Monday, July 25, 2011

Living Images in My World: A History Beneath Us

DC Community Heritage Project Teaches Local Students the Historical Value of Cemeteries

DCCHP Intern Bridget Sullivan made a site visit to learn more about one of this Summer's grantee projects, "Living Images in My World: A History Beneath Us - Forgotten Ground Across the River Creek." The project, sponsored by the Columbia Heights Youth Club in partnership with I Saw! The Experience of Learning in DC, uses cemeteries to teach students about local history, and primary source research. In this article Sullivan recounts her experience spending the day with the students and staff.

From the Historical Marker Database
Yesterday I had the opportunity to join I Saw! The Experience of Learning in DC for the day during their summer program, A History Beneath Us-Forgotten Sacred Ground Across the River Creek. During the four week program, junior high students work with high school leaders to research and create a documentary to restore the identities of African-Americans buried in the Old Methodist-Mount Zion and Female Union Band Cemetery.  The students have delved into the history of those interred in the cemetery, and the rich history of the surrounding location. Most of the research has been done with the help of educational partners within the DC community. 

My experience with the program began with a bus tour of the area surrounding the cemetery led by historian, Dr. C. R. Gibbs. Gibbs introduced a number of important African-American heritage sites in the immediate vicinity of the cemetery. This dynamic tour was educational, enlightening, and kept everyone moving despite the summer heat. The students had the opportunity to learn the significance of the cemetery and its residents in the context of the historic greater Georgetown neighborhood. 

After an impromptu visit to Dumbarton House, an historic house museum near the cemetery, the students had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Neville Waters. Mr. Waters discussed the continuing work of the Afro-American Bicentennial Corporation to restore the cemetery. The AABC fought to save the cemetery in the 1970s against a movement to remove the graves to other locations in order to make room for residential construction in the area. It successfully argued for the historical significance of the site and began the work to clean and restore the cemetery. 

Following this discussion, the students visited the cemetery, poured libations in memory of those buried there, and placed flowers on the graves. Overall, this was a great experience and showed great potential for the final documentary. The students are taking full advantage of these unique opportunities to learn about their heritage within the DC community. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sex, Scandals, and Social Media

First Event of the Fall 2011 Humanitini Series is a Big Hit

Last night, panelists Stef Woods, Peter Chirinos, Marc Sandalow, and Amy Argetsinger answered questions from moderator Amy Saidman and an engaged audience on sex, politics, and the media. Why do politicians think they can get away with saying one thing and doing another? What do we as a society find so intriguing about their missteps and disgrace? Is it news, or is it a guilty pleasure? Check out some of the images from the program which was held at Bar 7.

Amy Argetsinger of the Washington Post gets things started by addressing the newsworthiness of political sex scandals.

Journalist Marc Sandalow offered a list of past political sex scandals, and many from the audience immediately noticed that the chronicle was almost entirely composed of white men. What are some possible reasons for this apparent racial and gender imbalance?

The audience listened as therapist Peter Chirinos explained that political figures involved in sex scandals tend to get more satisfaction from their affairs the longer they persist.

Attorney and sex blogger Stef Woods asserted that Washington is still, in some ways, a very conservative city; uncomfortable with open discussions of sexuality.

There was plenty of time after the program for the audience to continue the conversation with the panelists over a beer - or, of course, a Humanitini!

The next Humanitini will be held on Wednesday, July 27 at Tabaq (1336 U Street, NW). The panelists will discuss the journey from gay and in the closet to activist for the LGBT community. Clarence J. Fluker of GLBT Affairs, Andrew Barnett of SMYAL, a representative from the Washington Blade, and Christopher Dyer of GLBT Affairs will be in attendance.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Soul of the City Students Tour U Street, Analyze Connection Between Art and Identity

Art Criticism Workshop Conducted by Local Artist Khánh H. Lê and Tour Led By Expert Guide Judith Bauer

This past week, the 2011 Soul of the City students continued their exploration of Washington, DC as a place to make a home. They heard from local artist Khánh H. Lê whose family immigrated to the United States from Vietnam. Lê says his works reflect his ambiguous relation to both Vietnamese and American culture. "Identity" writes Lê, "is the central theme of my works, and I examine it through the bits and pieces of my personal memory and the collective history of the two cultures."

Judith Bauer, who led the students up and down U Street, is an experienced tour guide and expert on the history of the corridor, once the hub of African American culture in Washington, DC. Despite decades of architectural and demographic changes the neighborhood still visibly retains much of the history cultivated during a time when this bastion of black middle-class values flourished in the shadow of Howard University. This heritage can be seen in the surviving African American owned businesses, preserved buildings such as the Prince Hall Masonic Temple and the Bowen YMCA, and Cultural Tourism DC's well demarcated walking tour.

Below are a few students' reactions to the sessions as recorded in their daily journals...

Q. Smith on Lê's family's struggle to gain a foothold in the United States after immigrating from Vietnam to St. Louis, Missouri...

He is from Vietnam, but was raised in America. When he first came to the US, he had nothing. His family only had two thousand dollars to spend, and his father bought a car with it. Then he went to college to be a computer programmer, and shortly after he dropped out. He then received a scholarship to become an artist.

Nateeka Lee on Lê's emotional connection to his work...

Khánh does not like showing his parents his art creations because when he was young his father use to say he should never show his emotions. His father said, “If I hit you, don’t cry.” Plus, he said his creations are personal to him.

Diamond Bynum on the U Street Tour and the African American Civil War Museum...

Mrs. Bauer was a great tour guide. She taught me a lot of stuff about how U Street came to be what it is today. When we went to the museum, Mr. Frank Smith taught us the real history of how the slaves were freed and the how the Emancipation of 1863 came to be.

Kevin Chappell on self-emancipation and African American participation in the Civil War...

When we went to the museum, I did not know what I would learn. I thought I knew everything about how the slaves became free. When I watched the presentation, I learned that Abraham Lincoln did not really free the slaves, but they actually freed themselves.

Next week, Soul of the City moves downtown where they will meet Ward 4 City Councilmember Muriel Bowser at the John A. Wilson Building. They will also visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History where they will explore RACE: Are We So Different, a new exhibition which opened on June 18th.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

DC Humanities Book Reviews: A Neighborhood Guide to Washington, D.C.’s Hidden History

The First in a Series Covering Recent and Classic Publications on the Humanities in DC

The inaugural review for this series was written by Humanities Council intern, and graduate student in Public History, Bridget Sullivan. Sullivan will enter the second year of in the Public History Master's Degree Program at American University this Fall. She has worked extensively this Summer as a liaison to the Humanities Council's DC Community Heritage Project grantees, and on other projects related to District history and culture. 

Jeanne Fogle provides a comprehensive stop-by-stop guide to the major neighborhoods of Washington, DC in her work A Neighborhood Guide to Washington, D.C.’s Hidden History. Each chapter details the gems of history hidden inside the architectural landscape of the city. Ten to fifteen locations in each neighborhood represent the evolution and history of that area. Together, they provide a picture of the multifaceted history of the nation’s capital. 

Fogle’s book functions as a self-guided tour through some of the oldest neighborhoods in Washington, DC. The variety of sites makes this a good read for both newcomers to the city and Washingtonians alike. For newcomers, it gives a good introduction to the history of the city. Doing any one of these tours will leave the participants with an understanding of the neighborhood’s history and place in the DC community. On the other hand, the breadth of sites discussed is guaranteed to provide some new discoveries for those who have known the city for a number of years. Fogle excels at highlighting the history of buildings that most pass by without a second glance.   

One of the most interesting parts of the book is the fusion of social and architectural history. Fogle blends the two areas together to provide a comprehensive overview each location. She weaves together a variety of locations across the spectrum of historical significance. This variety ensures that there is something in each tour to engage the interest of all participants. 

Overall, Fogle’s guide is perfect as both an introduction to the city or as a resource for continued study. She successfully identifies some of the best historic gems in our nation’s capitol and provides a concise description of their historical significance. One of the many strengths of this book is the ability to create an individualized tour. The organization of the book allows easy planning. Further, the accompanying illustrations are both artistic and a resource for tour takers. A Neighborhood Guide to Washington, DC’s Hidden History is a must for city explorers.

Fogle's work sounds like a great accompanying text for Cultural Tourism DC's extraordinary series of self-guided walking tours, and a must-own introductory text for Washingtonians interested in connecting with their community's past.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Soul of the City Starts With a Trip to the Frederick Douglass Home National Historic Site

Students Marvel at the Gap Between Past and Present

The 2011 Soul of the City program is well underway and several of the students have begun to react to their experiences in their personal journals. Here are some of the students' thoughts from last week's events.

Mishayia Valle on visiting the Frederick Douglass House Historic Site...

I was amazed that most of his stuff was from 150 years ago and was still there, his canes and glasses. all the doors were still in the place. A lot of the dishes were still in the china cabinet, etc. I learned that Frederick Douglass had five kids, but the baby died of pneumonia and brain fluids. Fredrick Douglass' first wife, was named Anne after she passed away he married their white servant Helene Pitts.

Daja Alston reflects on the differences between a present-day home and Frederick Douglass' 19th Century home...

Frederick Douglass' house is like no houses now. Years ago Frederick’s house did not have any bathrooms and the husband and wife couldn’t sleep in the same bedroom when they had company. His house also did not have a refrigerator. Nowadays we have all the things they didn’t have long ago. We have bathroom, refrigerators, etc. Fredrick’s house did not have a kitchen when he first moved in the house, so when he moved in the house he built another room for space to build a kitchen in.

Aarionna Powell on Douglass' second marriage to Helene Pitts...

Back in his time it was very different than the time that I am living today. A lot of things has changed over the years. Now we have bathrooms, washing machines, dryers, and ironing boards and irons that you plug up to the wall to get hot. We now have air conditioners and heat instead of making fire for  heat. In his time him and his wife had to sleep in separate rooms; in my time if you are married, you can sleep int the same room as your mate. I would feel as though he was replacing my mother with a wealthy white woman if my father decided to remarry another woman. I wouldn’t want him to remarry another woman. 

The Soul of the City adventure continues this week with a trip to the U Street corridor where the students will participate in performing and digital arts workshops!