Oceanic New England explores what Herman Melville called the “watery part of the world.” This collaboratively curated exhibition challenges surface-level understandings of the sea in order to pursue a deeper engagement with its multiple histories. Spanning the long nineteenth century, the exhibition reveals the Atlantic Ocean to be a realm of travel and commerce, violence and exploitation, aesthetic inspiration and scientific inquiry. The diverse array of objects, ranging from seaweed albums to slave narratives, displays the complexity of human encounters with the Atlantic Ocean and foregrounds perspectives and practices often submerged by the dominant historical record. As we confront rising sea levels and an increasingly acidic ocean, these objects invite us to revisit the stories we tell about the ocean and to contemplate our relationship to the region’s most vital natural resource. 

This exhibition is a collaboration between the Boston Athenaeum and the University of Massachusetts-Boston’s English Department. Professor Sari Edelstein, PhD and graduate students from her seminar Critical Ocean Studies worked with Athenaeum curator Christina Michelon, PhD to co-curate this exhibition.

Developing Boston: Berenice Abbott and Irene Shwachman Photograph a Changing City

Developing Boston: Berenice Abbott and Irene Shwachman Photograph a Changing City

Opening August 28, 2023 – December 30, 2023 in the Calderwood Gallery

From views of the Old State House to the quiet streets of Beacon Hill and the West End, this exhibition presents a reexamination of two documentary photographers who captured the development of Boston’s urban landscape in the mid-twentieth century: Berenice Abbott, a canonical modernist whose work in New England remains understudied, and Irene Shwachman, an unknown yet crucial documenter of an evolving Boston. Placing the two photographers in conversation for the first time, this exhibition will examine Abbott’s 1934 photographic portrait of Boston’s nineteenth-century vernacular buildings and Shwachman’s 1959-1968 project “The Boston Document,” which chronicled the urban renewal of the decade. The exhibition will explore the evolutions of Boston throughout the twentieth century and how a developing documentary practice, established by Abbott and amended by Shwachman, engaged with and captured the changing subject.