The Boston Research Center (BRC), based in the Northeastern University Library, is a digital community history lab where Boston’s deep neighborhood and community histories are brought to light through the creation and use of new technology. Through this, residents can share a more nuanced and complex understanding of Boston’s present.
The BRC helps provide a fuller picture of the history of Boston by bringing together historical materials—photos, maps, letters, newspaper articles, recordings, charts and tables, and more—and digitizing them so they can be remixed and re-combined with current data to tell the story of essential but underrepresented groups in Boston’s neighborhoods. The BRC also builds computer and technical systems that will make it easier to safely and permanently house digital history projects, repeat similar projects in the future, and make connections between them as they grow.
The BRC is hosted at Northeastern but is designed to be a collaborative effort among many organizations in Boston—civic, research, teaching, and cultural heritage—with intensive planning devoted to developing institutional partnerships and fostering community engagement.
The initial planning phase focused on a set of pilot projects that represented a range of disciplines, research questions, and data sources. Each pilot developed a detailed specification and prototype that included sample data, data analyses and visualizations, and usage scenarios. These help inform planning for the next phase.
Through 2021, the BRC will partner with 4-8 Boston-based non-profits to develop projects where historical collections, data, and technology serve neighborhood research needs. Many of these partnerships have grown through relationships started via University Archives and Special Collections, which holds the valuable records of many Boston-area activist and community service organizations.
In its full form, the Boston Research Center (BRC) will unify, for the first time, unique special collections related to Boston, data generated by the government, citizen groups, social media, digital modes of scholarship, and a wide array of researchers to offer scholars a seamless environment for studying the city’s history, communities, and cultures. It will connect researchers and residents across the city around a deeper understanding of Boston’s history for a more nuanced and complex understanding of Boston’s present.