Education at BHS: CASA/Young Curators at PS 32

The Young Curators is an after-school program led by Brooklyn Historical Society educators guiding students through a themed investigation of their school’s neighborhood using primary sources from BHS’s collection and other resources. Based upon their given theme (i.e. Colonial Brooklyn or the Evolution of East New York), students create a three-panel exhibit that is eventually displayed at their school. Students write the text, recreate images through drawings, and choose images like maps and portraits to be included. They even work with a graphic designer for the colors, fonts, and design of each panel. This post is by BHS educator Charlotte Martin.

CASA/Young Curators at PS 32, Spring 2014On the last day of Young Curators at PS 32, after students finished editing their exhibit panel text and writing captions for their panel images, I asked the young curators—fourth and fifth graders, some on the autism spectrum—what they are most proud of from their time in the program. I realized that I wanted to know not just what they enjoyed about the program or what information they learned. I wanted to know what made them stick with the program and what positive impact would stick with them, if any.

Almost all of the students mentioned something about being proud of learning about the history of their own neighborhood—the area around the Gowanus Canal. I saw this, too, in an anecdote one student shared with me earlier that session, about how he and his mom had noticed for the very first time an old church while walking nearby. It was the first thing he told me that day, and he shared how they talked about why it was made of brick and why there are so many other buildings nearby from the late 1800s that are also made of brick. I was thrilled to see this student so excited about exploring his neighborhood in the context of its history and change over time.

A few of the students also expressed pride in the process: that they “did research” or that they “made more than one thing.” They seemed to feel a sense of accomplishment in their work and their creation. Going into the program, I did not know specifically what aspect of Gowanus’ history we would focus on or even what artifacts I would show them beyond the first couple of introductory sessions on change over time (using the transformation of the Gowanus Creek into the Gowanus Canal, visible in maps and other primary sources). Rather, I used their questions and ideas to determine what primary sources I would find and bring in for them to investigate; in this way, the students were in control of the direction of the research. For example, our field trip to the Hall of the Gowanus by Proteus Gowanus (housed in the former National Packing Box Factory) sparked their interest in manufactured gas plants, which I had not thought to focus on beforehand, but which would become one of the three main panel topics.

CASA/Young Curators PS 32 Winter/Spring 2014It was also up to the students to interpret the sources, and I experimented with a variety of approaches and configurations—individual, paired, and group work—to try to accommodate the curators’ diverse learning styles. I employed multiple modes of object inquiry, in the hopes of reaching students who learn best when discussing in pairs or writing ideas or drawing or imagining, while pushing the others to try a new approach. When wrapping up our study of the Coignet Building—an unusual historic site on 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street, surrounded by Whole Foods—I laid out our pieces of evidence and the students worked through the mystery of how and why the building went from famous showpiece of one of the earliest examples of concrete to seemingly abandoned and forgotten building. Students conjured their own visions for the future of the building, agreeing that making it into some sort of museum would be ideal.

On a trip to Brooklyn Historical Society, the young curators sat in the library and observed real historic images (I could bring only copies to their school), and one student who has difficulty with focus and some verbal communication leaped at the chance to decipher the handwriting on a postcard from 1917. The writer’s note about her trouble sleeping led the students to imagine what could have prompted this trouble (was it the canal’s stench?), and to consider more deeply how life and work near the canal might have been in that time period. Putting this postcard in the context of the waterway’s changing shape and life around it inspired the panel topic of Canal Life. Why, the students wondered, would anyone, much less immigrants from around the world, choose to work and live near a body of water so renowned for its stench?

The comment on the last day that struck me most, though, went something like this: “A lot of times, we have projects and our parents always want to help and say ‘I’ll do this; I’ll help with this,’ but I’m proud that we did this on our own.” Other students nodded along. My main goal as an educator is to empower learners of all ages and abilities to recognize and act upon opportunities for learning in all aspects of their lives. I had struggled with this ideal throughout the planning and teaching process for Young Curators, but all of my approaches (even the less successful ones, like writing as a whole group) were geared toward this goal. I am so pleased that these young curators are already extending their learning outside the program and are confident in their autonomy as learners and their abilities to complete complex projects.

I cannot wait to check in with them and see what more they uncover without me!

Charlotte Martin, Educator

PS 32 Young Curators
Winter/Spring 2014

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Photo of the Week: Autumn Harvest Season

[Farmhouse and factory in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn], ca. 1885, V1974.28.70; Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island lantern slide collection, ARC 195; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Farmhouse and factory in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn], ca. 1885, V1974.28.70; Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island lantern slide collection, ARC 195; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Fall happens to be my favorite season of the year.  I especially enjoy it in Brooklyn and the Northeast because of the Autumnal colors after a sun-bleached summer and before a dishwater grey winter.  As you roam around Brooklyn this week, you might also notice the many sukkahs on the balconies of Jewish families in neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Midwood, and Crown Heights.

Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kippur and lasts for seven days (October 8 to October 15).  It has dual significance: first to commemorate the 40 year period when Jews wandered the desert; and second as a celebration of the harvest season.  In the Northeast United States, it sometimes coincides with Halloween and Thanksgiving, too.  A sukkah is a temporary dwelling and in observance of the festival, Jews build or install a sukkah that has 2 ½ walls and decorated with the corn and squash that is in season at this time.  A sukkah does not have to have solid walls and should actually be sparsely decorated so that rain can get through but the inhabitants may also see the stars at night.

While I’m neither religious nor outdoorsy, it is fun to imagine myself collecting corn in the field pictured above and other regional vegetables from the farm next door to decorate my own sukkah.  In any case, Sukkot is a joyous occasion, much like the colors in the lantern slide above.

A lantern slide is a positive and transparent photograph on glass popular in the 19th century.  It was used like a slide show or Powerpoint presentation in a traveling presentation, sometimes referred to as a “magic lantern” show.  In the case of this slide, it was beautifully handcolored.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

 

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Map of the Month–October 2014

Railroad terminal map of New York Harbor, 1933. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Railroad terminal map of New York Harbor, 1933. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

October’s Map of the Month, “Railroad terminal map of New York Harbor” created by the Port of New York Authority in 1933, shows New York Harbor in all its early 20th century might. According to The Encyclopedia of New York, New York Harbor became the busiest port in the world around 1912 and remained so for the next 50 years.

This map is large at 44” x 37”, too large to include a reasonably good snapshot of the entire map online. Even so, I could not keep from sharing this map–it is too striking. This portion shown above can gives a sense of its visual impact.

The entire map shows railroad lines and waterfront terminals from Staten Island to the Bronx, and from East Orange, N.J. across Newark and Jamaica Bays to Flushing. The legend shows the industrial focus of this Port Authority map: waterfront terminals, types of rail yards, railroad stops and their load limits, tubes (i.e. railroad tunnels), ferries, and float bridges.

Here is a close-up showing Jersey City, lower Manhattan and Brooklyn:

Railroad terminal map of New York Harbor, 1933, detail. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Railroad terminal map of New York Harbor, 1933, detail. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

The Jersey City waterfront is nearly solid with rail terminals, with rail lines funneling in from the every part of the mainland, and the lower Hudson is crisscrossed with ferries between New Jersey and Manhattan.

So why is it that Brooklyn’s many waterfront terminals are not near rail yards? These terminals were rail-marine terminals which used a car-float system to transport railcars across the Harbor. If you look closely at the pier labels for the Wallabout, Jay Street or Fulton Terminal, you will see one labeled ‘FB,’ indicating the location of the float bridge. Cargo was unloaded into rail cars, and then driven rail cars over these bridges onto the car float and ferried across the Bay by tugboat to a another terminal directly connected to a rail line. Although Brooklyn’s terminals were predominately rail-marine terminals, the map shows all of the waterfront terminals had float bridges. The Harbor was busy with car float operations at this time.

Railroad terminal map of New York Harbor, 1933, detail. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Railroad terminal map of New York Harbor, 1933, detail. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

The rise of trucking for transport after World War II led to the demise of car float operations in the Harbor, and the shift to container shipping in the 1960’s meant the hub of operations would move to New Jersey with its spacious port facilities. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey runs the last float operation (now ferrying containers rather than rail cars) between Greenville Yards in Jersey City and the 65th Street Yard in Brooklyn. The Port Authority’s plan to develop the sites and increase capacity has recently been granted a fresh infusion of funding for its next phase. Who knows—perhaps one day the Harbor will recapture a tiny bit of its former industrial might.

Interested in seeing more maps? You can view the BHS map collection anytime during the library’s open hours, Wed.-Sat., from 1-5 p.m. No appointment is necessary to view most maps.

This map was cataloged with funding provided by a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) “Hidden Collections” grant.

 

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Brooklyn Bounty 2014 Taste Spotlight – Brooklyn Winery

In anticipation of Brooklyn Bounty, BHS’s premier fundraiser at 26 Bridge on October 22nd, we are profiling our participating restaurants and honorees of the Food & Heritage Awards. Below is a profile of Brooklyn Winery, one of the delicious participants in our evening’s tasting menu.

Photo by Rina Brindamour

“Our job is to make people happy.”

_____

Co-founders and wine entrepreneurs Brian Leventhal and John Stires have been working with grapes since 2010, when they opened one of the first hybrid winery and event spaces in Brooklyn, NY. Their interest in wine- making bloomed when John and Brian attended workshops in New Jersey, and eventually started making their own wines there. They were determined to bring the fun and detailed process of wine-making to Brooklyn, and have been successfully passing on their passion for wine for 4 years at the Brooklyn Winery. Not only do they make their wine on site, they also serve it at their wine bar, pair it with delicious food on their seasonal menu, and share it at celebrations when guests use their private event venue or take a wine class. Brian and John came into the wine industry from two very different backgrounds far from aged grapes. Who would have thought John and Brian would find their niche in wine after coming from the comic book world, finance industry, and as tech-start up partners?

Photo by Rina Brindamour

“We stay as true to the grapes as we can.”

_____

Brian and John get excited when the harvest season begins around September/October. A new shipment of grapes had just arrived the day before, and they were being washed and de-stemmed. A few days in the huge vats, and the grapes will be ready for yeast and more fermented love to transform them into a complex glass of wine.

I spoke with Brian and John about the interesting adjectives that wine tasters often use to describe their sip: “pencil shaving after taste, woody qualities, fruity tones, wet stone notes.” These descriptions are so specific to the taster and say a lot about the journey those little grapes took to become wine.

Brian explained that one element in changing the taste of your wine is the barrels used to age them. Similar to a well-loved cast iron skillet that changes the taste of food, a wooden barrel that has been used for many harvests past won’t give as much oak flavor to the grape as a barrel that is brand new. Brian, John, and their passionate wine maker Conor McCormack want to stay as true to the original identity of the grapes they harvest as they can. They support local NY farmers and want to let the farmers’ grapes shine through in that final bottle of wine.

“I remember when the first grapes arrived…”

_____

Brian and John shared with me that moment during the creation of Brooklyn Winery when they first stepped back and realized that all of their hard work had paid off: they had developed a successful company that was exactly what they wanted it to be. Brian still remembers when they got their first shipment of gbkwinery2rapes, “they were Finger Lakes chardonnay grapes,” and he could not wait to make the first batch. John fondly remembers the first bottle of wine they opened that was made from start to finish at Brooklyn Winery, and another favorite moment would have to be the first ever sale they made. Seeing the transaction and actually having a bottle leave the winery and go into the hands of a thirsty and happy customer was such a rewarding experience.

From 2010 to now, Brooklyn Winery has hosted hundreds of heart-warming weddings, gone through four sweet seasons of harvest, and opened thousands of bold bottles of wine. Brooklyn Winery’s small batch wines and big cases of dedication are an inspiration to the rich food culture that is growing in Brooklyn. We are thrilled to have them featured at Brooklyn Historical Society’s Brooklyn Bounty on October 22nd, pouring wine and serving a custom dish inspired by their seasonal menu just for us. They are constantly working to encourage a healthy work environment, to stay true to the original fruit foundation of wine, and to develop a conversation between the wine maker and taster in their open space for lovely events, wine production, and culinary discovery.

 

- – – Tickets for Brooklyn Bounty are still available! – – -

 

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Photo of the Week: Transformation & Discovery

Cortelyou Road and Flatbush Avenue, 1916, v1973.2.106; Brooklyn oversize 19th century collection, v1973.002; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Cortelyou Road and Flatbush Avenue, 1916, v1973.2.106; Brooklyn oversize 19th century collection, v1973.002; Brooklyn Historical Society.

As we should expect of our climate these days, the weather has been all over the place.  While I’m not one to complain about warm weather, sunny skies, and a gentle breeze, I have to admit I’m eager to don a cozy sweater, perhaps some light gloves, and to reacquaint myself with my tights collection.  I’ve always looked forward to Fall for the fashion magazines, new school supplies, any sort of change.  It seems to be a time to reboot after an enjoyable summer and explore new things –instigated by a new school year and another set of curriculum goals.

The photograph above strikes me as a confluence of summer and discovery.  The tree on the right side of the photograph seems to have the steps of a tree house where the owner probably spent many an afternoon lazing about in it observing the world from that perch.  It could still be a lazy summer day or have the first whiff of cooler weather.  Nevertheless, let me be sure to point out that this is the corner of Cortelyou Road and Flatbush Avenue in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn.  We’ve all heard of Flatbush – crazy drivers, lots of stores, double parking, people everywhere.  Even my Great Aunt in Ohio heard of Flatbush and told me to avoid it.

Dutch settlers began purchasing tracts of land in the area now known as Flatbush from the Lenape Indians by the end of the 1630s. In 1652, Peter Stuyvesant granted inhabitants a patent, and the town of Vlacke Bos or Midwout (later Anglicized to Flatbush), was established, becoming one of the six original towns in what would later becoming the borough of Brooklyn (the other five are Flatlands, Bushwick, Brooklyn, New Utrecht, and Gravesend).  In 1683, the six towns became part of Kings County, established by the British after taking over New Netherlands from the Dutch. In 1898, Brooklyn consolidated as a borough within New York City.  For most of that time, Flatbush was a prosperous farming area. Over the twentieth century, it transformed into one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Interested in more Flatbush facts?  Check out our many archival collections on the topic and our online exhibit An American Family Grows in Brooklyn.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

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