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Category Archives: General

Paul Lewis & The Citizen Poets of Boston

Posted on May 11th, 2016 by BPL News in General
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citizens 2Paul Lewis, a professor of English at Boston College, visited the Central Library in Copley Square on May 9, discussing his book The Citizen Poets of Boston, which originally began as an exhibition at the Boston Public Library in 2012 titled The Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History. Lewis began by thanking staff of the Boston Public Library, who were instrumental in assisting him with his research; the book would have been very difficult to produce without databases and BPL resources that provided the images and text of the poems. The poems in his book are a compilation of “citizen” poems from 1789-1820. At the time, there were hundreds of magazines throughout the country, and quite a few in Boston; they would invite readers to submit their poems, hence “citizens,” which could refer to any resident of the City at that time.  This time brought forth much interaction from writers to editors and editors to writers, and between readers and writers.

The poems revealed the culture of the time, and of what people were thinking about and feeling in post-revolutionary Boston. Poems included thoughts by a seamstress wanting to get married, a 21-year-old complaining about aging, a formerly enslaved man striving for freedom, a young woman protesting marriage, and a poet describing his love for books. The sections of the book are broken down into categories: “Coming to Boston,” Men and Women,” “Politics,” “the Family,” “Jobs, Shops, and the Professions,” “Pleasure and the Good Life,” “Rebusses, Riddles, Anagrams, Acrostics, and Enigmas,” and “Death.” Lewis was joined by students from Boston College to read some of these poems, as well as City of Boston Poet Laureate Danielle Legros Georges.  Lewis indicated that this type of project could potentially be replicated in cities such as New York and Philadelphia.

The BPL’s Author Talk Series continues on Wednesday, May 11, at 6 p.m. in the Commonwealth Salon with Joseph Bagley as he discusses A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts.

Locating Ancestors through the Freedmen’s Bureau

Posted on May 3rd, 2016 by BPL News in General

bureauDiane Boucher, a lecturer in history at the United States Coast Guard Academy, gave a presentation titled “The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands: Securing Freedom During and After the Civil War” on April 27 in conjunction with the BPL’s Local and Family History Lecture Series, detailing the Freedmen’s Bureau’s functions and its tie to Massachusetts. The Freedmen’s Bureau, established in 1865 by the War Department, was in charge of providing education, health care, housing assistance, and employment arrangements to former slaves as a temporary means to get them situated as they began a new life. Former slaves fought to gain economic and social status, along with finding their families, establishing their own land, and gaining an education. The Bureau also gave assistance to families and others fleeing north after the war.

Field offices were established to help people post-war across the east coast, and in 1866, the Walnut Street School, later the Howard Industrial School, was founded by Anna Lowell in Cambridge, serving as a trade school and housing for former women slaves and women in search of work. Most women were anxious to earn wages, and desired to be independent. They moved quickly into employment once arriving. An average of 30 people lived there at any given time, with most people from the Washington, D.C. area. The school served 355 people its first year. In 1868, Congress voted to end funding for the Freedmen’s Bureau, and it is likely the Howard Industrial School dissolved not long after.

The lecture concluded with conducting a sample search for an audience member’s ancestor.  Transcriptions of documents from the Freedmen’s Bureau are ongoing, and resources vary in their search capabilities. Below are a variety of resources that may be helpful for genealogical research related to that time period. The Local and Family History Series concludes on Wednesday, May 11, with Joseph Bagley speaking about his book A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts.

Free online databases available at Boston Public Library:

  • Ancestry Online: This site has some of the Freedmen’s Bureau records online at the Learning Center. Select digital copies of microfilmed reels are searchable by field office, but a name search is not available.
  • US Congressional Serial Set: This contains reports generated by the federal government in conjunction with Freedmen’s Bureau activity, available through Archive of Americana.

Additional Resources:


Quincy Carroll, Author of “Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside,” Brings a Captive Audience to Rural China.

Posted on April 8th, 2016 by in General
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On a rainy Thursday evening in Boston, Quincy Carroll took his audience’s imaginations to the countryside of China. The crowd in the Commonwealth Salon in the Central Library in Copley Square sat engaged as Carroll discussed the inspiration for the novel “Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside” as well as reading two carefully chosen passages from the book.

Carroll began the talk by discussing how his background and personal experiences influenced the novel. Born and raised in Natick, Massachusetts, Carroll attended Yale University. After graduating in 2007, Carroll headed to New York to enter the financial world in sales and trading. It didn’t take long for Carroll to realize that he wanted a different life, leading him to quit his job and move to China. Before departing he found a graphic novel, “East meets West,” by Yang Liu that informed his knowledge of the differences between the cultures. Upon arriving in China, however, he found quickly there was a gap in the literary world for an exploration of foreigners living and experiencing China and Chinese culture. After returning to America, Carroll enrolled in the Creative Writing MFA program at Emerson College and the journey of writing “Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside,” began.

The first passage Carroll read was a particularly meaningful one, considering the location of the talk. Carroll revealed to the audience that this portion of the novel was written just a few yards away in Bates Hall at the Central Library in Copley Square. This passage is also significant as it’s the first time we meet two of the main characters, Thomas Guillard and Bella while they waited for a train to Ningyuan. The scene creates an image for the audience of Guillard’s nonchalant attitude towards the Chinese culture, through his smoking and staring at a nearby girl. The passage sets the audience up to learn more about these two characters and how their different backgrounds will influence their relationship.

The second passage Carroll read introduces the other main character, Daniel. Daniel is traveling by bus to visit friends and the contrast between him and Thomas is immediately felt. At one point Daniel automatically nods to a man he passes and is embarrassed because “Simply because they came from different countries did not mean they owe each other a hello.” This quote spoke to Daniel’s mindfulness of the culture and his role as an outsider.

Carroll ended the night thanking everyone who attended, as well as answering numerous questions from the audience. In response to the questions, Carroll discussed the artful act of infusing Chinese into a novel meant for English speakers, his plans for the next novel, and that the characters were hybrids of many different people he met in his travels.

This talk is part of the Boston Public Library’s Author Talk Series. The next talk in the series will take place on Monday, May 9, 2016, at 6 p.m. featuring Paul Lewis, editor of “The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems, 1789-1820, and taking place in the Commonwealth Salon at the Central Library in Copley Square. Learn more via here.

Reading to Dogs at the Boston Public Library

Posted on April 6th, 2016 by BPL News in General


Harvard Dangerfield at the Children’s Library. Photo courtesy of Dana Sullivan.

One Saturday a month, the Central Library’s Children’s Library hosts a very special visitor – an 11-year-old fluffy white Samoyed named Harvard Dangerfield. Harvard, accompanied by his owner Dana Sullivan, comes to help children practice reading as part of the Reading Pup program, open to children ages 3-12 and their caregivers. Though Harvard can’t help sound out or explain the meaning of words, he can provide something equally valuable: a patient, gentle demeanor that allows children to read aloud without fear of correction or judgement.

A Reading Pup program begins with a brief introduction by a Children’s Librarian to Harvard and his work (he also visits elementary schools, hospitals, and nursing homes, among others), followed by a dog-themed story time. Then, the children in attendance take turns reading to him. The youngest visitors with no reading skills often tell him stories, while the older children read from a selection of books about dogs provided by the library or ones that they have brought themselves. Harvard calmly and happily listens and greatly enjoys socializing with the kids; according to Sullivan, the Children’s Library is one of his favorite places to visit.

In addition to providing children with an encouraging and nonjudgmental audience, he also gives them the opportunity to grow comfortable interacting with dogs. Sullivan and the librarians help by showing the children how to best greet him.


Gus and his owner Candice at the Charlestown Branch.

“His fluffy fur provides a sensory experience for young children, and older children enjoy giving him a hug or feeding him treats,” said Children’s Services Team Leader Laura Koenig. “Parents and caregivers especially like knowing that he is a certified therapy dog who will be patient and gentle with children who are still learning how to safely interact with dogs.”

Other Boston Public Library locations also host therapy dogs as part of their children’s programming. The Charlestown Branch, for instance, offers the Read to a Dog program with Gus, a one-and-a-half-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. On a cloudy afternoon in late March, Gus brightens up the branch with his cheerful and gentle demeanor. He perches on a cushion next to his owner Candice Deluty while Annabell, a six-year-old, reads him the book Biscuit Loves the Library. Then, he listens as ten-year-old Tess reads from the chapter book The Underneath. According to Eileen Whittle, the Charlestown’s Children’s Librarian who organized the event, therapy dogs are crucial to helping kids build fluency in oral reading in a positive, open environment.

Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from Gus’s and Harvard’s library visits. As Deluty says, Gus cheers up everyone, including adults and the library staff. Sullivan adds that age has no effect on a person’s response to Harvard, as he is met with squeals of delight from the young and old wherever he goes. Visit our calendar at to find an upcoming therapy dog program for your child, including visits from Maggie at the Mattapan Branch every other Tuesday.

“The Black Community in Colonial Dorchester and Boston” Lecture Turns into a Spirited Discussion Among Historians, Subject Experts, and the Curious.

Posted on March 31st, 2016 by in General

Yesterday’s Boston Public Library Local and Family History Series lecture on The Black Community in Colonial Dorchester and Boston felt more like a lively discussion among a group of historians than a one-person presentation. Historian Alex Goldfeld opened the night with an acknowledgement of the expertise of the people in the room and invited many voices to chime in about the lives of African Americans in colonial New England.

Goldfeld used letters and documents to examine the dark circumstances that originally brought African Americans to New England. Goldfeld displayed and used a correspondence to John Winthrop to explain that early white colonialist traded captured Native Americans, cotton, and fish for African American slaves.  White colonists’ belief that African Americans would be more obedient than Native Americans due to their lack of familiarity with the land contributed to the rise of the African American population in Boston during mid to late 1600s. The letter also expressed the belief that without slave labor, New England could never grow and flourish to its full potential.

The subject of land ownership was a topic Goldfeld embarked on through documentation of a free African American Sebastian Kane’s purchase of a slave’s freedom. In the transaction paper, dated 1656, Kane put his property in Dorchester up as collateral for the payment, proving he was one of the first, if not the first, African American landowner in Boston. An audience member added that Zipporah Potter Atkins, an African American woman, is believed to have owned property in the North End around 1670. The rarity, if not the impossibility, of an African American woman owning and keeping property at that time was noted and discussed.

Another subject of debate was the discovery of the smallpox vaccine by Cotton Mather. Goldfeld discussed the smallpox epidemic of 1721, infecting roughly half of Boston’s population. At this time in history, China, India, and Africa had been practicing types of inoculation, but this type of preventative care was unknown to the people of New England. Goldfeld explained to the group that Mather got the idea from one of his slaves, and fought for the procedure to become widespread. An audience member piped in to provide the slave’s name, Onesimus, and to suggest he had a much bigger role in the development and implementation of the vaccine than Goldfeld originally suggested.

When Goldfeld concluded his lecture by mentioning that he was over the allotted time, the audience murmured in disbelief that the hour had flown by so quickly. Goldfeld thanked the group and the many voices who contributed to the discussion. Leaving the Commonwealth Salon, it was clear to the audience that The Black Community in the Colonial Dorchester and Boston is a topic that will continue to be studied, debated, and shared for a long time to come.