City Tech to Combine Humanities & Technical Education
An innovative program to combine the humanities with technical and professional training of students is being developed at Brooklyn’s NYC College of Technology/CUNY (City Tech). New York City neighborhoods--their histories, ethnic compositions, architecture, and technological advances—are being studied by fifteen selected faculty members to better understand the interaction between technology and social change. The National Endowment for the Humanities-funded professional development initiative includes visits to five neighborhoods led by architectural historians, a year-long seminar where participants reflect on their experiences and study related texts, and development of enriched new courses and units of study that draw upon insights gained in the program using a “Humanities Across the Curriculum” model. The neighborhood tours are especially relevant for professors at City Tech where one of three students lives in communities being studied.
The five neighborhoods visited are Harlem in Manhattan, Flushing and Jackson Heights in Queens, and Sunset Park and East Flatbush/Crown Heights in Brooklyn. Shifting demographics and the special character of each community as well as the impact of bridges, subways, and various housing types are being looked at. The tour of Harlem, led by Francis Morrone, went from the grand Riverside Church, built in 1928-32 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to “stand out on top of a hill” and serve the people of Harlem, to Morris-Jumel Mansion, today still maintained as the lovely country home with tree-shaded grounds that briefly served as George Washington’s headquarters in 1776.
Harlem institutions and culture changed with shifting demographics. It took a boycott to force a popular local department store to hire blacks even as African-Americans became the dominant population in this initially white neighborhood. The Hotel Theresa, opened in 1913 for “white only’ clientele, eventually became “the black hotel in New York City…the Waldorf Astoria of Harlem” when other hotels refused to accept black guests. The social center of Harlem, the Theresa closed in 1967 when blacks had become welcome in downtown hotels. The Apollo Theater, opened in 1913 as a burlesque house catering to white audiences, responded to the population shift by changing the types of acts and hiring black performers by the 1930’s. Technology turned 125th Street into the commercial and transportation hub of Harlem. The NY & Harlem Railroad (now Metro North) built a station at 125th and Park Avenue in the 1830’s. The elevated train had a stop at 125th St. and, at one time, ferry service was available at both ends of the street. The most complex feat of steel construction of its time, the Triboro Bridge, which is accessed from 125th St., was completed by Robert Moses in 1934. Harlem continues to see changes as a rapid pattern of gentrification unfolds. Whites and other ethnics are returning to the neighborhood. Major national retail chains are locating in this previously underserved area. A national drug corporation reports its new 125th St. store is its highest grossing location in the country. The Apollo is now owned by Time Warner. New housing is being built. Morrone noted that many well-known architects left their mark in Harlem. The King Model Houses, built in the 1890’s, were admired as the most beautiful group of houses in the city at the time. The River Houses, low-rise buildings, are considered the most noteworthy of public housing projects.
Jane Mushabec, who teaches literature at City Tech, praised the program, saying, “Our students in tech majors need to be alive to the world they live in.” She sees “many applications” for the project. Richard Hanley, an English professor and editor of the internet Journal of Urban Technology, was also enthusiastic, describing the ideal teacher as “a humanist who brings technology to the class, and a technologist who can bring humanities to the class.” #