Top 5 Books For Understanding The South End

Top 5 Books For Understanding The South End

by Rudy Mitchell, Senior Researcher, Applied Research and Consulting

The South End has undergone a dramatic transformation in this generation. Christian leaders in the South End can benefit from these recommended resources for foundational and ongoing learning about this dynamic community.

The books I've selected are not just informative — they also illustrate methods of researching a neighborhood or community. These methods include historical research, biographical research, use of documents and photographs, interviews, and participant observation. The books also represent different time periods from the 1890s settlement house research to very recent studies. 

Boston’s South End: The Clash of Ideas in a Historic Neighborhood 

by Russ Lopez

The South End is a complex neighborhood which has experienced many waves of change. This is the only full length book to narrate and interpret the overall history of this diverse community. Lopez notes some truth in the standard narrative of the neighborhood rising, declining, and gentrifying, but says the fuller story is more multifaceted and nuanced.  Since this has been a multi-racial, multi-ethnic neighborhood for over 125 years, it offers many lessons in conflict resolution and community organizing for other urban neighborhoods. The chapter on religion in the South End describes several major institutions, but fails to cover some of the largest Protestant churches. Although the book contains occasional factual errors, it is the most comprehensive history of the South End.  

A Block in Time: History of Boston's South End Through a Window on Holyoke Street

by Lynne Potts

See also by the same author, Faces of a Neighborhood: Boston’s South End in the Early Twenty-first Century.

Lynne Potts, a long term resident, writes with flair and adds a personal touch to her concise history of the South End. She also gives those interested in the research process glimpses of her own research methods including trips to archives and libraries as well as detailed first hand observations and interviews. Although the book includes enough general information to understand the neighborhood’s development and trends, its unique contribution is the author’s personal perspectives and experiences woven into the general narrative. The approach of studying a neighborhood beginning with an in-depth look at one typical block works well here because the people, events, and experiences described are representative of the larger neighborhood over the last several decades.

Boston’s South End

by Anthony Mitchell Sammarco

See also by the same author, Boston’s South End: Then and Now.

The Arcadia Images of America Series books are full of historical photos with detailed descriptions and introductions for each of the towns and neighborhoods covered. While these do not give full histories of the communities, they do help the casual reader absorb a visual sense of the history and learn many detailed facts. Photos are organized in chapters about churches, schools, hospitals, businesses, libraries, transportation and other institutions. Many of the photographs show buildings, but quite anumber also include groups of everyday people. By learning about the history of your neighborhood you can join with others interested in history, have common ground for conversations, and gain an understanding of community identity.

Legendary Locals of Boston's South End

by Hope J Shannon

While a neighborhood like the South End has many historical buildings, its current and past residents are the most interesting and important aspect of what makes it a community. Hope Shannon presents short, illustrated biographies of women and men of the past and recent times who have made significant contributions to the community and wider world. Shannon selects famous, infamous, and everyday people from many walks of life for Legendary Locals. The biographies range from Alexander Graham Bell, Louisa May Alcott, Rev. A.J. Gordon, and Cardinal Richard Cushing to former Mayor James Michael Curley. People who have lived in the South End of Boston over the last several decades will enjoy reading about historical figures and familiar faces, while newer residents and future generations will benefit from the careful research behind all of these biographies.

The City Wilderness: A Settlement Study

by Robert A Woods, (editor)

In the 1890s the South End House was established as a settlement house, and the residents and associates began living in and researching the neighborhood. This classic book was the result of that research. Although the language and views were shaped by the culture and ideas of that time period, the research opens a window into the lives of South Enders at the turn of the century. The topics covered include history, description of the population, public health, employment, politics, “criminal tendencies,” recreation, the church, education, social agencies and charitable organizations (including an analysis of their methods). The most fascinating elements of the book are three color coded maps indicating for each block, the types of buildings, the nationalities of residents, and the types of employment of the workers. The book can be accessed online at Google books.


Other more specialized books on the South End

Villa Victoria: The Transformation of Social Capital in a Boston Barrio

by Mario Luis Small

Villa Victoria has been a national model of community development. This study looks at the relationship of poverty and social capital, finding in Villa Victoria that poorer urban communities are not necessarily lacking in social capital.


Good Neighbors: Gentrifying Diversity in Boston's South End

by Sylvie Tissot, (translated by David Broder and Catherine Romatowski)

A French Marxist’s perspective on gentrification in the South End based on participant observation and interview research in neighborhood associations and networks.


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