Suffolk University to Launch Free Online Course on City’s Rich History

When Suffolk University launches its first free online course entitled “History of Boston” next month, participants worldwide can take a virtual tour of the “Hub,” visiting significant landmarks and meeting the noteworthy people that help define the character of the city.

                Robert Allison, chair of the university’s history department, will serve as the guide for the MOOC (massive open online course) – a model for distributing online education content to unlimited participants. The course, which is divided into eight modules, offers a chronicle of the city from the 1600s to today, beginning with the Puritan settlers and how their government and culture led to the American Revolution. The online seminar goes on to explore the abolitionist movement in Boston and its role in the Civil War and later pivotal events, such as the rise of the Kennedys and their role in the nation’s civil rights struggle. The course concludes with present-day Boston, focusing on politics, professional sports and higher education, among other topics.

                Allison will take participants on virtual tours of the Freedom Trail, USS Constitution, Harbor Islands, Old North Church, Faneuil Hall, the African Meeting House and other sites citywide and introduce them to such key figures as current Mayor Martin Walsh and his predecessors at City Hall, Thomas Menino and Raymond Flynn.

                “Being able to offer this online, where you can actually take people who are not situated in Boston and bring them places, introduce them to people who have shaped history is a great thing,” Allison said in an interview published on the university’s Web site. “And it’s something you can see, not something you can get out of reading a book. It’s about getting people there and then linking them to other historical resources. It’s not about me just lecturing. It’s something different and unique you can do with technology that would have been impossible five or 10 years ago.”

                Other interactive components of the course include videos, discussion boards, social media and games, as well as a “geolocation” feature that allows roaming participants to view site-specific videos and other content when they reach significant locations.

                Jeff Pokorak, vice provost for Suffolk’s faculty and curriculum, helped develop the course, which he hopes will appeal to longtime Boston denizens, as well as newcomers to the city.

                “People living in cities don’t often visit their significant landmarks and sometimes take them for granted, so the course helps remind them of these sites,” Pokorak said. “It’s also ideal for students to see where they are and learn about their new home, as well as future students who are thinking about coming to the area for school.”

                Pokorak said in the future, the course is also slated to allow for the storage of “crowd-sourced” history that would allow participants to upload and share photos and other artifacts from their personal collections.

                Beginning in the spring, Suffolk will also offer “History of Boston” as a four-credit class with Allison teaching a more comprehensive version of the course curriculum to students. Content from the course will also be made available to high schools pro bono for use in advance placement (AP) classes.  “We want the community of Boston to enjoy this,” Pokorak said. “Suffolk really happy to have done this, and we’re really proud of the product.”              “History of Boston” launches on Oct. 20, but online registration is now open at For detailed information on the course, visit

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