By McLain Sidmore
I came into this project fascinated by the idea of building a three-dimensional recreation of a historical town yet nervous about my ability to contribute to the technical side of the project. I was able to conduct historical research for the project, which played far more to my strengths and offered me a unique entry into the world of Colonial Boston. I have been interested for a long time in place-based history, in large part because it allows for a physical connection to the past, a tangible link to how people interacted with their environment. This project takes this idea a step further, seeking to rebuild a place as it would have been in an earlier time, offering a tremendous opportunity to integrate what we know of the physical landscape in Boston with numerous historical sources to piece together a forgotten world. By working in tandem with students doing amazing work in computer modeling, I was able to offer insight and a historical basis for how an item might have looked during the period, and could then see a virtual model, allowing for alterations or reflection on the feasibility of certain designs. Models could be refined if new information was found, or we might discover that our interpretations of historical descriptions were flawed in some way, leading to alterations that gave a lot of insight into the material culture of the past. So much of historical research seems to revolve around the intellectual world, it was exciting and helpful to take a step back, and to resituate these grand events and people within their physical contexts. It was fascinating to examine someone’s life through the routes they would have walked every day, the buildings they would have passed, and sounds or sights they would have seen. I spent a significant amount of time trying to uncover the physical position of the Town Pump within the community, but in the process, it made me reflect on the importance of water and sanitation systems within the period, how people dealt with constant fears of fire, and how lives were made materially, and intellectually different by the mere practice of meeting neighbors in this essential gathering point. It is a well-known historical axiom that you cannot take an actor out of his context, and this project served to create a clear manifestation of this physical context that may serve, not only to allow us greater insight into the events of March 5, 1770, but a greater understanding of the rhythm of everyday life in Colonial Boston.
A model of the Town Pump created by Cole Hanson based on historical descriptions. It is seen here integrated in a story map showcasing both the physical model and its historical significance to the people of Colonial Boston.