Skip to main content

The Atlas of Boston History

Few American cities possess a history as long, rich, and fascinating as Boston’s. A site of momentous national political events from the Revolutionary War through the civil rights movement, Boston has also been an influential literary and cultural capital. From ancient glaciers to landmaking schemes and modern infrastructure projects, the city’s terrain has been transformed almost constantly over the centuries. The Atlas of Boston History traces the city’s history and geography from the last ice age to the present with beautifully rendered maps.
Edited by historian Nancy S. Seasholes, this landmark volume captures all aspects of Boston’s past in a series of fifty-seven stunning full-color spreads. Each section features newly created thematic maps that focus on moments and topics in that history. These maps are accompanied by hundreds of historical and contemporary illustrations and explanatory text from historians and other expert contributors. They illuminate a wide range of topics including Boston’s physical and economic development, changing demography, and social and cultural life. In lavishly produced detail, The Atlas of Boston History offers a vivid, refreshing perspective on the development of this iconic American city.

Robert J. Allison, Robert Charles Anderson, John Avault, Joseph Bagley, Charles Bahne, Laurie Baise, J. L. Bell, Rebekah Bryer, Aubrey Butts, Benjamin L. Carp, Amy D. Finstein, Gerald Gamm, Richard Garver, Katherine Grandjean, Michelle Granshaw, James Green, Dean Grodzins, Karl Haglund, Ruth-Ann M. Harris, Arthur Krim, Stephanie Kruel, Kerima M. Lewis, Noam Maggor, Dane A. Morrison, James C. O’Connell, Mark Peterson, Marshall Pontrelli, Gayle Sawtelle, Nancy S. Seasholes, Reed Ueda, Lawrence J. Vale, Jim Vrabel, Sam Bass Warner, Jay Wickersham, and Susan Wilson

224 pages | 57 color plates | 11 x 14 | © 2019

Geography: Cartography, Cultural and Historical Geography, Geography--Reference

History: American History

Reference and Bibliography


“The success of Walter Muir Whitehill's Boston: A Topographical History many years ago demonstrated how oddly well Boston's history can be told in maps and pictures, and that approach has never been so compellingly done as in this lovely volume.”

Open Letters Review

"The informative images throughout the book deliver quick and punchy snapshots of particular points in Boston’s history. . . . It’s quite striking. . . This is not an atlas of historic maps, but instead a telling of Boston’s physical, social, economic, and cultural history as it formed using specially crafted maps and carefully tailored graphics."

The Portolan

"Seasholes impressively brings together contributions from over 30 historians, city planners, cartographers, and independent scholars in this first comprehensive book of maps for one of the US’s most studied cities. Ranging from the last ice age to the present climate-change era, this hefty tome chronologically and visually traces geographic, cultural, political, social, and economic transformations of the greater Boston area. . . . Students and scholars will appreciate the atlas's breadth of coverage, and readers already familiar with Boston may use it as a source of additional enlightenment. Highly recommended."


The Atlas of Boston History excavates four centuries of the city’s rise, fall, and rise again. With thoughtful essays that introduce new maps and historic sources, the authors guide the reader through the city’s evolution from multiple angles. The result is a chronological picture of the environmental, social, cultural, and intellectual history of one of North America’s most enduring urban centers. General readers will appreciate its clear explanation of the city’s spatial history, while scholars will profit from a vital reference work that also serves as a source of new discovery.”

Susan Schulten, author of A History of America in 100 Maps

The Atlas of Boston History is a visual feast and a triumph of storytelling through words and images. Mapping the forces that have shaped and reshaped the city, from the Ice Age to the Big Dig to Global Warming, this panoramic narrative also encompasses the human saga of a diverse population and its ongoing struggles to forge a just society.”

Barnet Schecter, author of George Washington’s America: A Biography Through His Maps

"...what sets this book apart is its beauty. As the name Atlas indicates, it is richly illustrated with maps, charts, diagrams, infographics, historical photos, paintings, and more.  It’s a book that I will use as a reference far into the future, and one that any of my fellow Boston history nerds will love."

HUB History

"One of the best, most comprehensive, and sophisticated interpretive atlases possible that historical expertise, elegant cartographic design, and civic consciousness could muster. . . . [An] impressive work."

Urban Morphology

"The Atlas of Boston History is a beautifully-produced, large-format volume, with 57 full-colour spreads tackling a range of pertinent topics, the maps supported by photographs and graphs, and the whole in an appendix that provides additional information and sources... First-rate throughout."

Jeremy Black | The Critic

"The Atlas of Boston History is a beautifully-produced, large-format volume,with 57 full-colour spreads tackling a range of pertinent topics. . ."

New York Military Affairs Symposium Review

Table of Contents

Nancy S. Seasholes

Section I. The Setting

Nancy S. Seasholes
Plate 1. The Boston Basin, before 5,000 BP
Joseph Bagley, Nancy S. Seasholes, Marshall Pontrelli, and Laurie Baise
Plate 2. The First Inhabitants, 12,000–400 BP
Joseph Bagley
Plate 3. Europeans Arrive in Massachusetts Bay, 1500s–1630
Dane Morrison

Section II. Making New England’s Metropolis

Mark Peterson
Plate 4. Boston Is Founded, 1630–1640
Robert Charles Anderson
Plate 5. Boston’s Economy in the 1640s
Mark Peterson
Plate 6. Accommodation and Conflict, 1630–1676
Katherine A. Grandjean
Plate 7. Boston in 1676
Nancy S. Seasholes

Section III. A Provincial City in the British Empire

Mark Peterson
Plate 8. Boston’s Economy, 1740–1760
Mark Peterson
Plate 9. Boston and the Slave Trade, 1638-Early 1800s
Kerima M. Lewis and Mark Peterson
Plate 10. Boston in 1743
Benjamin L. Carp
Plate 11. Revolutionary Boston, 1763–1776
J. L. Bell

Section IV. From Town to City Government

Nancy S. Seasholes
Plate 12. Boston’s Economy, 1776–1807
Richard Garver
Plate 13. Boston in 1800
Gayle Sawtelle
Plate 14. Connections to the Mainland and Additions of Land, 1786–1828
Nancy S. Seasholes

Section V. “Athens of America”

Dean Grodzins
Plate 15. Railroad Development, 1830–1855
Richard Garver
Plate 16. Early Landscaped Spaces, 1820–1860
Arthur Krim
Plate 17. Literary Boston, 1837–1891
Susan Wilson
Plate 18. Boston and Reform Movements, 1820–1865
Dean Grodzins
Plate 19. Abolitionist Movement, 1829–1865
Dean Grodzins

Section VI. Immigration and Industrialization

Robert J. Allison
Plate 20. Irish Immigration, 1700s-1855
Ruth-Ann M. Harris
Plate 21. Boston in 1855: Population
Nancy S. Seasholes and Dean Grodzins
Plate 22. Boston in 1855: Economy
Richard Garver, Nancy S. Seasholes, and Arthur Krim
Plate 23. Development of the South End and Back Bay, 1845–1882
Nancy S. Seasholes
Plate 24. Great Fire of 1872
Nancy S. Seasholes
Plate 25. Addition of Land, 1828–1880
Nancy S. Seasholes
Section VII. Metropolitan Boston

Karl Haglund
Plate 26. Annexation Movement, 1868–1873
Noam Maggor and Sam Bass Warner
Plate 27. Streetcar Suburbs, 1870–1900
Noam Maggor and Sam Bass Warner
Plate 28. Public Transportation, 1856–1918
Charles Bahne and Nancy S. Seasholes
Plate 29. Water and Sewerage Systems, 1795–1906
Nancy S. Seasholes
Plate 30. Boston and Metropolitan Park Systems, 1875–1919
Nancy S. Seasholes and Karl Haglund
Section VIII. Boston in the Late 1800s/Early 1900s

Robert J. Allison
Plate 31. Boston’s Economy, 1905
Richard Garver
Plate 32. Sports and Recreation, 1895–1903
Richard Garver
Plate 33. Scollay Square, 1880s-1963
Rebekah Bryer
Plate 34. Theatrical Boston, 1880s-1930s
Michelle Granshaw
Plate 35. Cultural Boston, 1780–1915
Jay Wickersham
Plate 36. Enterprising Women, 1862–1914
Susan Wilson and the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail
Plate 37. Social Service Institutions, c. 1900
James Green
Plate 38. Boston in 1910
Reed Ueda
Plate 39. 1910 Mayoral Election
James Green

Section IX. Decline

John Avault
Plate 40. The Long Depression, 1920–1960
Richard Garver, John Avault, Sam Bass Warner, and James Green
Plate 41. Public Housing, 1935–2010
Lawrence J. Vale
Plate 42. Boston in 1950
John Avault
Section X. “The New Boston”

Jim Vrabel
Plate 43. Addition of Land, 1880–2003
Nancy S. Seasholes
Plate 44. Highways and Airport, 1920–1973
Charles Bahne and Nancy S. Seasholes
Plate 45. Public Transportation, 1918–1967
Nancy S. Seasholes and Charles Bahne
Plate 46. Relocation to the Suburbs, 1940–1970
James C. O’Connell and Gerald Gamm
Plate 47. The Urban Renewal Era, 1949–1974
Richard Garver
Plate 48. Boston School Busing, 1974–
Jim Vrabel

Section XI. Boston in the Early 2000s

John Avault
Plate 49. Updating the Water System, 1907–2013
Nancy S. Seasholes
Plate 50. Updating the Sewerage System, 1907–2013
Nancy S. Seasholes
Plate 51. Updating Highways and Public Transportation, 1967–2017
Amy D. Finstein, Nancy S. Seasholes, and Charles Bahne
Plate 52. Boston's Economy: Higher Education in 2018
Aubrey Butts and Arthur Krim
Plate 53. Boston's Economy: Medical Center in 2016
John Avault, Nancy S. Seasholes, and Arthur Krim
Plate 54. Boston's Economy: Commercial Center in 2019
John Avault and Richard Garver
Plate 55. Boston's Economy: Visitors and Tourists in 2017
Richard Garver
Plate 56. Environmental Challenges in 2014
Stephanie Kruel
Plate 57. Boston in 2010
John Avault and Jim Vrabel
Appendix: Boston’s Population 1687–2010
Additional Information, Sources, and Credits
List of Contributors


Historic New England: Historic New England Book Award

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press