The New-York Historical Society is the oldest museum in New York City, founded in 1804. The museum offers numerous educational opportunities beyond its curated exhibits, including outreach programs for schools and youth, as well as lectures, film screenings and tours open to the public. The recently opened on-site DiMenna Children’s History Museum encourages children to experience history by identifying with children of the past and offers a variety of family programs. New York Story, a new multimedia film that orients museum visitors guides them through colonial to present-day New York. The Institute for Constitutional History (ICH), also located at George Washington University Law School, coordinates a doctoral concentration in constitutional studies offered by seven Ph.D.-granting institutions in the Washington Metropolitan Area and runs several short-term programs.
Dr. Pola Rosen, Publisher (PR): I wanted to talk about the old adage: “If you don’t study history, you’re doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society (LM): That is absolutely true. There are so many examples of times at which people forget the past and they forget that the past can teach. If they haven’t learned about the experience of previous generations, the good things that they’ve done and why and the mistakes that they’ve made and why, then we do have a repetition of things that should not happen at all.
PR: I think one of the purposes of the museum is to highlight and underscore the importance of learning and understanding history.
LM: We always say that education is the cornerstone of all we do. There is such a diminishing focus on learning American history in schools and in colleges. We fill that rhetoric with real meaning.
PR: Can you comment on the Institute for Constitutional
LM: The Graduate Institute is a place to learn about constitutional history. Almost no graduate Ph.D.-granting department in the country offers coursework on that topic. A late-stage graduate student or a faculty member can take seminars here or in Washington, and degrees and credit are granted through partner institutions.
PR: Sharon, would you share some thoughts with us about the DiMenna Children’s Museum and the education programs here?
Dr. Sharon Dunn, Vice President of Education, New-York Historical Society (SD): The DiMenna Children’s History Museum is a remarkable resource. It not only shares things in our collection that children would never get to see otherwise, but it helps them think about what it might have been like to be a child a hundred years ago. We wanted children to come away with a sense of empathy.
PR: Do you have many school groups come in?
SD: Last year we served about 800 schools, including the DiMenna program and our other education programs that use the entire museum. We have wonderful trained educators who do outreach in schools and who lead programs here. We developed a very interesting five week residency program called the Art of History. Elementary school students study American history and art history, and then they create something in the visual arts, which illuminates what they’ve learned.
PR: The latest initiative that I want to speak about is the one in Washington D.C. in the White House with First Lady Michelle Obama.
LM: We have a fabulous internship program for high school students, for which we were recently honored with the 2012 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. The students learn how to be historians writ large. Our institution has a full complement of people who work around history in very surprising ways, conservation, for example; apprentice yourself to our chief conservationist and you’ll learn a lot about chemistry.
PR: What schools are the students from?
LM: The vast majority of the couple hundred thousand students that we reach are in New York City public schools. We see our mission as reaching students who might not enjoy the benefit of an enrichment program in history. History is fabulous, it’s interesting, it’s like detective work and it’s exciting but it is so deadened often when it’s taught in schools. We see ourselves as the main place to come see how exciting and important history is.
PR: Can you tell us a little bit about the new World War II exhibit? 900,000 New Yorkers were involved in the war effort.
LM: New York at large was absolutely instrumental to the production and manufacturing of everything from aircrafts to ships, to deploying men and women overseas, to doing all the training. Huge swathes of the city were taken over by the machinery of war.
PR: The war also added to the economy of New York City.
LM: War is a terrible thing, but it really was an engine for economic development in this city. People had jobs as a result of the war, and many of them were women who hadn’t worked previously or didn’t have the opportunity to work. But with the men away, the world of women’s work really expanded. The war was a savior for many people who had suffered during the depression. #
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Watch the video and read more of the transcript at EducationUpdate.com