Susan Smith-Peter, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of History at the College of Staten Island (CSI), weighed in on the 150th anniversary of Russia’s sale of Alaska to the United States. In the article, “150 Years After Sale of Alaska, Some Russians Have Second Thoughts” by Evan Gershkovich, Dr. Smith-Peter said, “The sea otters who were the heart of then-thriving fur trade had almost been wiped out, and the Russians also feared that if gold were discovered — as it would be, in the Klondike Gold Rush that started in 1896 — the Americans might overrun the territory.”
A new exhibition of antiquities from ancient Egypt, Greece, Italy, and the ancient Americas will open in 2014, thanks to an innovative collaboration between curatorial staff at the Staten Island Museum (SIM) and History Department faculty and students at the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York (CSI-CUNY).
Sheltered for more than a century at the Staten Island Museum’s headquarters in St. George, Staten Island NY, the ancient artifacts have been reviewed in preparation for the exhibit by SIM Curator of Art, Robert Bunkin, Nancy Rosoff, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Arts of the Americas at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and CSI-CUNY History Department Chairperson Professor Eric A. Ivison, with the participation of graduate student-interns in the CSI History Master of Arts Program.
A SIM-CSI initiative focusing on Egyptian, Greek and Italic antiquities was developed by CSI Professors Ivison and Linda Roccos, with the enthusiastic support of former SIM Art Curator Bart Bland and SIM Director and CEO Elizabeth Egbert. The goal of the project was to create a “museum without walls” that could foster discovery learning in CSI students by using the artifacts for teaching and study.
“The collaboration between CSI and the Museum began in 1999 with a co-initiative launched by CSI faculty and the organization then known as the Staten Island Institute of Arts & Sciences,” said Professor Ivison. “Since then, the teamwork between us has forged a successful, ongoing student-internship program, as well as the Staten Island Museum’s Archaeology Study Collection project at the College, which cataloged the details of several hundred artifacts formerly on loan to the CSI Library from the Museum.”
During the past 13 years, the SIM@CSI Archaeology Study Collection of ancient antiquities has been used by CSI faculty for innovative, “hands-on” instruction and as research projects for hundreds of students. The project is also supported by a Website developed by CSI professors Ivison and Roccos entitled, Staten Island Museum at CSI: Archaeology Study Collection for Ancient and Medieval Civilizations (accessed 10.08.13).
The collaboration has also grown over the years: in 2002 a major art work in the SIM collections, a large cartoon for a mural entitled Angel of the Sun, by noted American artist John LaFarge (1835-1910), was placed on long-term loan in the Rotunda of the CSI Library. In 2010 the Archaeology Study Collection returned to the SIM in preparation their display in the new “Treasure Box” galleries, which will open in 2014 in a newly restored Landmark Greek-Revival building at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, located on the north shore of Staten Island.
The bulk of SIM’s Mediterranean antiquities that will form part of the new exhibit, once were in the private collection of some 2,000 items formed by Scottish natives Francis MacDonald (1825-1878) and his wife, Elizabeth (Eliza) Wallace MacDonald (1825-1911), Professor Ivison said. Francis MacDonald, a founding member of the New York Produce Exchange and New York agent for the Anchor Shipping Line, enjoyed great financial success, permitting his family to move to the suburb of Clifton on the northeastern shore of rural Staten Island, an area then much favored by the wealthy middle class. Francis and Eliza’s son, David Wallace MacDonald, gave the collection to the Staten Island Museum in memory of his mother, following her death on Aug. 21, 1911.
In terms of size and importance, the former MacDonald Collection constitutes one of the most significant bequests to what was later to become the Staten Island Museum.
Within the MacDonald Collection, Professor Ivison added, “The most significant group of objects were the over 400 ancient antiquities from Egypt, the Levant, Greece, and Italy.” A selection of these antiquities will be displayed in the new “Treasure Box” galleries, along with other highlights from the Staten Island Museum’s permanent collections of world art. The new antiquities exhibit, developed by Professor Ivison and SIM Art Curator Robert Bunkin, will explore the personal histories of collectors and donors like the MacDonald family, and will focus in particular upon the subject of “Ancient Italy” – a topic of interest to many Staten Islanders.
“Until recently, the Museum didn’t have the means or staff to properly record the details of the artifacts in a timely fashion with 21st-century precision,” said Robert Bunkin. “In addition, we wanted to display these treasures within an optimum climate-controlled and viewer-friendly environment. Our goals are seeing fruition due to the Museum’s collaborative educational efforts with CSI, and the anticipated opening of the Museum’s new home at Snug Harbor.”
The Museum’s current expansion project at Snug Harbor, in the Staten Island community of Livingston, follows the 2009 renovation of the adjacent Building H into a new home for its History Archives, and the 2008 launch of both the Staten Island History Center and Art Conservation Studio.
The new building, said Museum Exhibitions and Program Director Diane Matyas, “will embrace more than 10,000 square feet of public space. This will provide us with the opportunity to showcase a greater number of natural science objects, and fabulous artworks that – like the ones highlighted by our most recent inventory initiative – have been out of the public eye for many decades.”
COLLEGE INTERNS BENEFIT
One of the artworks to be featured in the new “Treasure Box” galleries will be the Roman marble portrait “Head of Man.” This artwork, said to be from Baiae near Naples, Italy, and dated to between the First Century BCE and the First Century CE, was presented to the Museum in 1963 by the Ingram Merrill Foundation and the Piero Tozzi Gallery.
Frank Cretella, who earned a BA in History at CSI and who has worked as an intern at the Museum, researched the portrait in Professor Ivison’s graduate class in the CSI History Master’s Program. “It was a remarkable experience,” said Mr. Cretella. “It’s one thing to look at objects on the page of a book; it’s totally different to hold the actual artifact in your hands, examine it, measure it, and study it.” Mr. Cretella is currently studying for an MA in Classics at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Jennifer Williams, another graduate student of Professor Ivison at CSI and an intern at the Museum, is preparing a History Master’s thesis on the collection of Pre-Columbian antiquities, some of which will also be featured in the “Treasure Box” galleries. Among the many important pre-Columbian artifacts rediscovered by Williams during her research at the museum is a spondylus pendant with a shell-bead necklace. “This was a particularly exciting find for me because spondylus (a spiny, brightly colored shell) was a sacred material to many Andean cultures including the Inca,” she said.
For additional information visit www.statenislandmuseum.org
In cooperation with the Sandy Ground Historical Society, College of Staten Island graduate student Debbie-Ann Paige has worked tirelessly over the past several years to document the presence of Underground Railroad way-stations on Staten Island.
Specifically, she has examined the participation of Louis Napoleon, a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and an important link in the long chain of abolitionists who assisted self-liberated slaves as they passed through Staten Island and New York on their way to Canada. Her research has resulted in Louis Napoleons’s house being named a national landmark.
“Staten Island does not get enough attention as a stop on the Underground Railroad,” according to Paige, who joined the College to earn a BA in History after retiring from the military. Until Paige, very little has been said about how the free Black community of Staten Island played a role in the liberation of freed slaves.
“So much here needs to be uncovered,” said Paige when discussing Staten Island’s role in African American history.
Paige, who grew up in Staten Island, admits that she knew very little about Black history before she began researching the subject. It was not until she moved back to Staten Island with her husband who had served in the military for 20 years that she decided to return to CSI and study history. “I always had this love for genealogy,” she said, addressing why she chose history as her area of concentration. She then began studying slavery and started “narrowing the scope” to the abolitionists in Staten Island.
Paige is currently writing her Master’s thesis tentatively titled “Race and Anti-Slavery Politics on Staten Island,” but her work at CSI is only the tip of the iceberg. Along with writing her thesis, working 50 hours a week, and her work collaborating with Sandy Ground, she also recently appeared on an episode of Secrets of New York, which aired on NYC Life, as a Sandy Ground Historian discussing the Underground Railroad.
“I feel like a scholar,” Paige said, while discussing her accomplishments. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
The MA is not the final stop in Paige’s academic career. The founding member and first Vice President of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society at CSI plans on obtaining a PhD in Archival Studies and hopes to one day work for a historical society of her own, gathering collections for museums and academic libraries. She credits her professors at CSI, namely Jonathan Sassi, Associate Professor of History and Chair of the History Department, for helping her focus by “constantly challenging me at every turn.”
“I have enjoyed working with Debbie-Ann Paige as her thesis advisor, because she combines her passion for history with a doggedness in the archives that has yielded original findings,” said Professor Sassi.
Paige’s work has even garnered national attention as the National Parks Service designated Louis Napoleon’s house a national landmark due to her research.
“While historians have long acknowledged the importance of Staten Island resident abolitionists like Sidney Howard Gay, secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and the Shaw family of St. George, very little has been said about how the free Black community of Staten Island played a role in this story. I am proud that Ms. Paige’s efforts have resulted in the National Park Service officially recognizing and commemorating Napoleon’s participation,” noted Catherine Lavender, Director of the American Studies Program and Associate Professor with the College’s History Department.
The work was a labor of love. Paige said that she relishes the opportunity to prove her ideas to other academics. “I love the research. I love the hunt,” she said. “Not enough scholars give genealogy, the micro-economics of history, enough attention.”
Irvin, a senior History major with The Verrazano School honors program, began his college career as a Marketing major. When asked why he made the switch from Marketing to History, Irvin answered, “People usually think of history as a set of names and dates, but, in reality, it’s a lively and, at times, acrimonious debate. I wanted to be a part of it.”
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZjUQ4Gd5Ew[/youtube]Although Irvin is aware of his achievements, he regards his admittance to Harvard’s PhD program as one stop in a long, academic ride, which so far has earned him several scholarships including an IME Research Fellowship: a full-tuition scholarship awarded to Mexican Americans, and the prestigious Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, which provides undergraduates with three consecutive summer internships.
As part of the Watson fellowship, Irvin has worked for the Institute of International Education; Crain’s New York Business, writing several articles for the seminal business newsletter; and will be traveling to Tunis, Tunisia to work for Amideast, a non-profit organization offering education activities in the Middle East, as a program assistant. “Tunisia will be a radically different experience,” said Irvin. “I am looking forward to the challenge.”
Irvin maintained a 4.0 GPA and is quick to credit his CSI professors, namely, Drs. Calvin Holder and Richard Lufrano of the History department, for establishing “my love for reading and writing about History.”
On Irvin’s success at CSI, Dr. Lufrano noted: “In my 25 years of college teaching at different institutions, Irvin is among the top two undergraduates I have taught.”
Irvin especially credits his family with supporting him throughout his scholastic life. His parents moved here in 1990 while his mother was still pregnant with him.
Growing up in a small apartment with ten inhabitants would seem like a drawback to many people but to Irvin it was more of a blessing. “I was never alone… They were the best support group,” he said of his parents who worked several jobs while raising him. “I was able to focus exclusively on my education.”
A graduate of Midwood High School in Brooklyn, Irvin also credits his background for motivating him to pursue a History PhD. “The scorn directed at illegal aliens often found its way down to me,” said Irvin, who admits to having distanced himself from his heritage while growing up. It was not until Irvin enrolled in an advanced seminar, in which he completed a paper about Mexican immigrants in New York City that he was able to “embrace the beauty of [his] Mexican background.”
At Harvard, Irvin hopes to continue to write about illegal immigration in a way that can contribute to ongoing debates. In this regard, his background puts him in a unique position. “I am here because of the sacrifices of ‘illegal immigrants’ and I am deeply respectful of their plight, but I also grew up detached from them, so I can analyze their history with an interesting mix of passion and objectivity.”
Irvin eventually hopes to publish his dissertation, and establish himself in a tenure-track professor position where he can produce quality scholarship and influence students’ lives for the better.
For now though, he is “simply grateful to the CSI community for its constant support, especially Dr. Lufrano, Dr. Holder, [The Verrazano School’s] Katie Geschwendt, and [the Career and Scholarship Center‘s] Dr. Geoffrey Hempill.”
Dr. Catherine J. Lavender, an Associate Professor of History at the College of Staten Island (CSI), has been named the 2011 John J. Marchi Scholar in Public Affairs.
The Marchi Scholar fellowship was established to honor the achievements of John J. Marchi, a member of New York State Senate who represented Staten Island from 1957 to 2006.
Professor Lavender is researching Works Progress Administration (New Deal) sites on Staten Island with the assistance of several students from CSI and the CUNY Macaulay Honors College. The Marchi fellowship provides resources to support this work.
Professor Lavender, a specialist in the history of the United States during the first half of the 20th century, joined the faculty of the College of Staten Island in 1996 after completing her PhD in History at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is the Director of the American Studies Program at the College, and is the author of Scientists and Storytellers: Feminist Anthropologists and the Construction of the American Southwest (University of New Mexico Press, 2006).
John J. Marchi chaired the senate finance committee during the New York City fiscal crisis and played an important role in organizing the broad coalition that stabilized the city budget. Senator Marchi’s leadership helped build the CSI campus and close the Fresh Kills landfill. For decades, his work in Albany on behalf of Staten Island provided vital support for the borough’s social service, cultural, and educational institutions. Senator Marchi was a frequent visitor and guest lecturer at the College. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the College of Staten Island in 2006.
In the fall of 2011, a selection committee appointed by CSI’s Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. William Fritz, will solicit candidate nominations for the Marchi Scholar fellowship from College of Staten Island faculty and professional staff for 2012.
Dr. Cameron Gordon, an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Canberra in Australia with expertise in public policy, served as the first Marchi Scholar from 2008 to 2009.
Public School teachers, principals, pre-service teachers, educators, scholars in all academic fields, and the general public are invited to a special event to celebrate Staten Island’s 350th anniversary.
The College of Staten Island will host a two-day Academic Conference and Education Symposium entitled “Staten Island in American History and 21st Century Education” to take place at the Center for the Arts on March 19 and 20, 2011. The conference is a culmination of SI350’s recent “Call for Papers” and “Call for Teacher’s Guides.”
Three Colleges Award 18 Teacher’s Guides
A panel of judges, consisting of educational faculty from CSI, Wagner College, and St. John’s University, will choose 18 of the best submissions and the developers will be invited to present their work during the first day of the Symposium. The six of the chosen guides will align with the curriculum of the elementary grades, another six will align with middle school, and the remaining six will align with secondary school.The best submission in each category will receive a prize of $1,000, and the runner-up will receive $250.
Submissions have been received, mostly from undergraduate and graduate students of education, many of whom are teaching in K-12 grades in Staten Island schools during the day, and who continue to further their formal teacher education during the evening. Examples of sites for which guides have been developed vary from well known historic sites, such as the Conference House, 9/11 Monument, Alice Austen House, or Sandy Ground, to less well-known sites, such as St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Mount Loretto, or Clay Pit Pond. Also represented are guides that highlight the teaching and learning opportunities found in the study of important ethnic sites such as Killmeyer’s Old Bavaria Inn.
Two Keynotes: Six City and State Historians
The Conference will feature two keynote speakers: Carmen Farina, who has served for more than 40 years in public education, most recently as Deputy Chancellor for New York City Public Schools, and is the author of Making Connections, a multicultural/ interdisciplinary program focusing on Social Studies education; and Kenneth T. Jackson, the Jacques Barzun Professor of History and Social Sciences at Columbia University.
In addition the plenary session of the conference will bring together the five NYC borough historians and the New York State historian to discuss the topic: “1898: New York City’s Consolidation and its Ramifications.”
Community as Classroom
The call to develop teacher guides to any one of the 350 sites identified as sites of historical and cultural importance on Staten Island is founded on the theory of Place-based Education (PBL). “The theory promotes learning that is rooted in what is local – the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place–that is the students’ own place,” explained Dr. Margaret Bérci, Associate Professor of Education at CSI and co-chair of SI350 Academic Conference/Symposium.
Bérci noted that “although PBL is a great way to teach and learn, it takes a concentrated effort and extensive time commitment on the part of the teacher to develop effective PBL lesson plans.” To that end, Bérci has incorporated the Teacher Guide Contest, as a case of PBL, into curriculum/pedagogy courses at CSI. As a result, many of the CSI Education students entered the contest with original guides containing extended lesson plans.
Curriculum-based Guides Available to Educators
“Development of these teacher guides has proved to be a great learning activity for pre-service teachers. Rather than simply working through a classroom exercise, the contest provided heightened incentive and interest in the alignment of PBL with the curriculum and the pedagogy of social studies,” Bérci noted. “The guides, representing the best of those submitted to the contest, include lesson plans for the pre-visit, site visit, and post-visit activities that align with national and NY State education curriculum standards; they are comprehensive in scope, and include extensive resource lists and background information in the content knowledge imbedded in the site, in which teachers need to be fluent.”
“Staten Island teachers who attend the symposium will take home great ideas that will help them to infuse their teaching with the benefits of PBL, knowledge of the immediate community and its place in the history of NY, USA, and beyond,” stressed Bérci. “The presentation of the guides, by those who developed them, will provide an opportunity for those attending to question and engage their colleagues in curriculum and pedagogy discussion.”
Bérci encourages “all K-12 teachers and principals to attend the event, as the scholarly papers will shed light on many aspects of Staten Island’s rich history and will also prove to be an invaluable resource for all educators on Staten Island.” Bérci added that “by using the guides, teachers can easily incorporate significant sites into their teaching, and pre-service teachers can use the format of the guides as a learning tool and model as they begin to create their own lesson plans. Aside from being introduced to ideas from respected researchers and educators, the conference, as a whole, gives area teachers an opportunity to learn facts about Staten Island that they may not have known, to be introduced to a variety of perspectives on their community, and to gather ready-made teaching resources and methodology with which to engage their students in the knowledge they gleaned.”
The “Call for Papers” invited scholars from around the world to submit a research paper highlighting Staten Island’s place in history and in education. A large number of papers were submitted from inside and outside of the U.S., which shows that Staten Island’s impact is rich and long reaching. All submissions were peer reviewed; 57 individual papers and three roundtable symposiums were accepted for presentation.
The “Call for Teacher’s Guides” is a contest inviting in-service and pre-service teachers to develop comprehensive curriculum-based teaching guides for use by public school teachers. The education symposium and contest is supported by a $10,000 matching grant from the Staten Island Foundation in order to promote learning and teaching about “our shared and diverse past.”
The “Staten Island in American History and 21st Century Education” event is co-chaired by Dr. Margaret Bérci and Dr. Philip Papas, Professor of History at Union County College. It is part of an ongoing effort by the Staten Island Foundation, CSI, St. John’s University, and Wagner College to foster a better understanding of Staten Island’s influential history by aiding the Island’s teachers in gathering the information and incorporating it into their lessons.
The College of Staten Island Center for the Arts is located at 2800 Victory Boulevard in Willowbrook. For more information about the event please contact: Dr. M. E. Bérci, Associate Professor of Education, CSI, Co-chair of the Conference on Staten Island in American History and 21st Century Education at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Philip Papas, Associate Professor of History, UCC, Co-chair of the Conference on Staten Island in American History and 21st Century Education at email@example.com.