Digital History Project on Boston Area Immigration Launched

Marilyn Johnson, a Boston College history professor, has launched a digital history project and website called globalboston.bc.edu on Boston area immigration. The website discusses the histories of various ethnic groups, as well as shifts in demographics in different parts of the Boston area.

Global Boston offers a diverse range of capsule histories, photographs, documents, videos, and oral histories pertaining to the greater Boston community.

The project began as a continuation of Johnson’s 2015 book, The New Bostonians: How Immigrants Have Transformed the Metro Area since the 1960s.

“[The book] was motivated by my own interest as an urban historian and as an immigration historian to understand more about the history of immigration in Boston and the role it has played in the city’s history,” Johnson said in an interview with The Heights.

She acknowledged that the research for the book led her to discover many fascinating and lesser-known facts about certain immigrant groups.

“I decided that I would continue with the project as a website, where I could provide more information that was a little more encyclopedic,” she said.

Johnson thinks that although people know a lot about the older immigrant groups such as the Irish, the Italians, and the Jews, most know a lot less about the groups that have come to the United States since 1965, and the impact that these groups have had in the Boston metropolitan area.

The website, therefore, encompasses the history of immigration from the early 19th century to the present.

“I really wanted to show parallels between older European immigrant groups and the newer groups that come from all over the world,” Johnson said.

The comparisons also contain many differences, however, as various aspects of the U.S. have changed or evolved since the 1800s.

“The world is a different place now,” Johnson said. “Our economy is different, our governmental system is different, so you can’t make simplistic comparisons between new and old immigrants.”

Global Boston’s thoroughness and inclusivity has been the result of in-depth research and organization. Johnson said that a lot of research had already been done by professors and students at colleges in the Boston area. Additionally, a good amount of the research that was featured on the website was analyzed and studied by graduate students who were writing their honors theses.

Despite having an extensive bibliography page that includes all of this research, Johnson still continues to conduct ground-level research because of demographic changes in certain areas.       

“Research has taken on a new importance in the current climate, so I’m happy that I decided to take on this project in the first place,” she said.

Johnson believes that there is tremendous local interest in the topic of immigration, which has grown significantly in recent years.

“We are hearing so much misinformation… it’s very important to have places where [the history] is explained and pushing back against those kinds of false representations of immigrants,” Johnson said.

Professor Johnson is also working with a student in the Lynch School of Education to develop curriculum plans that would help K-12 teachers use the project in the classroom.

One of Johnson’s goals for the future is to continue working with more faculty and students. Johnson worked with Elizabeth Graver, of the English department, and Deborah Levenson, of the History department, both of whom have studied immigration in their respective academic fields, on the Global Boston project.

Johnson is interested in adding new sections to the website.

“I would love to do a new section of the website on nativism and racism, and the history of that as it relates to immigrants, because that is obviously very pressing right now,” Johnson said.

Ultimately, Johnson wants the history of the Boston region to empower residents and citizens, by educating them on the history of immigration in the metro area.

“New immigrants play such a big role in the economic vitality and development of our cities and our country, and it’s very important to remind people that’s the case,” Johnson said.

Featured Image via NewBostonPost