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US History is all around you

International Scholars > Experience American Culture > US History

Horse and Rider Statue

Are you interested in US History? Then you are in the right place!

The history of the United States is short by comparison to many other countries in the world. Our region, called “New England,” and the greater Boston area in particular, have played a crucial role in our nation’s brief history. So, if history stimulates your interest, there are many fascinating and historically significant sites to visit nearby.

Welfleet, Massachusetts on Cape Cod is the site of “First Encounter Beach,” where, in 1621, the English Pilgrims first encountered Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe, whom they called “Indians.” The Peabody Museum of Archaeology at Harvard University has a rich and fascinating collection of objects and artifacts produced by the indigenous peoples of North America.

There are several recognized Native American tribes in New England today: the  Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is based on Martha’s Vineyard, and other Wampanoag groups include the Assonet Band, Herring Pond, Seaconke, and Pocasset. Autumn is the time of Native American heritage and culture gatherings known as “pow-wows.” There is singing, socializing, food and often a traditional dancing competition, with drumming and dancers in colorful regalia. Pow-wow dates

If you ask any local person what the most recognized historical site in the Boston area is they will most likely tell you the Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail is not a single “place” at all, but a collection of sites that highlight the birth and development of our Nation. The Freedom Trail is essentially a path that weaves in and around streets, homes, cemeteries, and gardens of Greater Boston, particularly in the downtown area, highlighting key places of interest. It is highly accessible and easily traversed in a single day or taken at a more leisurely and deliberate manner over several days.

The Freedom Trail will introduce you to key places and figures from the American revolution, including Paul Revere’s house, Faneuil Hall/ Quincy Market, and the site of the Boston Massacre, as well as churches, burial grounds, and memorials commemorating important events, and other interesting sites. There are guided tours available but you can also follow the course alone. For a great view of Boston, climb the nearly 300 steps to the top of Bunker Hill Monument on Breed’s Hill (it’s free). While you are over in Charlestown, you should also visit the three-masted sailing frigate called the USS Constitution, nicknamed “Old Ironsides,” in the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Beyond the borders of Boston and Cambridge, but still just a short train or bus ride away are charming historical towns, like Concord and Lexington, where you can visit battlefields, museums, and monuments. These two small towns also have stores, restaurants, ice cream and coffee shops and are perfect for walking, shopping, and people watching anytime.

New England has several living history” museums, where you can see entire villages, complete with actors in character, recreated to tell the story of life in early America. These include Plimoth Plantation (life in 1627), Old Sturbridge Village (life in the 1830s), Billings Farm and Museum (1890), Sabbath Day Lake Shaker Village (1747), and others. Fishing and Whaling have a prominent place in our history. At the New England Whaling Museum, the Essex Ship Building Museum, and the town of Gloucester, MA you can explore our seafaring past. Tickets available through MITAC.

The Boston area has also produced families whose names have become synonymous with national leadership and historical relevance, like the Adams’ Family. John Adams of Quincy, a founding father and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was our nation’s 2nd president and his son, John Quincy Adams, was our 6th.  John Adam’s cousin, Samuel Adams of Boston, was a member of the Continental Congress and also a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He went on to become the Governor of Massachusetts. His name is better known these days for the Sam Adams beer that carries his name. You will see the Adams’ name on schools, and other buildings around the Commonwealth, including the courthouse in Downtown Boston.

Another well-known family name in Massachusetts is Kennedy. Joseph Kennedy Sr. of East Boston, an ambassador to the United Kingdom just before the outbreak of second world war, had nine children, several of whom went on to national prominence. His eldest son, Joseph Kennedy Jr., died a war hero; his second son, John F. Kennedy, was our nation’s 35th president; his third son, Robert Kennedy, was a US Senator, Attorney General, and presidential candidate; and his fourth son, Edward Kennedy, was a US Senator and a one-time presidential candidate. Additionally, his third daughter, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics and his fifth daughter, Jean Kennedy Smith, served as the Ambassador to Ireland. As a result of the family’s extensive service to our state and nation, you will see the Kennedy name on schools, libraries, and even on a pathway that weaves along seaport in Boston named after the wife of Joseph Kennedy, Sr., the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

As you travel around the Boston and all of Massachusetts, and each time you encounter statues, artifacts, markers, or signs you will about important events in our nation’s history.

You may know that settlement in the “New World” was partially motivated by a desire for religious freedom. As a result, there are a number of sites in the area that recognize not only the spiritual, but the supernatural beliefs (and fears) of the local people over the last few centuries. Freedom of religion is explicitly stated in our country’s constitution and this was partly motivated by events dubbed the "Salem Witch Trials.”  You can visit the Salem Witch Museum to learn more about this fascinating and somewhat disturbing part of our early history. For an even creepier experience, visit the town of Salem on Halloween (October 31st).

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Last Updated: July 2019

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