Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Final Thoughts

Over the past 10 weeks I have visited and documented different public history sites around the Capital District-  in Albany, Schenectady, and Renneslear. I visited places whose subjects range from the earliest times of the first settlers to Schenectady, to the tragedies of 9-11.  I was able to get a wide range of public history experiences.
After visiting these sites I have learned to look at them from a different perspective than I normally would have. I learned to critique and value the different aspects of the exhibits, monuments, and museums based on their subject and their importance to the society around us. I investigated what was highlighted and asked what was left out of the site’s treatment of its subject.  I learned how to question the bias of the curator, decide who the target audience was, and contemplate the point of each site... One of the most important things that I have learned from this experience is to inquire about what is missing from an exhibit and what the exhibit is trying to portray to its audience. Take the 9-11 exhibit for example. The curator decided to make it a "memorial" about the people and the tragedy rather than examine the background and the terrorist aspect of it.  Perhaps, as discussed earlier, it is just  too soon to create a correct historical analysis. At the WWII exhibit, the rushing water creates a feeling of excitement and joy and freedom- it is designed to make citizens feel good about their country.  So, now I can easily inquire about what is missing from an exhibit and what the exhibit is trying to portray to its audience.

Public History is an important subject to learn. It teaches people to think more critically and creatively and provides a supplement to the classroom experience. When visiting sites and monuments I suggest that people stop for a moment and think about what the real message is, and if there is something that you would do differently, or if you would shed light on something more vigorously.  Historians will continue to take part in the field of Public History as it is a popular learning source in society. After all, many people today learn a lot outside of the classroom and are impacted tremendously by the creativity that history is able to provide with the help of these monuments, exhibits, and historical sites.

I strongly encourage people to visit these places whenever they get a chance; they present interesting aspects of the history of the Capital Region and are is definitely something you would not want to miss.

Til next time...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

World War II Memorial

Upstate New York World War II Memorial

This World War II memorial is dedicated to the people and the countries that fought in World War II.  With gorgeous stone and rushing water, trees, and the countries’ flags, this memorial is eye catching and stunning.  It is located directly next to the New York State Museum and Library.  It has the American symbol of the Eagle, making you feel that our country is unstoppable. Our country is of course not unstoppable, although a monument like this one is supposed to be “nation-building”. It is trying to make citizens feel good about their country.  It could also bring back memories of harsher aspects of U.S. actions of WWII such as the Japanese internment camps, etc. But monuments are selective in what they choose to represent.  The rushing water creates a feeling of excitement and joy and freedom.  The trees surrounding it on a warm spring day just makes the memorial all the more gorgeous.  I think from being an advocate of traveling and Public History, it is important to understand why memorials are placed where they are.  Here, we are in the capital of New York. The largest memorial that I have ever seen is in Washington D.C. and has the same effect that this one does it is just smaller.  Some aren't able to get to Washington D.C, so coming to this memorial is easier.  Also, there may be many retired veterans that live in Upstate NY so it is nice to recognize something so monumental in the capital of NY as well as big cities.

Vale Cemetery

Vale Cemetery 

This photo above is the entrance to the Vale Cemetery. The cemetery had its first burial in 1857, and has buried several notables over its years.  The age and inhabitants of this cemetery make it a unique and historic burial ground. It is still in use today, and is a large part of Schenectady and the city's history.

The cemetery has a superintendent named Chuck Adams, and knows every single person and where they are buried at Vale.

One of the most interesting and historical parts of the cemetery is the African American plot.  Back in the day when blacks were not treated correctly, they called the plot the "colored plot."  Someone obviously had been offended by that name so they changed it to the "African American plot." When I asked when the first black person was buried at Vale, there was no definite answer.  The bodies in the plot were moved from another part of the cemetery in 1888, and the plot is now sectioned off by miniature trees called Arborvitaes. The head of the board told me that the trees were simply to show where the blacks are located, but it seemed strange to me that there was only a barrier for the blacks.  To me this seems as though there could be some divide between the blacks and the whites that are buried in the cemetery.  It is known that the blacks are buried next to the poorest people in the cemetery.  This seems to be a stereotypical situation and probably began when slavery was still going on and blacks were treated unequally.  Below is a photo of the old "colored plot" cards that they used to document the people buried in the cemetery.

Below is a photo of the African American Plot:

In 1888 the colored cemetery was brought here; last year a burial happened so it is still used to this day. Moses Viney, a runaway slave from Eastern Maryland, who has historical significance to Union College, is buried at Vale, Viney was born in 1817 and died in 1908. Union College students put a brand new gravestone in for him in honor of his work at Union for the Colleges president.

Other notable African Americans that are buried here are Jared Jackson, who was a black Civil War soldier, and R.P.G. Wright, an important figure of the Underground Railroad.  His son was the first black to graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Other figures of the Underground Railroad who are buried at Vale include  Hannah Dana, Frances Dana, and John Wendell.

Amongst the African American Plot, there is a section of the cemetery that was sold to the city that has a Jewish section.  Just looking around outside of their section, it appears that there are not a large number of Jews buried in Vale Cemetery. It may be that they are not as well represented because there has not been as many requests for burial in the African American plot in recent years, in the city of Schenectady and surrounding areas.  The African American plot however is extremely accessible since the city is populated with primarily blacks at this time.  The cemetery itself, although they put a large emphasis on blacks, is filled with many white people that have had an impact on society as inventors, soldiers, or in other ways.   Schenectady's population has changed dramatically over the years, and you can see that through the different graves that are in Vale Cemetery.

Below are other pictures of the cemetery that I thought were aesthetically pleasing as well as important to see the largeness and age of the cemetery itself.

Some names such as Vandyke, Gillespie, Steinmetz, and others would ring a bell as you drive around the cemetery. Some of stones the date back to the mid 1800's and as late as 2008.

This cemetery is a good example of Public History, because demographics really influence a city's history.  If you take enough time to observe each and every grave stone, the cemetery helps you understand how the society has changed over the years, and what kinds of birth and death rates were in the city and surrounding areas.  It is also a good example of Public History because there was a change in the name of the African American Plot which can link to slavery and the inequality they faced in earlier years.  Overall this was an amazing experience. It was a beautiful day outside, and the leaves were blowing and I was able to grasp a sense of what Schenectady is today and what it used to be like, and how it is filled with rich history by its people that are buried just right around the corner from here. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

World Trade Center

World Trade Center

Made possible by:

George Pataki, NY State Governor
New York State Office of General Services
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
New York State Department of Correctional Services
Office of the State Comptroller, New York
New York State Police
Division of Military and Naval Affairs
New York Army National Guard
New York City Fire Department
New York City Police Department
New York City Department of Sanitation at the Fresh Kills Landfill
New York City Office of Emergency Management
The New-York Historical Society
The Museum of the City of New York
The New Jersey Historical Society
The Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Phillips and Jordan Inc.
The Salvation Army
Aon Corporation
Christina Steel Inc.
Gould Erectors
Iron Workers Local No. 12

One who was not present can only imagine the vision of the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001. It was a day like any other day, and then something hit, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers- the two most powerful commercial buildings in the City of New York. In just minutes, thousands of people lost their lives; and thousands of other lives changed for the worse. People were faced with ultimate fear and consequence that was not deserved. For over 1 year, firefighters and search and rescue teams dug through endless piles of debris to uncover the missing pieces, including the missing lives of many loved ones. Today on May 16, 2010 , 9 years later, I find myself walking through the World Trade Center exhibit at the New York State Museum.

The World Trade Center Exhibit focuses on the tragedy that occurred, and the consequences it had on the lives of the people, the city, and the country, surrounding it. It helps any individual understand the true pain that it caused so many. It also helps visitors visualize and understand the REAL amount of damage that was done in such little time. This exhibit to me, was more of a memorial and a "jaw-dropping" experience than a historical record. It focuses less on the history behind the particular reasons why the terrorist attack occurred or the historical significance of the attack, and more on its immediate impact, including people's reactions

While visiting the exhibit, I was thinking about why it is a memorial exhibit rather than a historical one.  In my opinion, it is represented this way because the attack happened too recently. . I believe this is the case, because it may be too soon to really treat the personal suffering, the artifacts such as personal belongings that are recognizable would not be used in this exhibit.  Along with artifacts, in terms of the historical understanding of the event it may just be too soon to create a correct historical analysis. The only reference that they use to mention terrorists were the covers of particular newspapers around the country.  This was more to show the response of the United States as an entity rather than the terrorists themselves.

The artifacts that were chosen were less personal and were more focused on what was inside of the building. Over the years, generations will pass and more artifacts will be donated to be used for a more historical exhibit on the 9-11 attacks.  The photos I have chosen are to help you understand what the exhibit entailed. 

Parts from the Airplane                                                  Debris from the wing of one of the aircrafts

After the terrorist attack, the debris was moved to the Fresh Kills Landfill to be sorted through.  This was to provide a clean atmosphere for what they now call, "ground zero."  The landfill was searched through for over 300 days. Eventually, they stopped searching and made the final count of what was found in the rubble.

The land fill was the most important part of the aftermath, and was the reason for many things that were uncovered. The Fresh Kills Landfill was where they uncovered many artifacts including keys, subway turnstiles, aluminum signs, campaign pins, plaques, and ammunition that was stored in the building.  The exhibit also shows the attire that the workers wore while searching through the rubble. This was to show the intensity of the bad fumes and the pollution that the rubble caused.

Along with the artifacts that were found, the exhibit contains several beams that were left from the buildings themselves. These give you an understanding of how large the building was and how much mass came tumbling down in so little time causing thousands of deaths.

Left and Right:

Beams from the structures themselves
Subway turnstile from the WTC
Portions of signs from the complex
Guns weapons that were stored in the WTC
Fire Truck from Engine 6 that was burned during the attack

Along with the artifacts and the videos of testimonies by one firefighter, there are also memorial artifacts that were made by people all over the country expressing their sadness, and their feeling of grief. Children wrote and drew their thoughts down on paper expressing their feelings about the tragedies.

The photos below are of artifacts that were in the memorial section of the exhibit at the end. There were cranes that people made in honor of people who died; the poster on the left is from Cleveland, and is signed by people showing their support for New York City.

This exhibit was moving and evoked a great amount of emotion. It brings the visitor face to face with terror and how such damage can happen so fast, and how many lives it can change. It may be years until the museum is able to exhibit this tragedy on a more historical basis. Right now it is purely to honor and commemorate the people that died and the people who were lucky enough to survive the terrible tragedy that shook the entire nation.

"Black Capital: Harlem in 1920's"

"Black Capital: Harlem in 1920's"

First I will start off by saying this exhibit was magnificent. This exhibit depicts the lives of black people living in Harlem during the 1920's. In my opinion, there was little to no bias in this exhibit. It represented the lower class, as well as explained the realities of situations such as the cost of living, and racism. The exhibit focuses on the African American race and just one of their efforts to fight for equality. The exhibit primarily highlights the accomplishments of black men of the time, but that is because of their tremendous achievements. Still it does not leave women out. The main photograph for the exhibit shows 3 African American women dressed nicely on the streets of Harlem. The choices of photography, the layout and the media used were all very effective in communicating the meaning that blacks were trying to create for Harlem.

These two quotes struck me in particular... They called Harlem, the "center of black political activism" and "their spiritual haven"

The exhibit starts off by addressing the fact that New York City was in fact segregated. Blacks were banned from attending cultural, community, religious, and even educational events. This caused blacks outrage so they wanted to start up their own legacy.

They created their own churches- the exhibit had a pulpit, which was an easy way to encourage visitors to think about what life was like in an all black church in Harlem at that time.

Pulpit from an African American Church

Blacks started their own community organizations, including those centered on sports and literature.  Most importantly, blacks initiated the Harlem Renaissance, which significantly changed the country's views on blacks, and served as a creative outlet for blacks.

"Children's fashion contest, in front of Green's Employment Agency"
Otis Butler, photographer c 1928
Photo courtesy of Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg center for Research in Black Culture
The New York Public Library: Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundation
I like this choice of photograph because it shows the diversity amongst the particular race, in this case African Americans. This shows how children were also segregated.

Sports equipment and photograph of Black sports team

Jazz club was one of the activities that attracted white people to the Harlem community to watch the black performers. They also expressed themselves through art such as painting, to express the "survival over struggle and diversity."

Jazz Instruments of famous Black artists

Some of the most famous works by African American Authors
one of which is by W.E.B Dubois' Souls of Black Folks

"How did African Americans work to improve the quality of their lives in America?"
The exhibit focused on three of the most important black groups that helped influence and better the quality of life for African Americans in the United States.

Harlem was the center of the black political debate. It was a political power base during the time of lynching and discrimination. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, The Universal Negro Improvement Association and the National Advancement Association for Colored People, all were doing their part in fighting for equality.

First, the exhibit admires a man by the name of A. Philip Randolph who started the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. 


The Universal Negro Improvement Association was according to the constitution amended in 1929 is is a "social, friendly, humanitarian, charitable, educational, institutional, constructive and expansive society, and is founded by persons desiring to do the utmost to work for the general uplift of the people of African ancestry of the world. And the members pledge themselves to do all in their power to conserve the rights of their noble race and to respect the rights of all mankind, believing always in the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God. The motto of the organization is 'One God! One Aim! One Destiny!' Therefore, let justice be done to all mankind, realizing that if the strong oppresses the weak, confusion and discontent will ever mark the path of man but with love, faith and charity towards all the reign of peace and plenty will be heralded into the world and the generations of men shall be called Blessed."

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was led by W.E.B DuBois and the mission of the NAACP is "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination."- NAACP- OUR MISSION 

These two groups were what made the blacks able to fight for their freedom.  Without them, there would have been no outlet for them. In order for blacks to make an impact there needed to be some sort of structure.

The exhibit had video as well as audio to enhance the viewers experience. It notes of one man who made a difference. His name was Arthur Schomburg, and he saved numerous of articles, newspapers, photographs,etc in order to mark the significance of Harlem. The exhibit ends with Harlem today, and how the rich African American culture and the fight for freedom still exists today.

Other photographs of the exhibit...

New York State Museum

New York State Museum

The museum was divided up into different sections based on location.

I focused specifically on exhibits concerning the metropolitan area, New York City specifically. I visited two exhibits, one of which is permanent and is called "World Trade Center" and the other which is temporary and is called, "Black Capital: Harlem in 1920's." Both of these exhibits reflected a particular time in history. One reflected just one tragic day, and the other represents an influential decade in history. I believe that both of the exhibits are important in different ways and are for sure a must see...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mabee Farm and Slave Cabin

Mabee Farm and Slave Cabin

As you can see to the left, The Ian Mabee House is the oldest standing house in the Mohawk Valley. 1680-1926 marks the time that the house and farm were inhabited and owned by private families. After this date, the Mabee farm was donated to the Schenectady Historical Society, to provide education and knowledge for the Capital District through a Public History medium.

The tour guide, Pat, gave me the history of the farm and its significance to the Mohawk Valley. The Schenectady Historical Society preserves the buildings, and the landlords and Pat continue to keep up the site through research, tours, and programs that  educate kids and adults about the early Dutch in Schenectady and Rotterdam, NY. Over the years, the historical society has gotten together with many different organizations and individuals to use this public history site. Clubs such as the 4H Club, and the Second Albany Militia take part in using and keeping the site. The story of the site has been told using over 587 documents that are now kept at the historical society
For some history:

In 1670, James Van An Twerpin, a fur trader, settled at the farm. The location was perfect, being directly on the Mohawk River: Indians bringing fur could directly interact with Mr. An Twerpin, and therefore he was able to collect fur to trade in Albany. At the time, only ten people were legally allowed to trade fur in Albany, making it a luxury for those ten.

In 1705 Mr. An Twerpin sold the farm to the Mabee Family, who owned it for 287 years. Families from many generations lived inside the main farm house. . The house still has many artifacts that show the lives of the Dutch at Mabie farm. The wooden floors remain the same, with their wide panels; and the unique dutch fire place ,with no wall surrounding it, is known to have been the kind the Dutch used. There are books such as the Accounts of the Life of Peter Cohns, which explains and proves that there were Dutch hidden beds in the house at one point. The house presents as a composition of what life would have been like back in the 1700s. The cement walls and small windows show how the warmth was kept in during the winter and the heat was kept out in the summer. The light was minimal, and the people did not stand very tall, due to the height of the windows.  Through all of these visual aspects, I was able to get a grasp on the type of people that lived there, along with the kind of lifestyle they lived.

Main House

To the left: Other room in the Main House

Historians are unsure where the main door must have been for the house, but the Inn, which was attached, has the door that they claim the door to be the front. This is a picture of the original door, which is now a window.

The door that was supposedly the main door into the Inn.
To the left: The "Inn"

Slave Quarters

My tour guide claimed that the Slave Quarters was in fact a "multi-purpose" building. In 1767 there was a document that was written, saying that the 1st slave was bought in 1727. His name was Jacob. When the head of the Mabee family died, he left a slave for each of the 5 children. The tour guide was unsure if these slaves were related to Jacob, but three slave boys were eventually left with the mother of the household.

There was slavery on the farm for 100 years;  in  fact there was slavery in most homes in the area,. I was unable to take photos of the interior  of the slave cabin, but it was self explanatory. There were replicas of sheets that lay on the ground serving  as beds for slaves, and there was another Dutch fireplace near which, according to  Pat, the tour guide, the slaves lived, since there was warmth. Being inside  the cabin was a way to absorb the history, not only by listening, but also by seeing and feeling.  In a sense, this put you in  the time period, and thus  provided a better learning experience than just a classroom.

Exhibits on the farm...

In the Dutch barn, there were two exhibits.

One explained the history of the Mabee Farm, with categories including
“Maps of Schenectady,” “History of the Arrival of the Dutch Family,” “History Framing of the 18th and 19th century in general", and “The Farm 1750's and 1770's Life on the Farm and the Descent of the Family ”

Each category marked an exhibit with artifacts including grocery items from the time, working tools, and other items that provided assistance for a more visual experience of the history of the Mabee Family and the Mabee farm. I will provide photos of the barns and the view of the Mohawk River.

View of the Mohawk River

Dutch Barn

English Barn

View of the Road and Gardens

Original Siding of the Main House

The Mabee Farm is a good example of a Public History site that both represents an old historic house and explains the history of the site. It accomplishes both these things through original artifacts and original buildings that attract and engage  a large audience. It was an interesting day when I visited: the sun was shining, and then only five minutes later the sky turned deep and gray, and showers came falling down, then minutes later it turned sunny again.  It was a great experience, and I am looking forward to visiting more sites.

That's it for now.. You can see the Mabee Farm's website from my last post on the farm prior to my visit.