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The Native Americans' River
The River in the Revolution
Mills and Dams: An Engine of Economic

Shaping The Environment: Mapping, Moving
and Bridging the Charles


Introducing the Charles River

The Charles River seems a basic, indeed a natural foundation of life at Harvard. It provides scenery for jogging, bike rides or romantic evening walks, offers picturesque views out the windows of several houses, establishes a cold barrier to cross on the way to Harvard's athletic facilities, and a home for Harvard's boathouses and crew teams.

Yet just as Harvard's buildings have seen many shapes and sizes, and served many functions in the life of the University, the river has had different roles in the history and pre-history of New England. In the same way that Harvard Yard today would be unrecognizable to those accustomed to it in the 17th century, the very shape of the Charles River today would startle the first Europeans who charted it, and the Native Americans who used it before them. While it seems perhaps the most natural of places in Cambridge, this landscape itself was a human invention of the nineteenth century. Through its history, the Charles has been constantly re-invented, each time serving a different role in the history of Boston, Cambridge and the dozens of other towns it flows through.

The sources on this site show some of the ways the Charles has changed in the last four centuries.

Begin by exploring Native American life along the Charles, and the way these first residents of the region shaped the river to support themeselves.

Then look at the very different role the Charles River took during the American Revolution.

Just as the Charles dominated the beginning of the American Revolution, so too did it usher in America's next revolution, the industrial revolution. Consider the changing economic role of the Charles.

Bostonians, Cantabridgians, New Englanders and Americans have often tried to control the Charles to suit their changing needs. By mapping it, bridging it, and physically moving it, they have, over generations, re-invented it.

Once you have browsed the site, you can complete these assignments for section or your final paper about the Charles river.



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