MIT Libraries logo MIT Libraries

Massaschusetts Institute of Technology logo MIT Logo Search Contact

Rotch Library Exhibit

Ottoman Boston

Visualizing Little Syria

December 1, 2022 - January 31, 2023

Photo of a group of standing near a "Syrians of Boston" banner.Boston’s Little Syria (also known as Syriatown), thrived between the 1880s and 1950s in today’s Chinatown and South End, yet few Bostonians are familiar with it. Drawing from photographs, property maps, and memoirs of Syrian- and Lebanese-Americans, this exhibition narrates the history of a neighborhood which is nearly invisible today. The buildings of Little Syria–from Gridley J.F. Bryant’s Greek Revival Quincy Grammar School to the retro 1970s Syrian Sahara Restaurant–make up not just the history of one neighborhood, but are also important sites in Boston’s architectural past, present, and future. This exhibition follows the path of immigrants who fled blight and violence in Beirut, Mount Lebanon, and Damascus to arrive in Boston, where they peddled dry goods, made and sold lace, labored in the Garment District, purchased apartments, opened restaurants and Arabic-language newspapers, attended church, and formed social clubs and charitable organizations. Residents of Little Syria lived, studied, and worked with neighbors of many backgrounds, notably fighting alongside Chinese-Americans to protect their homes in the face of Boston’s Central Artery Project in the 1950s, which heralded the demise of Little Syria. By weaving together extant buildings and empty sites, this exhibition explores the concepts of presence and absence and the ephemerality of a neighborhood.​​

Curators:

  • Lydia Harrington, PhD, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, AKPIA@MIT, 2022-2023
  • Chloe Bordewich, PhD, Public History Postdoctoral Associate at Boston University Center for Antiracist Research