Archive for the ‘public history’ Tag

“Forlorn Soldier”

This music video was created as a part of my capstone project. It is a time lapse of the Forlorn Soldier move with an original song called, “Forlorn Soldier,” as performed by Tom Callinan, Connecticut’s first state troubadour. The July 19, 2013 event was sponsored by the Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Commission’s series of programs honoring the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The monument featured in this video is a brownstone figure of a Union soldier and was created by James G. Batterson in Hartford, CT. The location of the monument at of the time of video is 119 Airport Road, Hartford, CT. Videography and editing by Tony Roy. Created on July 21, 2013.


Forlorn Soldier Monument Analysis

This slideshow features four of James G. Batterson’s earliest monument figures. This is part of my research on the Forlorn Soldier, a Civil War Monument that was never sold and has been on display at various locations in Hartford for over 100 years. Explanation for when the monument was created and why the monument was not sold is unclear. Some say it was rejected because of the positioning of the monuments feet. This slideshow, however, shows that other monuments created by Batterson, and his colleague Carl Conrads, had identical foot positioning and were sold just the same.

The Forlorn Soldier Monument features a man with a beard, which is consistent with the earliest two monuments featured here, one from Granby (1868) and the other from New Haven (1870). The Forlorn Soldier has two major inconsistencies from all of the monuments featured here. First, the arm positioning on the monuments here are above the belt and the Forlorn Soldiers arm is positioned below the belt. The other inconsistency is that all of these monuments have some sort of support on the back of the statue. The Forlorn Soldier does not have this same support.

Never-Ending Networking

Environmental StudiesEarlier this week, I was walking to my car following a meeting with an environmental scientist at Goodwin College and I realized that this process for researching the land use history is a never-ending series of connections and networking that takes me further and further down a rabbit hole.  To use a driving simile, it’s like I am trying to get across Hartford during the Hartford Marathon. I am taking all sorts of side streets to get to my destination and some are dead ends while others bring me right back to where I started.  Some, however, are accesses to wells of knowledge and interesting characters.  This is how I felt after my meeting with Bruce Morton, director of the environmental studies program at Goodwin College.

Meeting Bruce for the first time in a situation other than passing by, was a great experience.  I had previously heard about this reserved and calculating professor at Goodwin from a colleague of mine at CT River Academy, which is the high school that is hosted by the college.  I walked across campus and strode the stairs to his floor and scouted the room numbers until I found his office.  At Goodwin College, the environmental studies department has a suite with about 6 or 8 offices with a common area.  Bruce’s office was closest to the hallway.  Once the meeting began, I briefly explained the project and my aspirations of publishing the finished product.  Then, I shared about the angle and the happenstance meeting I had with the Vice President and what his expectations were (see previous post).  After some time, I realized that although he might have limited knowledge about what I was looking for, he certainly had a lot of connections.

While I was sitting there, in his office, Bruce began picking up the phone and calling other professors and professionals that he knew in fields related to environmental studies, the CT River, and Goodwin College.  The first person he called was a history professor at the College who seems to have a lot of information about what I am looking for and might be able to direct the approach to the project.  In addition to this contact, Bruce sent an introductory email to four other people, including one from Riverfront recapture, which may also help with some work I am doing with CT Humanities.  Overall, this was a productive meeting.  I am just beginning to realize how important it is for public historians to engage in never-ending networking because you need to know people to get information.  I guess the old adage is right…Sometimes it IS not what you know, but who you know.

Image Credits:

A Meeting by Happenstance

Last week, I ran into the Vice President of Goodwin College and we began discussing the progress of the land-use history I am working on for his organization. The meeting began with me asking if Goodwin College owned a piece of property in Wethersfield on the West bank of the Connecticut River known as Crow’s Point. I asked him this because there was an abundance of primary source documents in “the pile” of resources I have been combing through (This “pile” is his research on this project to date). He remarked that the college has owned the property since 2006 and that he would like this included in the land-use history. My first reaction was, “nice.” This property had some documentation about how the land was used, preserved and planned to be developed. I thought this would fit nicely into the Environmental History angle that I was working on. I figured that this would be a good time to bounce this angle off of him to see what came back. His response was a bit troublesome.

WillowbrookAlthough he did seem interested in the idea of how the land was used, abused, and renewed, the Vice President wanted the research to focus on the “interesting things” that have happened on the property. Then, I tried to explain that I would definitely include such information, but I was looking for an angle that would contribute to the field of history. I remarked, “I am looking for an angle that will appeal to a wider audience, something that may get published.” He responded that they will publish it and not to worry about it. By the way we were interacting, I could tell that I was talking to a history buff, not a historian. Then, I asked some clarifying questions that gave a refocus to my research. After this 4-5 minute meeting, I came to understand that they really wanted a chronology of the development of the land. They wanted some of the history of Pratt and Whitney and the development of the neighborhood pictured here that is adjacent to the Goodwin College Riverfront Campus. They want to know more about the ferry that Colt created to help his workers circumvent the tolls in and out of Hartford. They are seemingly less interested in the rejuvenation of the land that their riverfront campus occupies, although the do want some of this included.  Overall, I am grateful for this meeting and the amount of research that the Vice President has put into this project.

This happenstance meeting helps me in several ways. First, it helps to cut out some of the unnecessary research I was conducting about the floodplains near the Putnam Bridge. Next, it helps me refocus my attention to the development of the community just East of the campus. Finally, it helps me focus less on the remediation of the property, thus cutting out the last 5-8 years. This process is interesting because, if this were solely my own project, it would focus on the use, abuse, and renewal of the property, examining how and why this use has changed over time, and linking this change to broader themes within environmental history. I wouldn’t say that this project is any less valuable, just different. As a public historian, I guess it is not my place to place value on a project or its outcomes. The value of the project is set by the contracting party and I am not at liberty to share the “value” of this project.

Driftin’ w/ Wick

A few weeks back I had the honor and pleasure to meet with Wick Griswold, Sociologist at the University of Hartford.  According to his page on the university website, Wick’s “favorite course to teach is the Sociology of the CT River Watershed.”  Wick continues, “The mighty Connecticut River is a natural treasure. It’s history, ecology and beauty are sources of endless knowledge and aesthetics.”  I decided to contact Prof. Griswold because of his newly released book, A History of the Connecticut River.  Steve Armstrong and I met in his office on the university campus.  This meeting was filled with energy, interest, and inquiry.

I originally contacted Wick looking for an angle for the Goodwin College project (see previous post).  Following this meeting, I had just as many questions as I had answers, if not more.  I think this is a good thing.  As this meeting swirled in my head, I realized that his book was much more valuable than I previously thought.  Mr. Griswold is more than a Sociologist, he is a living keeper of history.  Wick is often found drifting down the CT River from the Enfield falls to the mouth of the CT River bordered by Old Saybrook and Old Lyme.  According to our conversation and his book, the trip takes four days.  Wick has a deep connection to the to the CT River and to its history.

Our meeting covered topics including the River Tribes of the lower Connecticut, changes in transportation and industry on the river, and the effects of human-induced environmental decline on the region.  Steve and I posed question after question trying to indicate the hook or angle for our research.  By the time we left, Wick’s suggestion was that the angle was “the future.”  When we left that day, we appreciated the help, but were not sure if this was the angle we were looking for.  For instance, how could a historian base the hook or angle of their research on the future?!?  However so much that this may seem absurd, there may be some credibility to his suggestion.

The future of the CT River is one of reclamation and recovery.  The angle for the Goodwin project just may be the environmental progress that has been made on the property.  So, we could discuss the use, focusing on the detrimental effects of human environment interaction, and then explain how Goodwin in working to reclaim the land.  All of this would be within the broader historical context of land-use.  The more I think about this prospect, the better it sounds.  There are only two obstacles to this “angle.”  First, our client only wants the history of the land up until the time when the college moved to the area, so I have to make sure that this approach will fall into what they are asking for.  The second obstacle is making sure that my project supervisor is on board.  I have a meeting with Steve tomorrow, so I guess we will find out then.


The Internship Begins

I got word this week that my public history internship was accepted by CCSU.  This is a huge step forward for my career in many ways.  First, I will gain a deeper understanding of local/regional history.  Next, I will further develop my writing skills, especially when crafting a interpretation about the past. Finally, these first two developments will increase my effectiveness as an educator.  Overall, this internship is a melding of several projects that I am involved in and points me in the direction of a long-term sustainable career.

In the coming weeks and months look forward to insights, troubles, and triumphs as I work towards achieving this goal.

Public History Internship Proposal

​This proposed internship experience is as a research assistant for several contracted public history projects. The main project is researching for Goodwin College. The research will contribute to a publishable land use history article, the development of a college course, and the creation of a research center. Primarily, the research conducted in this internship will be used to write a land use history of Goodwin College’s River Campus, stretching from Riverside Drive in East Hartford south to the Rt. 3 Bridge. More specifically, we will compare and contrast the land use of this property to usage of land in the Connecticut River region. Steve Armstrong, the professional supervisor for this internship, and I have already had several meetings with professionals in the field and our client, Goodwin College. As an extension of this land use research, Goodwin College wants to develop a history course and ultimately a research center for the Connecticut River.​

Another project I will work as a part of this internship is contributing to, a program of Connecticut Humanities Council. In this portion of the internship, I will research primary sources and write 100-150-word descriptions for a teacher resources page for the newly launched site. The project supervisor will monitor and authorize submissions. The focus of this research is for a section entitled, “CT and the New Nation.” The time period covers from 1800 to the 1830s/1840s. Some topics include industrialization/ manufacturing, Manifest Destiny, maritime history, and evolution of the landscape. In addition to contributing individual resources, I will also write a 100-200-word essay describing the resource section. Much of the work for this internship will be independent with scheduled progress meetings.

These projects build upon the courses I have taken at CCSU in several ways. First and foremost, the research is a direct extension of the land use and local history research methods from Hist. 505, Local History and Community Development. The CHC project, partnership with Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, will put into practice the Digital History coursework of Hist. 511. Other aspects of the coursework I have completed that this internship will build upon are interpretation, use of historiography, and creating a narrative of historical events. Finally, this internship is an opportunity to work in the client-based realm of public history, a concept discussed in the Seminar in Public History.

​This proposed internship experience furthers my career goals both in and outside of the classroom. The area of public history that I am most interested in is the client-based aspect. This opportunity will put me on the front lines of research and interpretation for academic, non-academic, and client-based audiences. These projects will also further my understanding of Connecticut History, with a special focus on the CT River region. This internship provide the future opportunity to create and deliver college-level curriculum. Another result from this internship will be increased capabilities to develop Connecticut and local history in the high school social studies classroom. The US history courses taught at CT River Academy are a through the lens of the CT River and much of the research will be used to enhance instruction. Overall, this internship will contribute to my abilities as a public historian and will create many career opportunities in the future.

The Connecticut River.

Having lived in Connecticut Valley for most of my life, I have always had an affinity for the Connecticut River.  My ties to the river date back to my days living in a town on it’s Western bank.  Every time I rode with my father from my hometown we would literally go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.  Since I was young, I have crossed the river a countless number of times, utilizing the various bridges.  As a youngster, I would typically cross at Windsor Locks/East Windsor or Suffield/Enfield.  As a grew older, I usually crossed via Interstate 291 on my way to Manchester.  Now that I am grown, and live in Hartford, I typically cross either on the Bulkeley or Founder’s bridge.

Of course, just zooming over the river is not the only connection I have to what native Americans called ”the long tidal river.”  On one occasion, my father and I canoed from Enfield, CT to Middletown.  This trip opened my eyes to many things that I did not realize about the river and its uses.  First, in Northern CT the river is more shallow and has some rapids.  To make passage easier, Hartford citizens constructed the Enfield canal for ferries and ships.  Once you make down to the Windsor area, and especially Hartford, the river is very deep and slow moving.  For years, Hartford was a port city and the river, in many areas, was dredged out for easier travel of steam powered vessels.  South of Hartford, the canoe trip turned from a meandering sightseeing tour of low, flat farmlands to an all out struggle to row ourselves to Middletown before sunset.  As mentioned earlier, the river was very deep and slow moving and we had to use mostly our own strength to push the canoe to our destination.

While growing up on the banks of the Connecticut river, my family and I rode our bikes on what is now Windsor Locks Canal State Park.  This canal was originally built in the 19th century to aid ships and ferries traveling to points North of Windsor.  This canal, which was built following the Erie Canal, but has long since been abandoned with the advent of rail and highways.  In fact, the river itself is not the shipping lane that it once was.  Instead people have turned to the the highways and interstates that in many areas travel adjacent to the Connecticut River due to the low, flat lands created by a glacier that carved the valley many millenia ago.

I now know that the Connecticut River has an important role in the history of CT.  Beginning with geological foundations of the region, to settlement, industrialization, urban flight, and now, the reawakening of interest in living in the Capital city.  What many may not realize is that Connecticut, especially Hartford, history is directly tied to the river.  One cannot fully understand the essence of local history without recognizing the importance of the Connecticut River.  Although the people, landscape, land use, and even the river itself has changed over time, one things stands true, the Connecticut River has always and possibly will always have a profound effect on the residents of the region.  But, do Connecticut citizens realize its importance?  Hopefully, we can educate our youth to understand and respect the river so future generations can have as deep of a connection to the Connecticut River as I do.

What is Public History?

A few weeks ago, I was attending an optional Digital History class and someone there asked if a teacher was a public historian.  At the time, I said that teachers were not public historians.  I said this for two reasons.  First, in my Public History Seminar, pre-collegiate social studies teachers are not in the definition of the class.  If you look at all of the assigned books and readings, not one mentions the role of a pre-collegiate history teacher in a classroom setting.  Due to that, I then became determined to discover a reason that teachers are not public historians.  This mission of discovery led me to my second reason that excludes teachers, in which I mistakenly concluded that teachers don’t contribute anything “new” to the field.  I have since revised my thoughts on the matter, but I am now more in-tune with why teachers are different from public historians.

The difference, in essence, is derived not from the teacher’s contribution to the field, but from the audience.  Teachers most certainly do contribute to the field.  Each day, they present a wide range of primary resources, provide tools for analyzing them, and ultimately contributing to the memory of past events.  Just the act of creating memory and a narrative for an audience is an act of public history.  But the difference lies in the audience.  Typically, public historians either work for an agency or are hired as a freelance.  Regardless of where or when they work, the public historian is working for their audience.  They have to market either their skills or interpretations to attract clients.  For the social studies teacher, it is much different.  Aside from having to apply for the job and interview, the clientele is compulsory.  I bet there are many, if not all, directors of museums or historic houses who would love a compulsory crowd.

This does not mean that a social studies teacher does not use the same tools as a public historian.  Really, if you think about it a public historian and a social studies teacher are very similar.  They both are professionals whom wear many hats.  As a teacher, one has to be a researcher, administrator, editor, archivist, web designer, and much more.  Both positions also require and encourage team work and collaboration.  From my experience, the training of both focus on many similar concepts such as being inclusive, inventive, democratic, interdisciplinary, scholarly, informed, forward-thinking, and civic minded.  This is only a sample of the similarities.  Also, both professions are involved with educating, creating discussion, and promoting analysis.  So now the question becomes, what is public history?  And, who are public historians?

Defining public history is no easy task.  In fact, there is little consensus even among public historians themselves.  J. D. Bowers, of Northern Illinois University describes public historians as a “historian in the middle,” acting as a sort of mediator between academic historians and the public.  Denise Meringolo likens a public historian to a community organizer with the training of a historian.  Jane Becke, however, indicates that the profession is a “part of a broad range of humanities, scholarship and practice.”  The most difficult, and frustrating, part of selecting an appropriate definition for the field is that each of the three mentioned above are all right in their own way.  In my estimation, public history is a progressive field where historians utilize research to make insightful and accessible contributions to a public audience.

This was not my first definition of Public History.  My original definition was too narrow, focusing on employment and the human experience rather than accessibility to a public audience.  After developing my original definition, I searched for other definitions and came across the National Council of Public History (NCPH) website, which had a page describing the ongoing discussion surrounding the definition of Public History.  NCPH defines public history as “a movement, methodology, and approach that promotes the collaborative study and practice of history; its practitioners embrace a mission to make their special insights accessible and useful to the public.”  Along with this definition there are two responses expressing the ideas presented above.  Essentially, I was pleased to find that my description of public history was not that far off from what other professionals in the field have been discussing.

Another time, I will have to describe my reasoning  for my definition of public history, but now it is time to end this post.  Just remember, when you think about public history, it is a broad and developing field.  The evidence of such is in the many different definitions that exist.