Archive for the ‘research’ Tag

Fraser.TheLandOfSteadyHabits.pdf

The title of this post is the file name for a book that I recently scanned and added to my digital collection. Written by the late Bruce Fraser in 1988, Land of Steady Habits: A Brief History of Connecticut is an important work in the Connecticut history literary cadre.  According to the Publisher’s Note, The Connecticut Historical Commission produced this booklet claiming that it “provides the essence of Connecticut.” At the time of publication, the Commission hoped that Land of Steady Habits would stimulate further study and “provide a wider public appreciation” for the states historical heritage.  This work does all of the above and should be a standard in every history classroom across the state.

Fraser’s Land of Steady Habits is especially accessible to middle and high school grades because of its concise nature.  The entire booklet is eighty pages including title page, table of contents, postscript, timeline, images, and a four page listing of CT’s national historic land marks.  The body of the essay is fifty-two pages broken in 15 sections.  This is the equivalent of 3.4 pages per chapter, very manageable for readers at any level.  Although Mr. Fraser’s work is short, it is packed with not only the story of Connecticut, but also connections to the national historical themes.  Classroom history and social studies teachers could use this work to teach history through the lens of the local story from the time “before the Europeans” to the social unrest of the 1960s.  The basic premise behind this book is that the history of Connecticut is important, a message that we need to teach to the youth of the state.

One of the perennial concerns for Connecticut for the last several decades is the lack of local attachment. It is evident in the disjointed nature of the cities and towns and most prominent in the capital city.  Go to downtown Hartford on a weekend day and it is a ghost town.  People come in to work and they leave to their towns in the suburbs and beyond.  This scenario was just as true at the time of Land of Steady Habits publication as it is today.  Fraser and others, myself included, would accredit this lack of connection to suburban crawl and white-flight of the post-War period.  Nutmeggers now have their own enclaves a world apart from the deteriorating and increasingly diverse cities that they left behind. They lost their connection with the culture and history of their surroundings and they are unattached.

Raising our state’s future generations with knowledge and experiences of local culture and history is needed to create attachment to the region.  Students who are exposed to the culture of the state today will contribute to the local community tomorrow.  If we teach about the history and take students to experience Connecticut culture at places like the Wadsworth, Goodspeed, or Peabody and historical sites such as the Old State House, the Soldier and Sailors Memorial Arch, and Tapping Reeve House and Law School, then they are more likely to participate in cultural offerings when they reach adulthood.  Remarkably,  I am seeing a rise in interest in both state history and local connections.  This may be the time for institutions to market themselves to education institutions to increase their presence in the classroom and curriculum.  I am not talking about marketing to schools so you can charge $6 per person to offer a writing program.  Cultural institutions should look at schools as a way to market to future consumers or customers.  The more exposure the better.  Maybe these institutions should take the advice of the Connecticut Historical Commission and work to “provide a wider public appreciation” for the culture of CT…for the future of CT.

*Please note that my mentioning of cultural and historical centers in this article are not an endorsement of any institution or a discredit to those not listed.

Wadsworth image credit: Wikipedia.

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.

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.

Folksonomy: Tagging w/o the Mess

There are many people who are worried about the idea of users (visitors to websites) placing tags on items for categorization.  It seems to me that people who are against any person (especially those they deem to be uneducated) creating tags or categories to place internet items are not wholly off base.  There could be a possibility that mis-educated, undereducated, or uneducated people would create a myriad of tags making it impossible for other users to utilize tag features to locate items on the internet.  They complain that it would be some sort of digital anarchy.

Recently, I have been increasingly using tags to organize websites using delicious.  This program allows me to locate a website, store the site, and tag it for future use.  For the most part I try to put as many tags on an item as I can. Basically, when I tag I am trying to forecast any and all keywords that can be associated with the item.  For instance, if I am tagging the website for the Imperial War Museum, I would create tags such as “primary sources, archive, museum, research, UK, war, imperialism” and so on.  This way, in the future, when I want to access the site, I can type in any one of the mentioned tags and be able to locate the source.

Why can’t the same thing be applied to items in a digital archive or a museum’s online collection.  I guess a lot of people will complain that typical, everyday users are not capable of creating meaningful tags.  But, honestly, meaningful to whom?  The purpose of museums (online, digital,or analog) is to store items and create access for the public.  Why would a museum want to spend exorbitant amounts of money to collect and store information, only to hide it.  I say let people tag and see what happens.

The great thing about technology is that museums can monitor tags that people put on items and use add the relevant terms to the items tag database.  This process is identified by the term folksonomy which is where the end-user places their own tags on items and the best or most relevant tags become apart of the colloquial language to identify items.  You know, let the “folks” label items.  They are ultimately the end-user, so why not make it accessible.  I feel that this is just another way of making information accessible and relevant to everyone.  It’s the future, nay it is the present.  Museums: Don’t be left behind.