Summary Post

Looking back upon the last two weeks, I can honestly say that I have a much better appreciation for New York’s nickname, the “Empire State.”  Regardless of whether we found ourselves in New York City, another decent size metropolitan area, or any one of the numerous small towns that dot the landscape between Canada and Pennsylvania, we simply could not escape the feeling of tremendous organization, and that commerce was at the center of it all. In many ways, history is the study of change, how and why it occurred, and what the effects of the change have been.  And so we are faced with the dilemma with which many New Yorkers throughout the state battle, to preserve or to progress.

The trip could be split into two main categories, New York City and Upstate New York.  One of the greatest cities the world has ever known, New York City had, until only recently, subscribed to the idea of progress at all costs. Ed O’Donnell pointed out that New York is a city which is constantly moving forward, reshaping itself and progressing into the future, often at the expense of preserving its history.  Historic buildings like the original Federal Hall were torn down in order to make room in the crowded landscape for newer, more useful structures.  The Lower East Side has changed so many times over the past two hundred years, lines of division are blurred by old and new writing on signs and building facades.  Once notoriously dangerous and filthy parts of the city like Harlem, The Bronx, and the Meat Packing District have been gentrified and are now among the safest, cleanest, and most sought after in the area.  This city, in many ways, is like no other in the world, and as we saw on this expedition, it is even unlike itself from only twenty years ago.  New York City has been at the front of the pack in our nation for many years, and it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

The other branch of our trip speaks to a much different part of New York.  The attitudes in most of the towns without a population density of 27,000 people per square mile are much different than in the city.  Here, a stroll down the sidewalk on Main Street takes you back to a much simpler time.  History is preserved in these towns without even trying, as they seem to prefer the slower, calmer way of life and see no need to destroy historical buildings and areas in the name of progress.  Progress, it would seem, is the last thing these people want, and so, history is preserved in their attitudes as well as their architecture.  Commerce, of course, is still the name of the game, but not at the speed with which it occurs in the city.  The Erie Canal helped bring worlds together just like the Brooklyn Bridge, but a slow cruise along its shores carries a much different feel than a hurried walk dodging bicycles across the promenade of the Great Bridge.

New York has played an integral role in shaping the history of the United States, and I believe it is safe to say that we would not be the empire we are today without all parts of the Empire State.

Published in: on June 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Day 13

This morning began what would be another long day of activities, after leaving Syracuse where we spent the night last night.  In Saratoga we picked up Jim Hughto, our tour guide for the day, and headed toward Fort Ticonderoga.  Along the way we were showed the short documentary, “Something More at Stake” in which Hughto himself played a small role as a reenactor.  We also began watching Mel Gibson’s epic, “The Patriot” despite the numerous inaccuracies that Hughto pointed out along the way.  Approaching the fort, we stopped first at the French lines, where in 1758 the French Army led by Montcalm successfully defended the fort against an invading British force which outnumbered the French by over four to one.  Hughto explained the significance of this battle, not only during the French and Indian War, but also as it influenced America’s war for independence.

After a quick walk from the French lines to the fort itself, we all ate lunch at the cafeteria, then went inside the walls for our tour.  It was very interesting to see how many times this stronghold changed hands in such a relatively short period of time.  Built by the French, it has since jumped back and forth between British, American, and Canadian rule several times.  I learned that after coming under direct attack six times, falling three and being successfully defended three, this fort stands alone in American history.  The museum on the third floor was remarkable, with numerous artifacts, explanations of events, and interactive displays.  The staff reenactors were fantastic as well, playing the roles of both French and American soldiers, they answered questions, volunteered information, and captivated us with amusing and exciting stories.  I am hopeful that the many pictures I obtained from the fort will help pass on this thrill to my students, and let’s be honest, pictures of cannons and stories of battles and famous Americans never fail to capture their attention.

The next leg of our journey involved a ride to Saratoga and a bus tour around the battlefield.  Once again, Hughto directed us with stories and facts as we looked upon the same paths soldiers and officers from both armies walked over two hundred years ago.  It was great hearing about the two separate battles that occurred here during the revolution, and about Benedict Arnold’s significance before his infamous traitorous activities took place.  My students are always fascinated by battle stories, and the pictures I took of the field and the maps I can now access on the Park’s website will add depth and illustration to my lesson plans.

Published in: on June 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Day 12

After an unnecessarily rushed departure from our Oneonta hotel, we left for a two and one half hour drive to Seneca Falls and the birthplace of women’s rights in the United States.  Our first stop at Women’s Rights National Historic Park was the visitor center and the Women’s rights museum where we found a good mix of historical and contemporary information on women’s issues.  Unfortunately the chapel was closed for renovations because it would have been exciting to see the meeting place of the first Women’s Rights Convention.  We were able to visit the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, where several rooms, devoid of furniture and relevance, captured the attention of some, while others wandered the property.  Our final stop pertaining to women’s rights was the M’Clintock House, a symbol of Quaker support for the movement and the place where the Declaration of Sentiments was written and where the first convention was planned.  Some of the information attained today will help me better explain gender issues and literature written in the Nineteenth Century.

Next, we grabbed a box lunch and quickly headed to Auburn where we received a private tour of the home of William Seward, a man known for an extraordinary political career, most notably his position of Secretary of State under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson.  Jennifer Haynes provided a quick introduction to the man and his family before we split into two groups and were led through the home and various exhibits.  The upstairs resembled more of a museum than a house, with rooms dedicated to Seward’s purchase of Alaska and his assassination.  The downstairs was dedicated to the preservation of the Seward home and to demonstrating what life would have been like for his family and the three generations which came after him.  After touring the house, I have a much better grasp of Seward the visionary, and the respect that other men had for him.  This information will greatly improve my discussion of United States territories in my civics and geography classes.

The Harriet Tubman museum was our next stop on this whirlwind tour, where we received a rushed, thirty minute background lesson on Tubman and her relevance on the Underground Railroad.  We were whisked through one building on the property, where a home for the elderly had been established before being loaded back onto the bus for the final stop on our journey.  A quick cruise up a portion of the Erie Canal was a relaxing end to such a hectic day.  Our boat, the Sam Patch, was named after a local daredevil who met his end after jumping from 125 feet into the Genesee River.  The cruise gave us all a better understanding of canal locks and how they operate, and I know that this one subject about which my students are always fascinated.  I’ll appreciate the photos I took even more when they start asking about the Eire, Panama, and Suez Canals in geography next year.

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 7:07 pm  Comments (1)  

Day 11

This morning’s trip to the National Baseball Hall of fame and museum was one of the most useful and entertaining of the entire trip.  We started off in the Bullpen Theater where Anna Wade of the museum’s educational department gave us a quick overview of the Hall of Fame itself and the requirements for induction.  I could have guessed some of the basics, but learning about the voting process was very interesting, and I can now see why some players’ admission is so controversial.  Anna turned us on to the amazing amount of resources they offer on their website including information, lesson plans, and even video conferencing opportunities.  I only hope that Pueblo City Schools will offer us the technology resources needed (and the paper copying requirements) we will need to utilize these tools.  After seeing an assortment of lesson plans on such topics as history, geography, math, and character development, I can’t wait to start planning some instruction for the upcoming school year.

When we were finally released to wander the museum on our own, the toughest decision was picking a place to begin.  A few of us started off on the third floor with the intention of working our way down.  This may have been a mistake, as the top floor provided so many great baseball artifacts that I spent over half of the allotted time there.  Filled with no hitter balls, championship rings, baseball cards and more, the third floor captivated my attention and soaked up a good portion of the day.  My favorite part of this section was probably the baseball card collection, where I found not only a 1909 Honus Wagner and other rare and ancient pieces, but also some great cards that I recognized from the 1980s that reminded me of my childhood and summers spent trading cards with my friends.  The second floor contained many great exhibits, such as “Viva Baseball!” a display revolving around Latinos players in the Majors, and rooms dedicated to Babe Ruth and Roberto Clemente.  The first floor was where most people start, filled with plaques from every hall of fame inductee, whether player, manager, or umpire.  The wealth of information found in this museum and its relation to American History in general will be both fun and useful as I head back to school in the fall.

Lunch at an overpriced deli and a stroll through the streets of Cooperstown occupied my time before we headed to the Fenimore Art Museum on the outskirts of town.  Here, we found a great collection of artwork pertaining not only to James Fenimore Cooper and his family, but to other artists of “Americana” working in all sorts of mediums as well.  The building itself was another work of art, with beautiful wood floors and intricate architectural detail throughout.  Two of my favorite exhibitions were the Watermark Collection by Michele Harvey and In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers.  Both gave powerful interpretations of the world around us, and I even purchased the companion book to In Our Time to help my students better understand American History through photographs.

The Cooperstown Farmers’ Museum was also a lot of fun.  We were able to watch a blacksmith and printer in action, and I got a tour of an early 19th Century farmhouse.  The tavern was another great source of hands-on history, but nothing compared to the baby animals at the kids’ petting zoo.  If there’s anything cuter than a goat baby, I’d love to see it!

Published in: on June 14, 2010 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Day 10

So our supposed 9:45am departure was exchanged today for the unholy hour of 8:15.  After loading our bags and butts onto the tour bus for the first time in a week, we were off to Sagamore Hill and the historic home of our coolest president, Theodore Roosevelt.  I believe this is the only house I’ve ever seen which contained a “woman cave” (as the rest of the house was all man) and even it contained two carnivorous animal skin rugs!  A stroll through the Roosevelts’ summer home is like going on an African safari, and the old world motif found throughout made me wish I had the money and the time of an Oyster Bay Roosevelt.  The tour guide from the National Parks Service kept us entertained with stories, first of young Theodore’s childhood in Manhattan, and later of the family man himself.  I had no idea that his father was the nurturer in the family, while his mother was the disciplinarian.  This quality was later paralleled by TR himself with regard to the woman he chose to be his wife and the mother of his children.  I had always heard about the man’s passion for reading, up to several book per day, but here we learned that this carried over into his parenting as well, as he forced his children to do the same, and to be prepared to discuss their topic over each evening’s meal.  Not only do our students have a lot to learn from this extraordinary man and his dedication to personal education, but I think we, as teachers, can take quite a bit from it as well.

Just down from the house I found the Theodore Roosevelt Museum, and the insurmountable task that this institution has before it.  How is it possible to encapsulate the life of such a complex and intriguing man in such a short exploration?  In short, it is not, but this museum does a fair and adequate job of at least highlighting some of the most important aspects of our beloved Teddy.  Filled with wonderful artifacts, poignant vignettes about his life at various stages, and beautiful works of art pertaining to the man and his accomplishments, I found the piece about his days as a rancher to be some of the most insightful.  Everyone has heard of his presidency, his victory at San Juan Hill, and the Panama Canal, but his formative years in the Dakota Territory provided a marvelous foretelling of not only his adventurous life to come, but of his character and moral fiber as well.  Of all the exhibits on display, I think his Rough Riders military uniform, custom made by Brooks Brothers, does the best job of symbolizing the dichotomy that was Teddy Roosevelt.

Published in: on June 13, 2010 at 8:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Day 9

Our final trip up the New York subway went far more smoothly (for most of us) than previous trips with our large group.  We arrived at the New York Historical Society, the oldest museum in the country, and were eventually shown to the room where we would receive our private instruction for the day.  After a brief introduction, we were whisked away by our tour guide, Richard, on a whirlwind tour of the thousands of artifacts in the museum’s collection.  Although he moved quickly due to our limited time, Richard gave us some great information on a handful of the pieces, and he led the group using the inquiry process with which we have become very familiar over the past week.  The most interesting pieces we viewed, in my opinion, were a set of “slave badges” issued to southern slaves in free territories to designate their status in society.  Richard eventually handed the tour over to Mia, who guided us through a great lesson where we each picked a different artifact and then observed it before writing a few guiding questions regarding how it related to slavery.  I picked a case of boot black which may or may have come from the antebellum era.  Regardless of the exact date of production, the images on the front of the box provided a fantastic indicator of white perceptions of black culture in the United States.  I will certainly be using this activity when having my students analyze primary source documents and artifacts from history, as writing their own questions is a great way to develop their higher order thinking skills and to further develop their ability to evaluate.

The “Slavery in New York” and “New York Divided” exercises provided other great tools we can use in the classroom.  Mia stressed the importance of observing an artifact before interpreting it, and how our first impressions are not always the most reliable.  She provided some wonderful background information on topics such as the Anti-Abolitionist Riots of 1834 and the emergence of New York’s black middle class in the early Nineteenth Century.  I can honestly say that I had no idea how entangled New York’s economy was with the southern cotton trade, where 38 cents of every dollar of profit earned from cotton stayed in New York.  After learning this, it becomes obvious why New Yorkers retained such pro-southern opinions in the years leading up to the Civil War, and then remained split during the war itself.  The investigative activity on Jacob Ellis (a/k/a William Dixon) was a great lesson for students which I can use in conjunction with the numerous other materials provided by the museum to promote the investigative process in the classroom.  Some of the other materials they generously provided include a DVD of multisensory activities and hundreds of primary source documents.

After a final cheese steak at a New York deli and a rather rushed stop at the Museum of Natural History, (I’ll have to peruse their website for a few lesson plans) I headed back downtown for a stop by the New York Stock Exchange where an old friend gave me a quick tour of the trading floor.  Ground Zero and the new building and memorial park currently under construction were my final stop before heading back to Brooklyn to catch up on some late-night blogging.  As great as our trip to the city has been, I can’t wait to head upstate tomorrow, especially to Sagamore Hill and the home of Teddy Roosevelt.

Published in: on June 13, 2010 at 7:21 pm  Comments (1)  

Day 8

Let me start off by thanking the Ellis Island Institute, Jessica and Dana, and the “Save Ellis Island” organization for the incredible day they planned for us.  As teachers, we are constantly getting suggestions from people and groups about how to improve our lessons; it’s great when those people go above and beyond to put the tools we need directly in our hands.  Thank you for doing just that.  After a quick ferry ride across the port and past the Statue of Liberty, we stepped off onto the same soil that millions of immigrants to this country did for over sixty years.  We started our study in the New Ferry Building and the exhibit “Future in the Balance: Immigration, Public Health, and Ellis Island Hospitals,” where some of the facts and stories many of us have been teaching for years were expanded upon and shown in a new light, as the presenters made the experience much more “hands on” than I could have hoped for.  I learned that the screening process consisted of two phases: medical and legal, and that the former involved psychological examinations as well as physical.  The learning activities were spectacular, and although I won’t have all the cool artifacts we got to play with, I can no doubt make due with photographs and documents, and I can use the investigative strategy they implemented in many other lessons.

The teaching with images lesson was wonderful as well, and I gained a new perspective on analyzing pictures and documents for all my lessons. (It seems that Jacob Riis wasn’t the only one staging photographs in those days!)  I was also made aware of my own ignorance when I heard that not only was Ellis Island not the only immigration processing center on the East Coast, but that not all those entering the United States through New York Harbor even stepped foot here.  It makes sense that the first and second-class passengers would have been treated better in those days, but I guess I had just always assumed that they got a special “check in” line like first class airline passengers do today.  I had no idea that the steamships would drop off the wealthier immigrants on the mainland first, then a separate ferry would shuttle the steerage group back to the island for processing.  How must it have felt to be so close to your new life, and then be taken a step backward before you could proceed?  Or, as for the 2% who were rejected, denied entrance entirely?

The tour of Ellis Island’s southern side and the unrestored hospital complex were great as well.  I have visited the museum many times, and although it is always an amazing and emotional experience, nothing beats seeing the unkempt buildings and smelling the decaying hallways to get an idea of just how much immigration to this country has changed in the last half century.  The areas not open to the public will ultimately be restored and at some point anyone visiting the island will get to see what we saw, (if the organization can raise the $300 million necessary for the renovation) but until then, we all get to brag about the behind the scenes tour we received.  My students will benefit as well, not only from the pictures I got on the hardhat tour, but from all the resources that were given to us as well.  The teacher resource packets and especially the jump drives loaded with pictures and documents will make scavenging for resources a thing of the past. I wish every tour we took ended with a gift as good as this one!

After touring the museum and a quick trip to Liberty Island, I continued on across the Hudson and into New Jersey.  Arriving at Liberty State Park, I spent the entire afternoon admiring the views of the city from a side I had never seen before.  Sorry Jonathan, but so far I think the best part of New Jersey is its proximity to New York. 🙂 Hoboken and Weehawken are great communities though, and the chance to see the famous Dueling Grounds where Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton was something I just couldn’t pass up.

Published in: on June 11, 2010 at 7:12 pm  Comments (1)  

Day 7

After a short subway under the East River, we were off on our third and final day of walking tours with Ed O’Donnell, this time of Manhattan’s Lower Eat Side.  The topic today was immigration, specifically the immigrant neighborhoods that were and are today smeared across this historic area of the city.  I was surprised to hear that 98% of those who arrived at Ellis Island made it through the screening process, and Dr. O’Donnell’s comment about how they would spend only a few hours there before spending possibly the rest of their lives in these neighborhoods really brought home (pun intended) the importance of the Lower East side.  Although the goal of most working class immigrants was to eventually work their way out of these places, they nonetheless found them a welcoming and (relatively) safe environment when they were fresh off the boat.  Maybe “established” is a better word to use than “safe,” as we all know of the astronomical crime rates in those days, but being surrounded by others who speak your language, share your culture, and probably arrived not long before you did, was at least one way to get your footing in a new and frightening place.

As we strolled through streets that have transformed over the years from Irish and German, to Italian and Jewish, and ultimately to Asian and Latin American, I was amazed at not only the shift in ethnicity, but in the overlapping of cultures as well.  It is remarkable today to see signs printed in English, Spanish, and (I assume) Chinese, sitting right next to a kosher deli and Italian Bakery.  Although many residents choose to stay close to family and others of a similar background, the strict walls of separation between these neighborhoods have been replaced by a gentle easement that never truly ends.  The Five Points neighborhood was a great example of this, with languages and pedestrians of all types now visible in an area that used to be off limits for a person of the wrong ethnic group.  Foley Square is now a lovely park with children of various races playing while parents mingle peacefully.  The notorious Mulberry Street of Jacob Riis fame bends quietly around a neighborhood that was once a slum filled with criminals, prostitutes, and shantytowns.

Although sensationalized, even in Riis’s day, the violence that was once prominent in this part of town is all but gone, and any visitor to New York who does not see this historic neighborhood is missing out not only on the history of the city, but on some of the best parts it has to offer to this day.  I cannot wait to use this example of urban development in my geography class, and to get my students thinking about how neighborhoods in Pueblo have changed as well, especially in the area around Bessemer.  The streets named after Czechoslovakian words in an area that is overwhelmingly Hispanic still confuse my students, and this should help illustrate the dynamic nature of cities for them.

Lunch at Katz’s Deli was a great way to wrap up a tour that ended in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, and the food was as good of a lesson as the visit.  You’d be hard pressed to find a better pastrami or corned beef sandwich anywhere in the world, and as I could not decide between the two, the Reuben Combo proved to be a carnivore’s dream.  (Sometimes Jonathan, I feel deeply, deeply sad for you, and the epicurean path you’ve chosen in this life.) 🙂

After lunch, we stopped off at the Tenement Museum, where we were shuttled into the tiny little rooms we have all read so much about.  Riis’s pictures really fail to capture the diminutive size of these dwellings, not to mention the ragged conditions of the rooms and buildings themselves.  At 325 square feet, it is hard to imagine a single person residing here, let alone the eight to thirteen that they averaged.  With five stories stacked atop one another, and four apartments in each, it makes understanding just “how the other half lived” almost unimaginable.  Combine the living quarters with a family’s place of business, and suddenly today’s middle schoolers might appreciate the homes and situations they have just a bit more.  Thanks Jonathan for posting the links to the tenement pictures and lesson plans; I’ll get some great material from those this year.

Published in: on June 11, 2010 at 5:47 pm  Comments (1)  

Michael goes to NY…–Valentines-Day#

Published in: on June 9, 2010 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

As long as we’re in New York…

Published in: on June 9, 2010 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment