When I was working at Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House in Hartford, Connecticut, I contributed to an online literary journal, Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovery. Founded in the spring of 2013, its mission is to publish creative works inspired by objects and images of material culture contained in museums and elsewhere. One of my former co-workers at the time was a creator on the Journal at the time, and she asked me if I could write about the research I was doing about the Butler family and McCook family genealogy. As part of my responsibilities as an educator and an interpreter at the Butler-McCook House, I needed to review the information each staff member was given to learn and incorporate more into our educating experience. I remember that what inspired me to start this project was looking at the poster board of the Butler-McCook family tree Frances McCook (the last member of the family who lived in the house) worked on and was not completed. I decided to take a look and learn about the ancestors.
It has been a while since I wrote the original post, and I decided to revisit the project and post after all this time because it is one of my earliest projects that also focuses on women’s history. I thought it would be appropriate since this month, as I am writing this post, is Women’s History Month. Another reason I wanted to revisit this project is to share how I previously approached this the research and what I learned.
While I was working at the Butler-McCook House, one of the things I really appreciated was the women’s involvement in preserving not only their family history, but Hartford history as well. Frances McCook, who was part of the fourth generation of the family who lived in the house, had a passion for history and her efforts to preserving Hartford history is admirable.
Here are the links to learn more about the Butler-McCook House, Connecticut Landmarks, and the original post I wrote for Poor Yorick Journal back in 2016:
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When I was in college, I made my first visit to Old Sturbridge Village located in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Old Sturbridge Village, which invites each visitor to find meaning, pleasure, relevance, and inspiration through the exploration of history, is the largest outdoor history museum in the Northeast that depicts a rural New England town of the 1830s. There are more than 40 original buildings, including homes, meetinghouses, a district school, country store, bank, working farm, three water-powered mills, and trade shops, which are situated on more than 200 scenic acres. The buildings were moved to the area between the late 1940s and early 1970s. Inside the Village, there are authentically costumed historians and farm animals to talk with and interact with on a regular visit or during various programs they offer.
As a member and treasurer of the historical society club, other members and I visited a number of times including during the Christmas by Candlelight program. I remember traveling to the Village while it was dark out to walk through, visit the buildings decorated in holiday decorations, and seeing the display of gingerbread houses for a gingerbread house contest. I also visited Old Sturbridge Village a few times after I graduated.
It has been a while since I last visited Old Sturbridge Village, and I decided to make another visit since I thought I would see how much has changed. This time it will be a virtual visit. Recently, Old Sturbridge Village designed and released the link to a virtual experience called 3D Tours as part of Virtual Village from Old Sturbridge Village. The Virtual Village from Old Sturbridge Village offers content created by the interpreters and farmers for Old Sturbridge Village’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. Interpreters share fun facts, activities, recipes, and more, while the farmers shared updates with photos and videos of the animals. The Village also released more content within their 3D tours.
According to the website, 3D Tours are supported in part by a grant from the Webster Cultural Council, a local agency that is supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency. At the time I made this visit, the following buildings were available in the virtual tour: the Asa Knight Store, the District School, the Pottery Shop, the Freeman Farm, the Sawmill, the Printing Office, and the Fenno House. To learn more about these buildings, they include brief histories of the buildings that include when and where they were built, when they moved to Old Sturbridge Village, and what they were used for. Also, the tours allow virtual visitors to get up close to artifacts that are usually behind barriers such as the catalog in the Asa Knight Store and the pottery on the shelves of the Pottery Shop. There are pins throughout the tours to look closer or learn new information, and new videos with some of the Village’s knowledgeable costumed historians to bring the spaces to life.
While I was experiencing the virtual tours, there were many observations I made at each place. The first building I visited was the Asa Knight Store where I was able to go behind the counters to see numerous items that the store sold on shelves, in drawers, and underneath the counter; there were a few pins that described the items in the store including information on textiles. When I visited Old Sturbridge Village in the past, I spent most of my time in the front of the store since there is so much to see and so little time to see it all in at each visit I made, and on this virtual trip I was able to spend more time in the store and learn more about the store. For example, I saw a china and ceramics crate that had plates inside it in a room where hats were being made and in the next room there are a number of items including Prussian Blue pigments they sold, and the pigments were used to make paint. The next place I went into was the District School.
I do not remember going inside the District School during the last time I visited Old Sturbridge Village, so I decided to check it out. The focus of the building was to share information and ask visitors about the classroom in the 1830s versus today. My visit reminded me of my experience teaching students about the one-room schoolhouses at Noah Webster House and the Long Island Museum. Inside the classroom, the staff provided information about the Blue Back Speller used by students to learn how to read and it was written by Noah Webster. I used a reproduction of the Blue Back Speller as a museum educator while teaching about schoolhouses to share with students who visited Noah Webster House. I then moved on to the Pottery Shop & Kiln. Inside the Pottery Shop, there is a video on making pottery the staff shared and I noticed a clay cellar among the numerous pottery and glazes.
Then I went to explore the Freeman Farm and the Sawmill. Inside the house of the Freeman Farm, there is a video that describes what farm life was like in the 1830s located in the kitchen; also, there was information about dinner, food preservation, farm animals, dairying and the buttery, garden, and the root cellar. While I was exploring, I tried to explore a little more of the grounds but was limited to only the house and around the house. I would have loved to see more of the other buildings on the farm including the barn. When I was at the Sawmill, I saw the video on the saw and how it works and was able to see it up close behind the barriers. They also included a Woodland Walk booklet pdf which had information about New England trees and there was also information in another pin about the New England Landscape.
The final two places I visited were the Printing Office and the Fenno House. In the Printing Office, I was able to go behind the barrier to see the printing press up close where there are pins revealing information on how the machine was operated and how they were trained to operate it. Also, a video is shared to explain what it is like to work in the printing office. Inside the Fenno House, half of the house is set up as a historic house and the other half has exhibits. On the first floor, there was the kitchen and an exhibit with the spinning wheel and loom describing how each of them were used to create fabrics for the home. On the second floor, there was a bed chamber on one side of the house and on the other side was an exhibit display of clothing and a few pieces of furniture.
Overall, I really enjoyed the experience of re-visiting Old Sturbridge Village in a virtual capacity. I appreciate their efforts in encouraging visitors to ask themselves what is similar and different to their daily lives today versus the time periods each site introduces. I wonder if they are going to include more buildings in the virtual tour, and if they do, I will certainly return to experience these virtual tours. Also, I like that not only the staff introduced virtual tours but also developed resources to be utilized along with the tours.
The resources they provided are lesson plans, hands-on activities, and other links including their online collections. Old Sturbridge Village provided these resources to help other educators teach their students history, and it is one of many examples I have seen of museums sharing educational resources while we are all figuring out how to carry on while we are still going through the pandemic. The lesson plans I have seen are designed for students in grade levels 3rd through 5th grade, and in addition to the lesson plans and pdfs they included a link to their Google classroom with fillable documents that educators can download and assign to their students. Plus, there are hands-on activities one can download to be used alongside the virtual tours including “Make Your Own Cardboard Loom” with the Fenno House tour, and the “Home Scavenger Hunt” with the Asa Knight Store tour.
I recommend experiencing the virtual tours for yourselves if you want to spend time learning more about Old Sturbridge Village.
In the past, I previously wrote about the memories I had about my experiences in the museum field so far. To read the previous blog posts, check out the links below. Each experience taught me a lot and the lessons I learned help me move my career forward. My career has led me to move from working in Connecticut to working on Long Island, New York. Since I am still currently on Long Island with my husband and my career is still active, I am splitting this post into multiple posts to share each experience and lessons I have learned in each one. The following is a sample of the memories I have of working at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, New York.
At the Long Island Museum, I continued my career as Museum Educator and the role I had was both in educating school groups, camps, and individuals with Alzheimer’s and in education administration. I utilized object-based and inquiry-based methods to educate Pre-K-5 students, families, senior citizens about 19th century Long Island history and art on museum campus buildings such as the Carriage Museum, 19th Century Schoolhouse, and Art Museum. Inside the Schoolhouse, I dressed as a schoolteacher for two different types of school programs: one that is focused on learning what school was like through acting as schoolchildren in the 19th century as part of an overall program called Long Island Long Ago, and one that is focused on learning through discussions and demonstrations of the 19th century school day on Long Island from the 21st century perspective.
I also taught programs for various audiences. For instance, I prepared for and taught a program called In the Moment engaging individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia in the exhibit space. The program allows participants to engage with the exhibit by encouraging them to share memories as they touch replicas of items in the exhibit, listen to music relevant to the exhibit, and answer questions that are about what they are feeling and listening to. They also received cards with pictures from the exhibits they could bring back with them as a reminder of their visit they can share with their loved ones. Each program is different in each exhibit, and when there was a new exhibit a program needs to be developed. In an exhibit Long Island in the 60s, I was assigned to download music that were relevant to the exhibit and print out pictures to create the cards. Also, at the end of the program we set up snacks and drinks for participants and caregivers to enjoy before leaving the Museum.
On the administrative side of my role, I was in charge of the volunteer program for larger school programs. I created the schedule for volunteers participating in most education programs based on availability, and distribute them to volunteers, add to online Master Calendar (Google Calendar), and in art room where we meet for programs. The majority of the volunteers were retired so they were able to volunteer during the day when the school programs were scheduled. Some of the volunteers participated in the Long Island division of Retired Senior Volunteer Program (R.S.V.P.), and are using their experience at the Museum to record their hours on sheets that I sign off on and I send them in the mail at the end of the month to the person in charge of volunteer hours at R.S.V.P.
In addition to running the volunteer program for school programs, I also worked on a number of administrative tasks with the rest of the education department to keep it running at the Museum. I coordinated the assembly and distribution of brochures for school, children’s, and public programs. In addition to assembling the brochures, creating address labels and post marking the brochures, I also worked on maintaining an updated list of teachers and other personnel for school brochure mailings by researching school lists in Suffolk and Nassau Counties. Also, I answered phone calls from teachers interested in school programs and organizations interested in group tours, and booked school programs and group tours using the Microsoft Office Suite to record the necessary information such as contact information and type of program; then once the information is gathered, I would update the Master Google Calendar to let the rest of the Museum staff know what is going on for that date. Depending on the program, I would also schedule volunteers to educate the school group and I would schedule a volunteer to lead a group tour depending on their availability.
I also assisted in logistics for school programs especially for programs with volunteers led stations. I was one of the educators that kept an eye on the school buses arriving to the Museum to make sure that they were arriving in the right parking lot for where the program was taking place. Also, I met with the teachers to check the school groups in and collect order forms and money for gift shop items they picked out before their arrival; I made sure that the gift shop items arrived to the administration office so they can be delivered to the kids at the end of the program. Once the kids were given the introduction in the program, the kids were split up into different groups and I would be one of the educators to make sure that each station ends on time for the switch. In addition, I also ordered and kept track of the school programs supplies inventory.
Every time I look back on this experience, I am always amazed by how much I did with the Museum while I was there. I also learned more about the administrative side of running the education department, and what it was like to work on projects in a larger museum than I was used to in historic house museums. The experience also inspired me to continue to learn about the administrative side of museum education. I will continue to share memories from my Long Island experiences in future blog posts.
In the meantime, next week I will be sharing my experience at the New England Museum Association’s virtual conference.
Normally I would be posting a blog post on Thursdays but today I decided to write a short post in addition to my Thursday post because I had a number of thoughts as I remember the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I read various articles today about remembering those attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the people who have lost their lives on that day. I saw comparison pictures of the New York City skyline and area the day of the attacks and what they look like today. It is hard sometimes to think that it had been so long ago, and yet it felt like it had been a short time ago at the same time. Eighteen years later, I can still vividly remember where I was when I learned about the news and saw the attacks on the television. When the attacks happened, I was in middle school in my hometown of Franklin, Massachusetts and I was in class as I learned about what was happening in New York City. Even though we were in the middle of a history lesson, my teacher turned the television on so my classmates and I can learn about what is going on as it happened. I remember talking about what happened with my mother and sisters after school on the ride home, and later watching the news coverage.
Now that I live on Long Island, New York, I see more of how New Yorkers felt on that day and how they remember. I am also happy about how many people are able to help those in need on that day and even now as 4,000 New York volunteers board the Intrepid to pack a million non-perishable meals for New York families and 100,000 non-perishable meals for victims of Hurricane Dorian (according to an article I read on amny.com released the day before). These actions remind me of how our country, even as it faces so much over the past few years, can still come together to remember and help others. I am happy that we still commemorate this day to remind us of not only what happened and those who have lost their lives on that day but those men and women in the police and fire departments, and volunteers, who worked hard to save lives. I will never forget!
Below I have included articles I have read today and the 9/11 Memorial Museum website for more information:
One of my previous blog posts had my memories of visiting the Salem Witch Museum as Historical Society Club Treasurer in college, and to learn more about the experience check out the link here after reading this post. Another museum I visited during college was Springfield Museums which was not far from where I went to college in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Springfield Museums is in downtown Springfield and provides access to five museums under one admission. According to their website, the Museums inspire exploration of our connections to art, history and science through outstanding collections, exhibitions and programs. The mission was apparent during my visits to the Springfield Museums. My first visit was during another Historical Society trip, and the museums I remember visiting were the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts and the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History.
The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum is an art museum which holds the eclectic collections of George Walter Vincent Smith (1832-1923) and his wife, Belle Townsley Smith (1845-1928) in an Italian palazzo-style building established in 1896. Their collections include but not limited to examples of Japanese lacquer, arms and armor, ceramics and bronzes; and one of the largest collections of Chinese cloisonné outside of Asia. Also, the collection contains significant American 19th-century paintings (especially landscape and genre), Italian 19th-century watercolors, a fine assembly of Greek and Roman antiquities, a rare plaster cast collection, objects created for 19th-century International Expositions and examples of lace and early textiles.
The Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts was established in 1933 and located in an Art Deco style building. It includes a comprehensive collection of American, Asian and European paintings, prints, watercolors and sculpture and representative examples of drawing, furniture, metalwork, textiles, glass and ceramics. Inside the museum, it houses a comprehensive collection of European Art (French, Dutch, and Italian) and the Currier & Ives (active 1834-1907) Collection is the largest holdings of lithographs in the nation.
The Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History is known for its local history research facility. Also, the museum is known for its comprehensive program of changing exhibitions, its diverse educational offerings, and the wide-ranging collections that illuminates the history of the Connecticut River Valley.
I visited the museums not only as part of a Historical Society trip but for classes as requirements for my studies at college. I took a culture course on France and French Caribbean, and one of our assignments included a visit as a class to the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts to see and discuss the French art collection. Another course I took was an art course in which I visited the art museums to use resources available to complete assignments.
At each visit to Springfield Museums, I visited the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. The Garden celebrates Theodor Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, in the city in which he was born and raised. After Dr. Seuss’ death, his wife, Audrey, authorized the museums to create the memorial which features bronze sculptures of his characters. At the time of my visits, it was the only connection to Dr. Seuss that the museums had in its campus. When I was still a college student, they were still working on establishing a museum dedicated to his life and work.
Now there is a museum called The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum that is devoted to Dr. Seuss. According to the website, it features family friendly, interactive exhibits that explores his Springfield roots and provides opportunities to experiment with new sounds and vocabulary, play rhyming games, and invent stories. The museum also features a recreated studio and living room of Geisel’s, and never been publicly displayed art, family photographs, and letters.
Since there is so much to see, I did not see everything in the museum system. For instance, I have not seen exhibits in the Springfield Science Museum. It houses permanent collections of Natural Science, Anthropology and Physical Science. The Science Museum also includes Seymour Planetarium which consists of the historic Korkosz Starball, the oldest operating star-projector in the United States. I recommend if one can do so to visit the Springfield Museums and see the vast collections; be sure to dedicate a lot of time to see as much as possible.
Here is another entry for the Museum Memories series which are blog posts about my experiences working in the museums.
The Museum Memories post this week is my experience at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society in Connecticut. According to its website, the mission of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is to engage citizens by preserving and sharing history, promoting literacy and advocating greater cultural understanding. It is located in the restored 18th-century birthplace and childhood home of Noah Webster who was the creator of the first American dictionary and the Blue-Back Speller, a teacher, a lawyer, and early abolitionist. The Blue-Back Speller, also known as the Americas Spelling Book, was published for students to use in their classrooms to learn the alphabet and how to spell words. After meeting with the Director of Education and reuniting with a colleague from Connecticut’s Old State House who is now the Executive Director, I was brought in to work at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.
I began working at the Noah Webster House after I graduated from Central Connecticut State University with my Masters degree in Public History, and I continued to work at Connecticut Landmarks in addition to this position. I taught school programs in colonial dress that were on site and at schools in Connecticut. Museum Teachers who taught school programs at the Noah Webster House received a binder of lesson plans. When I started I utilized the binder to get background information to use in programs, and I followed veteran museum teachers for a few programs to see different ways they executed the programs. Also, I went through the clothing supplies to see which costumes would fit and once I found the right outfit I continued to wear it in each program I taught.
Before the school groups arrived, we discuss as a group what station each of us would like to start then each museum teacher is given a schedule with times we should spend at each station (that we adjust based on when the school groups arrive). At the start of each onsite school program, teachers, chaperones, and students are greeted by the museum teachers and Director of Education and they are introduced to what they should expect during the program. Then students are split into groups and are sent with each museum teacher to the station. During the program, we follow the rotation based on where we started and follow the route until we visited each room so we do not end up in the same room at the same time. What we teach in each room for the most part depended on what program is scheduled for that morning.
The programs I taught during onsite school programs at Noah Webster House that were the most popular were Sampler of Early American Life and A Day of Living History. In the Sampler of Early American Life program, students have the opportunity to explore the historic house and learn about colonial clothing, foods, and medicines, while also trying their hand at 18th-century “women’s” and “men’s” work in each of the rooms of the house. Teachers also have the opportunity to add on either the Colonial Schoolhouse or Hearth Cooking to their students’ experience. In the museum part of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, there is a reproduction of a one-room school house that each museum teacher including myself bring students in to talk about and demonstrate what going to school was like back in the 1700s. Also, we have a recreation of an 18th century kitchen we use to have students help create flatjacks and the museum teachers cook the flatjacks over the hearth.
In the A Day of Living History program, students research and play the roles of families who lived in Noah Webster’s neighborhood in 1774. When students arrive at the house, we each play a role of who they were back in 1774 and the museum teachers as their 18th century counterparts tell them that Mrs. Webster would like some help with chores to prepare for that day’s dinner (or lunch in the 21st century). The students moved around the house as they did chores, attended school, learned how to dance, play games, and cooked their lunches they will have at the end of the program. One of my favorite aspects of this program, and the Sampler program, is cooking over a hearth because it allows the students to see how their hard work pays off when they share what they made together; each group has the opportunity to add ingredients to vegetable stew and hoecakes, and churn butter to spread on top of the hoecakes. Everyone, including teachers, museum teachers, and chaperones, gets an opportunity to try vegetable stew, hoecakes and butter. Also, I always got a kick out of playing my 18th century counterpart not only because I can work on utilizing my old acting skills but when I was assigned to the counterpart she was a 50 year old widow who took care of her son and his children; at the time I was in my 20s so the kids would always get confused when I talked about my grandchildren, and I would be laughing on the inside.
I also traveled to schools in Connecticut to teach pre and post visit programs so we would know how much the students know before coming and after their visit. Plus I taught a colonial summer program that would last at least a week where kids learned colonial crafts, completed chores, cooked corn chowder, play games, explored Noah Webster’s house and garden, and learning about farm life at Westmoor Park including taking care of barnyard animals. My experiences have been valuable to me as I look back on my time at the House. I learned more skills including learning how to cook more recipes over a hearth and colonial dancing, and these skills I still remember today (it is good to know that if the power goes out and I don’t have a gas oven I will know how to cook over a fire).
If you have any questions about my experience, please contact me on my Contact page.
To learn more about the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, please visit their website.
In previous blog posts, I started a series of posts sharing memories of museums I have worked at. This week I am continuing this series to share my memories at Connecticut Landmarks where I started to work from towards the end of graduate school to when I moved to Long Island. Connecticut Landmarks, originally known as Antiquarian and Landmarks Society, is a state-wide network of eleven significant historic properties that span four centuries of New England history. It’s mission according to their website is to inspire interest and encourage learning about the American past by preserving selected historic properties, collections and stories and presenting programs that meaningfully engage the public and our communities. I worked as an educator and tour guide of two historic houses in Hartford, the Butler-McCook House & Garden and the Isham-Terry House.
The Butler-McCook House & Garden was home to four generations of a family who participated in, witnessed, and recorded the evolution of Main Street between the American Revolution and the mid-twentieth century. At this historic house, I sold admission, gave an introduction to the history of Hartford and the family who lived in the house, and provided a tour of the first and second floor of the house. There are a number of things I have enjoyed sharing about the house; for instance, there is a Bierstadt painting of an Italian village which reminded Reverend McCook and his wife of their honeymoon. Also, I loved sharing and listening to audio recordings of Frances McCook, one of Reverend McCook’s children, who shared memories of living in Hartford, in the house, and her family. Frances was the last living member of the McCook family who lived at the house, and she put in her will that the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society will own the house after her death. In the recordings, for instance, she talked about watching the snow come down with her siblings during the Blizzard of 1888.
In addition to sharing the information about the house with visitors, I also taught school programs, assisted with set up in gallery for monthly Cultural Cocktail Hour, and guided visitors through the garden during the Garden Gala. During my time at the Butler-McCook House, I was a part of the team that worked on revamping the tours by picking a theme of the house and researching the theme for a more engaging visitor experience. Each of us picked one theme to research on our own to present to the rest of the Connecticut Landmarks team, and I chose the Industrial Revolution and its impact on Hartford and the family.
The purpose of the theme I chose for a new tour was to show the Industrial Revolution had an impact on the city of Hartford especially on its residents including the Butlers and the McCooks. I chose five key objects that will support the theme and its purpose including Tall Case Clock which was made approximately 1750 by Benjamin Cheney, and this is an example of a locally made piece that was made before the Industrial Revolution to show the differences between craftsmanship and factory made items. Another example of a key object was the Mill Ledger C, 1818-1826 which was John Butler’s, one of the family’s ancestors’, ledger which recorded payments to men and women who labored in his paper mill; this revealed what the employees were paid for their labor in early industrial work. After selecting key objects, I chose key documents and photographs then created a tour outline highlighting the narrative relevant to the Industrial Revolution theme. While I worked at the Butler-McCook House, I also provided tours and worked programs for the Isham-Terry House.
Isham-Terry House, the lone survivor of a once vibrant Hartford neighborhood, is a time capsule of the genteel lifestyle of turn-of-the century Hartford once owned by the Isham family filled with objects of historical, artistic and family significance including antique furnishings, decorative arts, rare books, and the Terry clocks made famous by their great uncle Eli Terry. Like the Butler-McCook House, there are so many things that I found both interesting and enjoyed sharing with visitors. In this Italianate house, I loved pointing out the high ceilings not found in a lot of modern homes today and each room held numerous treasures that were well-preserved thanks to the two sisters Julia and Charlotte Isham, who like Frances McCook left the house to the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society after they passed away. One of my favorite rooms was the library with so many books and an impressive fireplace; it once had the Isham’s pet bird that they once kept in their fridge after its death and the sisters decided one day to go to the cemetery to bury the bird with their family and have a picnic. Another room I admired was once a ladies’ sitting room that was converted into the sisters’ brother, Dr. Oliver Isham’s, doctor’s office, and once he died the sisters basically locked the door which meant it was for the most part preserved as it was while Dr. Isham was alive. While I was at Isham-Terry House, I not only gave tours of the house, I also assisted with holiday tours, and a lecture and tour for nursing students.
Both of these historic houses have unique stories to share and I recommend visiting these places if one has the opportunity to do so. These houses also are a part of my journey as a museum educator where I both learned a lot about the significance of local history and practiced what I have learned from graduate school in museum education, history, and historic preservation. Each experience I have had has taught me so much, and I hope to carry on the lessons I’ve learned through current and future endeavors.
On April 15, 2019, I saw a Tweet from ABC News that shared a video link to the live coverage of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral that occurred as renovations were worked on. In addition to the many people in France and around the world, I was affected by the news in a number of ways. From a personal perspective, I have always wanted to someday travel to Paris to visit the most known buildings including the Notre Dame Cathedral. As a child, I watched Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame which was my first exposure to Notre Dame, the novel, and media interpretation of French history.
When I was in middle school, I started to take French classes. In eighth grade, I had the opportunity to join my classmates for a trip to Quebec and Quebec City. My classmates and I went to meet our French Canadian pen pals we were writing to during our classes. We stayed at the Chateau de Frontenac and in addition to meeting our pen pals in person we explored the city and province learning about its history. After this experience, I continued to learn French in high school and took a France and French Culture class in college. I hoped that one day I would be able to have a similar experience when I go to Paris. During the live coverage, the memories from school and the Quebec trip flashed through my mind. At the time, I had the scary thought of what would happen if the fire was not put out in time. I am happy that the fire was put out, and I hope that Notre Dame will continue to awe and inspire many Parisians, French persons, and people around the world.
As a public historian and a museum professional, I understand the significance of what was lost in the fire and the challenges that arise during and after a fire. The cathedral is a 13th century building that was restored a number of times over the centuries, and once we lose a part of history no matter the effort we put in to recreate it we would not be able to get it back. We should not take for granted the history that is left behind, and our work as historians preserving historic places and collections is significant in keeping history around for future generations to understand our past. When I watched the live coverage, I posted on Twitter expressing my sadness for what was lost:
This is heartbreaking! I hope everyone is safe from the fire. I can imagine how much time, money, and dedication it will take to restore this cathedral after this sad event. #publichistory #MuseumEdChat #History #NotreDame
I kept myself up to date on the news of Notre Dame and the efforts that are made to protect its history. I read articles and posts from a number of outlets such as the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and National Public Radio. One of the posts from the Art Newspaper, for example, revealed that there were a number of items from Notre Dame’s collections were retrieved from the cathedral. In the article, Anny Shaw wrote that some of the most valued objects including Holy Crown of Thorns, believed to have been placed on Jesus’s head during his crucifixion, and the 13th-century tunic of Saint Louis were stored at the Hotel de Ville overnight then transferred to the Louvre for safe keeping. These articles and the reactions from people on the internet about this tragedy reveal what connects us all together.
The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral reminds all of us that we have a connection to old places and we should come together to help preserve them. In an article from National Trust for Historic Preservation called “Why the Cathedral of Notre Dame Matters”, Thompson Mayes recounted his own reaction to the fire and reminded readers that the Notre Dame serves as a French national identity as well as a witness to numerous events in history for centuries. Mayes also pointed out that
We feel this loss because we recognize these places do something few other things can. They remind us that we are all part of humanity and the world. They expand our notion of ourselves beyond our treasured individual memories and national identity to give us an expansive sense of shared humanity around the globe. Notre Dame reminds us that we are collectively part of a continuum across the generations, past, present, and future, and across the world.
I have seen a number of examples of museums share their empathy for the French people. For instance, I saw a statement from the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut post on their Facebook page written in both English and French to reach out to the French people to express their empathy especially since they are going through their own path of disaster recovery and the importance of historic places. I have listed relevant links about Notre Dame in the resources section I have been reading to keep myself informed. I hope that someday we will look back at this moment and see it as a part of its long history it has survived. In the meantime, I will watch for news coverage and articles on the restoration and preservation efforts of Notre Dame.
A couple of weeks of ago I wrote about my memories of an internship I did with Connecticut’s Old State House. To continue the series of museum memories of my career, I started a museum educator position at the historic house museum, Stanley-Whitman House, in Farmington Connecticut while I was earning my Master’s degree in Public History at Central Connecticut State University. Stanley-Whitman House, according to their website, is a living history center and museum that,
teaches through the collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington. Programs, events, classes, and exhibits encourage visitors of all ages to immerse themselves in history by doing, acting, questioning, and engaging in Colonial life and the ideas that formed the foundation of that culture.
It is located in the historic center of Farmington, and centered on the ca. 1720 National Historic Landmark house which is furnished with period antiques to reflect the everyday activities of Colonial life in Connecticut. Outside the house, there are period raised bed gardens, an apple orchard, and heritage stone walls. In 2004, the museum added a building that houses public service areas including a modern classroom, a period tavern room, post-and-beam Welcome Center, research library, exhibit gallery, and collection storage area.
While I was working as a museum educator at the House, I got to wear a costume in which I taught education programs for school groups between kindergarten and fifth grade. The programs I taught focused on educating students about life in the Colonial era and about the Native American life in Colonial Farmington. Each program had different stations the students spent time learning various aspects of colonial life, and rotated throughout the house and history center. For older students, I taught them how to cook recipes and I demonstrated how the food was cooked over the hearth.
During these programs, I learned early on about the importance of flexibility. School buses do not always arrive on time so when school groups arrive late myself and other educators have to modify our lessons to make sure the students get as much out of the program as possible. I also learned about how to handle the unexpected. When a group of fifth graders were acting up during a cooking lesson and after a number of times we told them to behave, one of the students got hurt as a result so I quickly raised my voice so the entire group can hear me tell everyone to stop what they were doing. As I continued my career, I understood there will be times unexpected things will happen and I would need to be able to be quick on my feet to handle the situation.
In addition to educating school groups, I also worked on a couple of projects that not only contributed to the Stanley-Whitman House but also fulfilled my requirements in the Master’s program. For instance, I took a Curatorship course and one of the requirements was to create an exhibit for a museum or gallery with classmates. A couple of classmates and I decided to work on an exhibit for the Stanley-Whitman to go along with their symposium In Plain Sight which focused on the history of slavery in Connecticut before the 1790 census. We used the resources available in the Stanley-Whitman House’s collections in the lower levels of the history center to research the slaves who lived in Farmington. According to the summary I wrote about the project, once we completed the research
The next steps for the exhibit were discussed during one of our group meetings after we shared what we found in our research. For instance, we discussed editing the biographical information found before creating the text panels. Then we discussed the possibility of adding some photographs related to slaves in Farmington and where they lived in the town. Once the exhibit is set up, we will be able to fulfill the Stanley-Whitman’s house mission for the symposium and our experiences in curatorship.
Another example of a project I worked on for the Stanley-Whitman House and as a requirement for my Master’s program was a capstone project as a final requirement for earning my degree.
I created a lesson plan according to the requirements of Teaching with Historic Places which uses historic places in National Parks and in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places to enliven history, social studies, geography, civics, and other subjects to help teachers bring historic places into the classroom. According to the abstract I created for my capstone project
It focuses on eighteenth century New England women and it takes a specific look at the lives of two women who lived in the Farmington, Connecticut, Mary Steele Smith and Susannah Cole Whitman. Both were economically comfortable, two white New England women who were members of the First Congregationalist Church, but the lesson includes background information about the history of Farmington and about women of different social and economic status to inform students that not every individual who lived during the eighteenth century lived the same way Mary and Susannah lived. This lesson plan will aid school-age children in becoming more aware of the study of Early American women’s history and its significance to the overall local and American eighteenth-century history.
After I completed the project, I submitted it to the committee for approval and I gave a copy for my academic advisor to keep for her records and for the director of the Stanley-Whitman House at the time.
My experiences at the Stanley-Whitman House were important to me because they were a part of the beginning of my career as a museum educator and the lessons I learned here I carry throughout my career. All of my memories at the museums I work with guide me through my career and help me become a better museum professional.
Announcement: After next week, I will not be posting new material for the blog because I am going to focus more on my wedding planning since my wedding is a month away. I will try to share previous posts when I can.
I recently have thought about the reasons why I started writing this blog, and one of those reasons was to remember my experiences in the museum field. Each museum I have worked for or done projects with has opened up doors for many opportunities to learn and grow in my career, and I thought that if I share some of my memories of these experiences another museum professional would be able to benefit from them. For this week, I decided to write about some of them at Connecticut’s Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Old State House’s mission is to reawaken citizen engagement and awareness by offering an authentic, educational and inspiring visitor experience by putting ideas on display in historic rooms that celebrate democracy and citizenship from the past and present. While I was in graduate school earning my Master’s degree in Public History, I got the opportunity to complete an internship with Connecticut’s Old State House.
For one of my assignments, my classmates and I interviewed suggested professionals in the public history field and learn what we could about their experiences in the careers relevant to the interviewees’ career path. Then after we had the interviews we were to write about them and what we learned from their experiences. Since I expressed interest in the museum field as I started the graduate program, I decided to interview Rebecca Taber-Conover who is currently Head of Public Programs & History Day. I met her at the Old State House and asked her about her experiences in the museum field as well as any advice she could give me. At the end of the interview, she told me that there was an opening for an internship and I decided to join them for a summer internship for museum education.
On the first day of the internship, I joined the education team as they taught one of the last school programs of the school year. The school brought over a hundred students of varying grade levels between kindergarten and fifth grade and they were split into groups to explore the Old State House. The group I assisted the educator with was with kindergarten children. We helped the kids create spyglasses using paper towel tubes to use as part of the “I Spy” program where the kids can walk around the Old State House and point out what they “spy” in each room they visited.
During the rest of the internship, I sat in on staff meetings to find out what common questions were asked during tours we did not already have answers for and I used those questions to do research to answer them. I regularly visited the Connecticut State Library to do research, and recorded answers into the Google Doc so we would be able to answer them in the future. Also, in the meetings I also learned about the Farmer’s Market and what goes into planning it. According to the website, the goal of Connecticut’s Old State House Farmer’s Market is
to offer a variety of products from as many farmers and artisan vendors as possible within the available space. We are committed to offering a vibrant marketplace in downtown Hartford where local farmers and artisans can enjoy coming together with the community to share the “best” of what Connecticut has to offer!
At the Farmer’s Market, I handed out flyers for upcoming programs for Connecticut’s Old State House dressed in an eighteenth century style dress. One of the programs that I also sat in on and assisted with is called Conversations at Noon.
Conversations at Noon is a series that provides opportunities to hear about relevant topics about Connecticut history and current events during lunch time at the Old State House. For instance, a couple of the topics covered in previous conversations include “Did Hartford’s Constitution Plaza Hurt or Help the City?” and “Exploring Connecticut and the Slave Trade”. It is also aired on Connecticut Network (CT-N) and on their website. At the Conversations at Noon, I distributed the surveys on how to improve the quality of the series and collected them for review. I also provided tours for visitors during its open hours.
Each tour started with an introductory video that gives an overview of the history of the Old State House. Then once the video has ended I guided groups through unique exhibits including the Museum of Curiosities, and the historic rooms. The Museum of Curiosities started as a portrait studio by Reverend Joseph Steward inside the Old State House in 1796, and a year later a “Curiosity Room” was established which featured wonders and treasures around the world. Another favorite part of the tour was the statue of Lady Justice which was on top of the Old State House in 1827. Also during my internship, I developed a scavenger hunt for children to search for animals painted on the walls of the Education Center.
This internship was an important experience because it was at Connecticut’s Old State House where my passion for museum education developed and my career in museum education began. I am especially grateful for the experiences I had, the memories I developed, and the opportunities that led to where I am today.
What was your experiences like in your internships?