Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Our Work Thus Far

Greetings all,

So it's been a few weeks since my last post and I thought it would be a good idea to update fans on our progress thus far. I now have the pleasure of saying we because two new members have joined us in the archives; Danielle Segall is interning here as part of the Student History Intern for the Manhattan Borough President and Brandon McNeil, who is here volunteering on his own time. They are both great additions to the Archives with most of their time being spent aiding me in our research and developing the next phase of our project, which I will get to shortly. Part of the enjoyment I get out of this internship is working alongside colleagues my age that I have the benefit of teaching and learning from in an environment that is academically conducive. Guiding them through the collections, showing them features of Staten Island I learned of only a few weeks ago, and answering their questions helps me to affirm my passion for history.

But enough about what motivates me for now; let's get into how we've been spending our time here. The focus of our project has now shifted from exhibition entries into lesson plans, and not just ordinary lesson plans; we intend to make comprehensive lessons for students and teachers that are accessible online for free.

The lesson plans themselves are designed with content from our collections. This includes images, photographs, maps, newspaper articles, poems, and other primary source material than can be used to enhance the overall narrative of our lessons. Although it will not be absolutely necessary, we strongly recommend that these lessons are accompanied by trips to local museums and cultural institutions such as Tottenville’ s Conference House or Historic Richmond Town. As any student will confess, it can be boring at times to learn the history of a topic that bears no connection or relevance to your life; we seek to change this by exposing students to these excellent institutions. By immersing students in these topics they will gain more than the information needed for their exams; they can see how these stories can be represented physically.

We have chosen to cover popular topics in American History; however, our lessons will be viewed through the lens of Staten Island. Therefore, the Civil War will be characterized by the Island's discourse throughout the war as well as the contributions of Islanders. This time is especially controversial for Staten Island as many residents were sympathetic to the Southern cause, best expressed by the Draft Riots and fierce opposition to abolitionist sentiments. The Abolitionist movement and particularly the prominence of certain Islanders to this national cause are often ignored by the pages of history and that is exactly why we chose to include this as part of our project.

We want to create a full depiction of the events in discussion; that includes narratives and stories from not just the most well-known names, but from ordinary people who lived on Staten Island and have left evidence for us to share. In addition, documents and primary sources that do not make the cut for a specific lesson plan but hold a degree of relevance will be added to the website for anyone to view if they wish to read or see more about these topics. For the archives, this is just one of the ways we can share some of our information with the public without them having to come all the way here to access our files. There is a wealth of knowledge within our vaults and it's our responsibility to facilitate people's realization of this diamond in the rough. 

I remember coming across a book in our collections called Italians - Past and Present and after reading through this book, discovering that one of the heroes of Italian Unification, Giuseppe Garibaldi, had close ties to New York and spent time on the Island. During his exile from Italy he lived with the controversial inventor of the telephone, Antonio Meucci, in the neighborhood of Clifton; there is a museum dedicated to the lives and achievements of both of these men on Staten Island. I learned about Garibaldi in my sophomore year of high school and I recall being captivated by ear of European history; if only my lesson about Italian Unification came with a visit to the Island's Garibaldi-Meucci Museum!  That is the point of our work here; we want students and teachers to see the potential pool of resources this Island has to offer people of all ages. Museums, archives, historical societies, and the rest of Staten Island's cultural institutions should be utilized by educators in order to enrich learning, but more importantly to see the connections between this Island and actual history. 

We have already discussed the paradox surrounding Staten Island and its history for native Islanders. To realize that some of the names that resonate throughout the ages -- Verrazano, Meucci, Garibaldi, Curtis, Vanderbilt, Emerson, Seton --  and cement their place in the halls of history relate to Staten Island, is a substantial discovery that might change a native or foreigner's impressions about this little place some of us call home. It did for me so the chance to make this potential opportunity available to the next generation, as well as my own, is impetus enough for me.

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