public Library

Past Exhibitions

Literary Landscapes: Maps from Fiction
lit_lands_totemCentral Library in Copley Square (Norman B. Leventhal Map Center)
February 2 to October 25, 2015

Maps of imaginary places have accompanied literature for centuries. Visualizing the fanciful worlds described in works of fiction sets the stage for events taking place in a story and often provides insight into the characters themselves.

In this exhibition of forty items, visitors discovered maps from a variety of fictional genres, learned how authors create imaginary worlds, and appreciated why descriptive geography is essential to the story. People and creatures—even those who exist only in tales—are related to place, and maps of their imaginary worlds allow readers to be transported into the geography of fantasy. View the online exhibition to learn more.


The Handel and Haydn Society: Bringing Music to Life for 200 Years
JD_Messiah_88A2840Central Library in Copley Square (Cheverus Room)
March 24 to September 5, 2015

Founded in Boston in 1815, the Handel and Haydn Society is America’s oldest continuously performing arts organization. The Bicentennial Exhibition drew from Handel and Haydn’s extensive archivesincluding materials housed at Boston Public Libraryand wide community to tell the story of its 200 years. Its musical legacy embodies the cultural heritage and development of the city and the nation.


Purloined Letters: Literary Correspondence and its Unintended RecipientsPoe Letter
Central Library, Copley Square (Special Collections Lobby)
October 17, 2014 to April 24, 2015

What happens when a letter reaches an unintended recipient? For writer Edgar Allan Poe, the letter has been purloined: diverted from its original destination and “stolen” by an unexpected reader. Purloined Letters featured an array of rare and important purloined letters from the Boston Public Library’s collection, including handwritten missives from such notable figures as the incarcerated Oscar Wilde, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s sister Elizabeth, and mural artist Edwin Austin Abbey. This exhibition was presented in collaboration with the Department of English, University of Massachusetts, Boston.


Back to School: Geography in the Classroom
BacktoSchool_extractedbannergraphic_300Central Library, Copley Square (Norman B. Leventhal Map Center)
September 2, 2014 to January 25, 2015

In this exhibition of forty maps, globes, games, atlases and related objects, visitors followed the evolution of geographic education, examined the visual aids used by teachers in the classroom, and explored unique student-produced geography projects from the late 18th to the 20th centuries. View the online exhibition.


LouvertureThe Soul of a Man: Toussaint Louverture & the Haitian Slave Revolt
Central Library, Copley Square (Rare Books Lobby)
June 17 to September 30, 2014

Toussaint Louverture was born a slave in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) in 1743. As a leader of the armed resistance against colonization and slavery, Louverture proved a seminal influence on the future of a free Haiti. This exhibition drew from the Boston Public Library’s important collection of Haitian and West Indies materials, which includes over 10,000 books and manuscripts.


City of Neighborhoods ThumbnailCity of Neighborhoods: The Changing Face of Boston
Central Library, Copley Square (Norman B. Leventhal Map Center)
March 22 to August 22, 2014

During the last decade, Boston as a whole has become younger, and more racially and ethnically diverse. However, the neighborhoods that make up Boston often tell their own unique stories of diversity and change. This exhibition told the story of a “new” Boston by looking at the overall city and at individual neighborhoods through photos, objects, and maps, many of which were based on recent census data. View the online exhibition.


Thumbnail version 2Public Women, Private Lives
Central Library, Copley Square (Rare Books Lobby)
March 7 to May 30, 2014

This exhibition of books and manuscripts from the Boston Public Library’s special collections illustrated the public and private lives of reputed writers such as Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, and Julia Ward Howe, as well as those of lesser-known authors such as Hannah Adams, Helen Hunt Jackson, and Annie Fields.


Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon MemorialDear_Boston_Logo_RGB
Central Library, Copley Square (McKim Exhibition Hall)
April 7 to May 11, 2014

To mark the one-year anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon, Dear Boston featured a selection of items from the makeshift memorial  which took shape in Copley Square following the tragedy.  People from across the globe contributed flowers, posters, notes, t-shirts, hats, tokens of all shapes and sizes, and—most significantly—running shoes.  This exhibition was organized by a partnership that included the Boston City Archives, Boston Art Commission, New England Museum Association, and Boston Public Library. It was made possible with the generous support of Iron Mountain.


Made in Boston11-southack_fitzhugh-boston-1694_nblmc
Central Library, Copley Square (Norman B. Leventhal Map Center)
November 8, 2013 to March 17, 2014

Boston was the metropolis of England’s North American colonies, with the largest population and economy of any urban center through the 1750s. It was also the leading producer of printed maps, including major colonial “firsts” such as the first printed map, first city map, first battle plan, and first map engraved on copper. This exhibition brings together, for the first time in decades, a majority of these maps “made in Boston” in the century before the American Revolution. View the online exhibition.


The Meeting of Image and Word: Emblem Books from the CollectionEmblem Book
Central Library, Copley Square (Rare Books Lobby)
September 30, 2013 to February 28, 2014

The emblem book is a Western European phenomenon that presents symbolic pictures combined with a brief motto or title and a passage of related prose or verse to deliver a moral or amusing message. This exhibition of emblem books from the Boston Public Library’s collection focused on the high points of the genre from the middle of the sixteenth century through the end of the seventeenth century.


tn_charting front (2)Charting an Empire: The Atlantic Neptune
Central Library, Copley Square (Norman B. Leventhal Map Center)
May 1–November 3, 2013

The period following the French and Indian War (1754-1763) was a time of change and discovery in North America. This two-part exhibition of charts, views, and maritime objects explored the decade following the war, when Britain set out to accurately chart the coast and survey the inland areas of their new resource-rich empire in Atlantic Canada, as well as the eastern seaboard extending from New England to the West Indies. View the online exhibition.


The Imaginative Worlds of Daniel Defoe:Defoe-square
Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, and the Early Novel
Central Library, Copley Square (Rare Books Lobby)
February 25–August 30, 2013

This exhibition featured the riches of the Boston Public Library’s William P. Trent Collection of Defoe and Defoeana. This was a collaborative exhibition between graduate students and faculty of the English Department of the University of Massachusetts Boston and the Rare Book and Manuscript Department of the Boston Public Library.


The Art Institute of Boston: Celebrating 100 Yearstn_InvitationObverse03
Central Library, Copley Square (Wiggin Gallery)
March 22–June 29, 2013

The Art Institute of Boston: Celebrating 100 Years was one of many exhibitions and other events scheduled at venues throughout the Boston area during 2012-2013 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Art Institute of Boston (AIB). The exhibition also celebrated the Boston Public Library’s acquisition of works by Boston artists who have contributed to the Boston art scene both as professional artists and as long-time AIB faculty members.


Boston Sports Temples
Central Library, Copley Square (Johnson Lobby)
November 17, 2012 – May 31, 2013

Boston Sports Temples showcased Boston’s beloved sports venues—most notably the Boston Garden, Fenway Park, Braves Field, and Suffolk Downs—and their unique roles in the daily lives and hearts of generations of New Englanders.  Featuring the BPL’s outstanding collection of historic sports photography, the exhibition followed the creation and evolution of these four great public venues; their varied and changing roles, functions, and communities of users; and their powerful connections with millions of devoted fans who have filled their seats night after night, season after season. View the online exhibition.


Boston in the Gilded Age: Mapping Public Places
Central Library, Copley Square (Norman B. Leventhal Map Center)
November 16, 2012–April 23, 2013

The Gilded Agethe era from the late 1860s to the late 1890swas a period of significant growth and transformation in Boston. Ingenious engineering projects allowed the city to expand, and a devastating fire led to swift and progressive redevelopment of the commercial district. Designed to document Boston’s radically changing geography, this exhibition focused on the evolving street pattern and emerging park system, developed for the City’s growing population. View the online exhibition.


Palaces for the People:  Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces
Central Library, Copley Square (Changing Exhibits Gallery)
September 28, 2012–February 24, 2013

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Boston Public Library partnered to present the first major exhibition on the Guastavino Company and its architectural and historical legacy.  Palaces for the People featured original drawings from the company’s archives; large-scale, contemporary photographs of Guastavino Company-constructed buildings; a half-scale model vault showcasing the firm’s building techniques; and historic artifacts, photographs, and manuscripts. View the online exhibition.


The People’s Own: Construction of the McKim Building
Central Library, Copley Square (Rare Books Lobby)
October 9, 2012 – January 31, 2013

Designed by Charles Follen McKim of the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White, the Boston Public Library’s historic building on Copley Square opened its doors in February of 1895 at a cost of $2.5 million. This exhibition featured historic photographs documenting the library’s construction, dating primarily from August 1888 to December 1889. Held by the BPL’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Department and selected from the records of the library’s board of trustees, these photographs provide a pictorial narrative of the construction of the McKim Building, from the first shovels of earth to the beautiful edifice that stands today.


An Elevated View: The Orange Line
Central Library, Copley Square (Wiggin Gallery)
October 19, 2012 – January 19, 2013

Twenty five years ago, the MBTA relocated the Orange Line, dismantling the elevated rail that had long defined the City’s Southwest Corridor. Two years prior to the project, the private nonprofit agency URBANARTS organized, on behalf of the MBTA, a program called Arts in Transit. The project paired photographers with photography students to document the corridor in transition from Forest Hills to Dover Station. In the fall of 1985, the students and their teachers began photographing the Orange Line and its architectural and social surroundings. This exhibition featured over 65 photographs from the project held by the BPL’s Print Department.


America Votes: Mapping the Political Landscape
Central Library, Copley Square (Norman B. Leventhal Map Center)
March 26 – November 10, 2012

This timely, election-year exhibition featured approximately 30 maps, political cartoons, photographs, and other graphic images that date from the 1780s to the present. The display began with an exploration of gerrymandering—two hundred years of manipulating political districts for partisan objectives—and included maps illustrating the extension of the vote to non-property owners, blacks, and women. America Votes also featured multiple election results maps, with examples ranging from several early efforts to the most recent campaigns. View the online exhibition.


reThink INK: 25 Years at Mixit Print Studio
Central Library, Copley Square (Changing Exhibits Gallery, Wiggin Gallery, and Johnson Lobby)
April 12–September 1, 2012

Mixit Print Studio was established in 1987 in the former Mixit soap factory in Somerville, Massachusetts.  For 25 years Mixit Print Studio has provided a fully-equipped printmaking studio, aesthetic nourishment, and technical and critical exchange to Boston-area artists.  This collaborative exhibition—produced by the Boston Public Library and Mixit Print Studio—celebrated the studio’s 25th anniversary and the library’s deep and long-standing connection to the Boston printmaking community by featuring over 150 works by 71 artists in three venues throughout the Central Library.  View the online exhibition.


Robert Browning at 200: His Enduring Importance
Central Library, Copley Square (Rare Books Lobby)
May 7–August 31, 2012

Culled from Special Collections archives of the Boston Browning Society, whose 19th century members donated unusual and voluminous items to the Boston Public Library to assure their preservation, this exhibition featured handwritten letters, poetry, and related manuscripts that illustrated the development of Robert Browning as poet, lover, and playwright. Editions of the Brownings’ published books were displayed alongside significant photographs and noteworthy portraits shedding light on the private and public Browning, his marriage to the poet Elizabeth Barrett, and his survival as a poet.


Forgotten Chapters of Boston Literary History
Central Library, Copley Square (Cheverus Room)
March 28–July 30, 2012

Between the Revolution and the Civil War, Boston was the preeminent center of literary creativity in the United States. Forgotten Chapters, an exhibition developed by Boston College faculty, students, and staff, explores stories about Boston’s literary history that have faded from memory. The companion website includes overviews of each “chapter” as well as an extensive audio-tour of the exhibition.


Unconventional Maps: Exploring the Stories of Cartographic Curiosities
Central Library (Norman B. Leventhal Map Center)
October 22, 2011–April 9, 2012

When reading maps, we expect map makers to use standard conventions, especially in regard to map projection or composition, orientation, scale, and symbols. The maps displayed here highlight a variety of unconventional maps spanning the history of the printed map. View the online exhibition.


Home Front:  Boston and the Civil War
Central Library, Copley Square (Johnson Lobby)
June 10—December 31, 2011

Through original manuscripts, prints, artifacts, and other material from the Boston Public Library’s special collections, Home Front provided a deeply personal look at this extraordinary period in American history and the war’s enduring impact on Boston and its citizens. View the online exhibition.


Torn in Two:  150th Anniversary of the Civil War
Central Library, Copley Square (Changing Exhibits)
May 12—December 31, 2011

To commemorate the American Civil War’s sesquicentennial, the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library took a geographic and cartographic approach to exploring and illuminating the causes of the conflict, the conduct of the war and how it was remembered in later years. Torn in Two showcased 50 historic maps interwoven with 40 photographs, paintings, prints, diaries, political cartoons, music and press of the period, all from the Boston Public Library’s special collections. View the online exhibition.


Winslow Homer's Illustrations
Winslow Homer’s Illustrations
Central Library, Copley Square (Wiggin Gallery)
May 16-September 30, 2011

This exhibition explored Winslow Homer’s wood engravings for illustrated weeklies from 1858 to 1873. In the span of these 15 years, Homer portrayed rural life in America, the brutality of the Civil War, the changing roles of women, and the favorite pastimes of the American people.


Greetings from Boston: Vintage Postcards
Central Library, Copley Square (Johnson Lobby)
August 2010–March 31, 2011

Tour “vintage” Boston through this wonderful collection of postcards depicting some of our city’s most famous places and spaces in bygone days. View the online exhibition.


Away We Go! An Exhibition of Vintage Travel Posters
Central Library, Copley Square (Changing Exhibits)
May 13—October 17, 2010

Travel to twenty-eight handpicked destinations, on six continents, on a globetrotting route nearly 45,000 miles long — via some of the Boston Public Library’s most beautiful and important travel posters. View the online exhibition.



The Raven in the Frog Pond:  Edgar Allan Poe and the City of BostonThe Raven in the Frog Pond: Edgar Allan Poe and the City of Boston
Central Library, Copley Square (Cheverus Room)
December 17, 2009—March 31, 2010

In celebration of the bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth, The Raven in the Frog Pond featured materials from the Boston Public Library’s special collections and elsewhere to tell the important story of Poe’s relation to the city of his birth. Curated by Boston College professor Paul Lewis, the exhibition presented newly uncovered information about Poe’s time in Boston and his celebrated squabbles with area authors, explored urban legends that have grown up around the Poe-Boston story, and considered what Boston has done (or failed to do) to celebrate this native son. View the online exhibition.


Cool+Collected:  Treasures of the Boston Public Library
Central Library, Copley Square (Johnson Lobby)
June 2009—June 2010

This year-long exhibition celebrated over 160 years of collecting by the BPL and featured some of the most beautiful, rare, and unexpected holdings from the library’s rich special collections. Enjoy these gems from the BPL’s collections, revisit some old favorites, and discover a few new surprises as well. View the online exhibition.


Boston & Beyond: A Bird's Eye View of New EnglandBoston & Beyond: A Bird’s Eye View of New England
Central Library, Copley Square (Popular Reading Room)
January—June 2008

Through a selection of 48 bird’s eye views of New England towns, learn about the region’s expansion and evolution during the last half of the 19th century. Take the virtual tour created from the exhibition Boston & Beyond and unravel the story of who we are, where we came from, and how we choose to perceive our world. View the online exhibition.


Journeys of the ImaginationJourneys of the Imagination
Central Library, Copley Square (Changing Exhibits)
March–August 2006

Journeys of the Imagination explored the various ways that map makers from the 15th century, until today, have created their real and imagined world views for the public. The maps in this exhibition are examined not just as geographic records of the world at a particular time, but as documents that have a story to tell. View the online exhibition.


Faces & PlacesFaces & Places
Central Library, Copley Square (Popular Reading Room)
Spring and Summer 2003

In Faces & Places, the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center selected 70 historical maps portraying the countries from which the greatest number of Bostonians originate. The maps were juxtaposed against a collection of essays by middle school age students, depicting their family’s journeys to Boston. View the online exhibition.