Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Experience with History and Home

Hello, my name is Joseph Lipari and over the next 9 weeks I am going to be blogging my experience as an intern at the Staten Island Museum's History Archives department.  For all intensive purposes you will come to know me by my less formal title, Joe the Intern.

In conjunction with Arts Intern, a program of Studio in a School, and the S.I Museum I have been hired as a research associate to aid the current staff in the makings of a top secret and highly classified exhibit set to launch in the not too distant future.  I am under strict orders not to reveal anything about the upcoming exhibit...just yet.  However, there may or may not be announcements regarding the museum's plans for this ambitious project in the future, so stay reading for possible leaks as the weeks progress!

I am working under the supervision of the department's archivist, Cara Dellatte. She answers all of my questions and knows the archive's collections like the back of her hand. Being exposed to an assortment of professionals including researchers, academics, authors and historians, and people who are  interested in the island, has been amazing.

My experience with the History Archives so far has been nothing but exciting. You may be wondering "Archives...exciting...really? Don't they just collect things?" and that is a completely normal response to what may sound like the most boring setting.  Just a week ago I would have expressed the same thoughts but to my surprise, this well-kept secret is far more stimulating than I could have imagined.

Now that that's over let's get to why this place is way more interesting and important than it's thought, or thought not to be.

As a native Staten Islander born and raised I can honestly admit, like many of my fellow youths, that there seems to be nothing particularly special about this little island we call home; it's just another place like many others that usually only stands out for being the punch line of a joke or its frustrating association with the popular television shows, which we will not get into now or ever. We're seen as the forgotten borough; half Jersey and half barely New York. That's not the truth but sometimes that is the unfortunate reality some islanders are faced with. Although local history is appreciated, it's not always celebrated or like the hidden archives, known.

So I ask you, how is one supposed to have pride in themselves and where they're from if they don't know anything about it? For me, this was the relationship I've had with Staten Island for as long as I can remember. This all changed for me a few days ago.

Upon entering the archives for the first time I was shocked to see their tremendous collection of items that included maps, manuscripts, letters, newspapers, daguerreotypes, lithographs, photographs, along with some cool objects like beer bottles from home brewed island beer!  On my second day at work I tried in vain to copy down a letter written by abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who wrote to a fellow abolitionist and islander, George William Curtis; Curtis High School ring a bell?  Let's just say that 19th century script is not easy to read and gives new meaning to the term illegible. But more importantly than struggling with nearly impossible handwriting, I felt for the first time connected to home.  The facts and dates are fun and all but seeing actual evidence of the material, cultural, and social history of Staten Island truly makes me value our unique corner of New York.  This island has such a rich and fascinating history that is preserved but not made readily known.

I hope that for all those who read this, you may get a sense of the forgotten history we pass by every day.  You never know, maybe the way you see our interesting island will change.

That's it for me this week. Check for updates every Friday and take a look at the archive's Tumblr page for picture and fun facts!

See you next week,

Joe the Intern.

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