Boston History 101: Suffolk offers free online course starting Oct. 20

Robert AllisonRobert Allison

How much do you know about your city’s history?

If you’re a native Bostonian, chances are that you know a good deal, especially about your home neighborhood. But all of us could stand to learn more. A new online course offered by Suffolk University and history professor Robert Allison is a great opportunity to dive into Boston history. The free course starts next Monday, Oct. 20, and it is set up to allow students to participate at their own paces and to engage with one another through social media.

“We’ve set up a Facebook group where you can pose questions to the group and post things you know,” said Allison, who has taught a history course at Suffolk for 15 years. “I’m always learning new things. There’s so much to be discovered, and that’s what keeps history alive.”

The online videos are dynamic – with Allison shown speaking about historic events at the actual sites, the Old State House, Old North Churchand Dorchester Heights. The course also confronts the more recent past – including the busing/desegregation era – with interviews with former Mayor Ray Flynn and his 1983 rival, Mel King. Other notable appearances: Beverly Morgan Welch of the Museum of African American History and Vivian Li, who discusses the recent clean-up of Boston Harbor.

Allison says that there are segments that high school and even grammar school kids would enjoy, and adds that there is nothing inappropriate for children. There are also interactive features, including a scavenger hunt and a game in which students answer quiz questions as part of a “Run for Mayor.” Since the course videos are not presented in longer, traditional lecture-hall style blocks – but rather in shorter segments – the opportunity to watch with the kids is there. My family – at least the members of the household old enough to sit still for more than a few minutes – will be watching the course together weekly through the beginning of January.

To register for the free course – and to view a sample of the videos that will be screened – go to

– Bill Forry