The location of the Boston Nature Center transforms depending on when you look at it. A partnership we funded unearthed the full picture.
How do we define a place? Does the perspective of the historian add value to the technical and political language of geographers, urban planners, or even biologists? When the Boston Nature Center, with the help of Mass Humanities, embarked on a project to tell the diverse and rich story of the land they now steward, the former site of Boston State Hospital, they opted to work with historian Steven Pavlos Holmes.
The yield was profound. Holmes’ work highlights the complex and various relationships with the land that make the Boston Nature Center such a unique place to visit.
The resulting book and website, A Healing Landscape: Environmental and Social History of the Site of Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center, tell the stories of early farming families, a Revolutionary war soldier, the residents and staff of the Boston State Hospital, and, of course, Mass Audubon. The history showcases the dynamism of the area, and uses primary sources like maps, deeds, and photographs to tell a 200 year long story that includes the plant and animal life that have populated the land as well as the shifting political boundaries that have demarcated it.
In the end, this partnership animated the human and non-human histories of the place, and offered up a surprisingly abundant view of the past.