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Inside Ideas: Boston's Historic Markers

Posted by Josh Rothman  November 3, 2011 11:56 AM

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Chris Marstall has a must-read story in this week's Ideas about the historic markers around Boston and Cambridge:

Beyond their value in noting historical moments, it’s possible to see the markers as a kind of history themselves — a standing museum of how the state saw its own past in the 1930s. They paint a vivid picture of the Puritan settlement of Massachusetts.... Dozens of markers commemorate bloody scenes in which Puritans and Indians battled. They tell of over 100 settlers violently killed; the native deaths mentioned, meanwhile, number in the single digits — one of them killed in Middleborough for “making insulting gestures” near an English fort. They convey an us-versus-them version of American settlement that has largely disappeared from modern history books.

But they’re also a record of something else, as it turns out: one man’s vision of the Puritans... Samuel Eliot Morison, the era’s preeminent historian of Colonial New England....An eccentric Brahmin known for riding a horse from his home in Beacon Hill to the classes he taught at Harvard, Morison believed history should be read by nonacademics, and his works were both widely enjoyed by the public and lauded by his fellow historians.

Fascinating throughout, especially for residents of Boston and Cambridge: "History, preserved in sturdy aluminum.'

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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