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Episode Info:

Harnessing the Power of Boston’s Tides (episode 130)

This week, we interview Earl Taylor, president of the Dorchester Historical Society and one of the founders of the Tide Mill Institute. He tells us how early Bostonians harnessed the power of the tides in Boston Harbor to grind their grain, manufacture products like snuff and spices, and even produce baby carriages. Plus, he shows us the advantages tidal power had over other types of mills, how tide mills shaped the landscape of Boston, and why tide mills went out of fashion.

Show Notes:

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Harnessing the Power of Boston’s Tides

Illustrations taken from a paper by Earl Taylor

Examples of identifying mill ponds from historic maps

Slades Mill in 185317th century Mill Dam in East BostonBoston Book Club

Our pick for the Boston Book Club this week is the October 19, 1911 issue of Life Magazine. Before it became a photo-heavy weekly news magazine, Life was founded as a humor and general interest magazine. The first literary editor was one of the founders of the Harvard Lampoon, and he brought that acerbic wit to Life in the 1880s.

By the 19-teens, the magazine had a well established formula of clever prose, illustrations, brief poems, and editorial cartoons. It was the first venue where Charles Dana Gibson brought the Gibson Girl to the page. And in October of 1911, it released a satirical “Boston Number.” The cover sets the tone, with a bespectacled figure in outdated knee pants using a wooden pointer to gesture at a wall map labeled “Map of the World.” The map itself showed only the Shawmut peninsula.

Even the ads are fun!

Inside the magazine, Boston suffers a gentle send-up from people who are obviously familiar with our city, but who are writing for a national audience. They poke fun at our high regard for our own intellects and our overestimation of Boston’s national prominence.

You don’t have to haunt antiques markets and book stores to find a copy of the magazine to peruse. The whole thing is up on Google Books, and it’s worth a few minutes perusal, if you can ignore the anti-semitic caricatures in a few of the illustrations.

Upcoming Event

Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams helped create the popular image of Boston that Life parodied in 1911. They are baked deep into Boston’s DNA, and they’re the subjects of a talk at the Massachusetts Historical Society on Saturday, March 4 at 4:30pm.

Nancy Isenberg is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at Louisiana State University, and the author of the New York Times bestseller White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, and Andrew Burstein is the Charles P. Manship Professor of History at LSU and author of numerous books on American political culture, including an earlier collaboration with Nancy Isenberg, Madison and Jefferson. Together, they wrote a new volume on the two Presidents Adams, and their reactions to popular sentiment and demagoguery in the early republic. The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality casts John and John Quincy as independent thinkers, unbound by party loyalties, and it traces their resistance to the hero worship of Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson.

Here’s how the MHS website describes their talk:

John and John Quincy Adams were brilliant, prickly politicians and arguably the most independently minded among leaders of the founding generation. Distrustful of blind allegiance to a political party, they brought skepticism of a brand-new system of government to the country’s first 50 years. Join Isenberg and Burstein as they boldly recast the historical role of the Adamses and reflect on how father and son understood the inherent weaknesses in American democracy.

Tickets are $10, except for MHS members and EBT cardholders, and registration is required.

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