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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Preserving Urban Cultural History

Preserving Urban Cultural History

UMass Boston’s Research Center for Urban Cultural History and the Trotter Institute held an Urban Spaces Symposium on Oct. 24, titled “Urban Green Spaces, Buried Memory.” Elizabeth Fay, director for the RCUCH, began planning the small conference last spring.

“We have several symposium series in the RCUCH that we are beginning this year,” Fay said. “This one is the Urban Spaces Symposium, which this year we devoted to Urban Green Spaces.”

There were five speakers at the symposium, with all of their presentations focused on the topic of rural landscapes in urban areas.

William Clendaniel, President of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, discussed the process of how the cemetery was created and the importance of it being the first “rural cemetery.” The cemetery was founded in 1831 and was one of the first places to create a “resting place” for bodies, as opposed to the old burial plots.

“There were a group of Bostonians who had a different model in mind, based off Pere Lachaise in Paris,” Clendaniel said. “Coming out of the art history of the picturesque and looking back to Greek and Roman ideals, places with such dynamic landscapes, places to teach about history, heroes and politics became more pleasure grounds in the 19 century, and this ideal was in the minds of the founders.”

Susan Wilson, a photographer and author of the book Boston Sites and Insights, addressed the connection between the rural cemetery movement and the public parks movement.

“In many ways, the ideas that came out of the revolution set the foundation for more urban cemeteries,” Wilson said. “Romanticism affected art, literature, poetry, et cetera and it also affected cemeteries, because the idea grew up that death was the eternal sleep, rather than ‘you’re dead, it’s over.’ It’s an eternal sleep and you want a resting place for your loved ones.”

Alan Banks, a representative from the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, spoke about the land development that Olmsted and his sons had created throughout the United States. Specifically, Banks referenced Boston’s Emerald Necklace, parks that stretch from Boston Public Garden in the north to Franklin Park in the south.

Patrick Barron, a scholar, photographer and an assistant professor in UMass Boston’s English Department, shared his research about Italian parks and renewal. He shared photos taken in Italy of a small village and poetry he had written inspired by the photographs.

Barbara Lewis, Director of the Trotter Institute, presented a portion of her cemetery-mapping project on which she worked with Joan Gardner of the GIS Core Research Facility. Lewis focused particularly on finding the burial sites of prominent African-Americans in the Boston area, like that of Phyllis Wheatley, whose site is unmarked in the city.

The purpose of each speaker tying so closely into one another was to draw attention to the lack of areas in the city that escape the urban normality and allow visitors and inhabitants to feel a sense of nature.

“I wanted the issues around cities’ need for green spaces to be the focus of attention,” Fay said. “We too rarely consider the need for such spaces, the effort it takes to create and then maintain them or how important they are to our daily lives. I also wanted the history of such spaces to be a focus of attention.”

The history of these rural areas in urban spaces, along with their importance environmentally, is something not often considered, and is a reason to draw focus to the students and staff at UMass Boston.

“We are very concerned with urban cultural history at UMass Boston, and with environmental issues, which is why this plays such a role for this campus,” Fay said. “As of right now, no date is set, but we hope to do another symposium in two years on urban rehabilitation.”