Hooper-Lee Nichols House

Presents “Watercolor Cambridge, Digital Cambridge” this Sunday


By Susie Davidson



This Sunday from 2-4 p.m., the 1685 Hooper-Lee Nichols House, which houses the Cambridge Historical Society at 159 Brattle St., will host “Watercolor Cambridge, Digital Cambridge,” a free presentation on the first popular history of the Cambridge community written in more than a generation.


Author Alan Seaburg, Curator of Manuscripts Emeritus at the Harvard Divinity School, and Tom Dahill, Professor of Fine Arts Emeritus at Emerson College, who wrote 1997’s “The Incredible Ditch: A Bicentennial History of the Middlesex Canal,” have recently published “Cambridge on the Charles,” the first color-photographed acount of the people and the events who have made Cambridge all that it is today.  The 336 page book, published by Medford-based Anne Miniver Press, contains a wealth of 212 photos and illustrations.


"Cambridge on the Charles, the new history of the city,” said Seaburg, “was several years in the making. The book represents the creative collaboration between a writer and an artist and a book designer, which is why all their names appear on the title page. Working together, they fused their various talents to produce a volume that captures not only Cambridge's historic past, but also emphasizes the everyday life and social contributions of its citizens, from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century."


The book, designed by Design Artist Carol Rose of Finch & Rose and illustrated by Dahill with black-and-white and colored drawings, sketches, watercolors and photographs, commences 180 million years ago with a description of the land Cambridge is situated upon. Originally part of the African continents, the area’s geological evolution is extensively depicted, as are its initial inhabitants. Seaburg and Dahill recount the immigration waves of English and Irish and eventually, the multiculture of arrivals which exists here today.


Years of Puritan rule as well as the town’s participation in the American revolution and the nascent democracy movement are captured within the fascinating account, as is the development of Cambridge’s critical role in modern technological advancement. Today, the city remains the home of Harvard and MIT and a crucial center of contemporary vitality.


"Two aspects of a community story are especially fascinating,” said Seaburg. “:First is the evolutionary development of its way of governing itself, and the second, its absorption of so many groups of lively immigrants. If it started as Puritan Cambridge where the rules and values of church and society were one, these were eventually modified with the emergence of the democratic spirit after the American Revolution.

“In time, this produced within the community the growth of tolerance and respect for different rights and views. Gradually, its civic life changed from a tight religious community on the edge of a wilderness to that of a teeming, vibrant multicultural city known for both its educational enterprises and its business ventures.

“As a result, Cambridge of today reflects the genius of openness and creativity inherent in the American spirit."


"Illustrating the history of Cambridge,” said Dahill, “was like having an anachronistic visit with personalities of architecture and citizens of a very complex community. Even though I was born there, it was a new and refreshing experience to wander through four hundred years of change."


Seaburg and Dahill will sell and sign copies of Cambridge on the Charles after the program, with 15 percent of the $39.95 cost to go to the Historical Society. Please RSVP by calling 617-547-4252 or emailing CamHistory@aol.com. Street parking is available.


The Cambridge Historical Society is a non-profit organization which is dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of Cambridge and the ca. 1685 Hooper-Lee-Nichols House. For more information about the CHS or the program, please visit www.cambridgehistory.org.