Retelling the Conestoga Massacre with Native Voices

Ghost River

I was in graduate school during the heyday of the so-called New Indian History.  Historians were rewriting native American history, and American history more broadly, from the perspectives of Indians, not Europeans.  I still assign James Merrell’s 1984 article  “The Indians’ New World: The Catawba Experience” in my U.S. History survey course.  It is hard to find a better piece to reorient how first-year college students think about the way European colonization changed Native American life in North America.  In my colonial America course, I have made good use of Dan Richter’s Facing East from Indian Country.

Last year when I reworked my Pennsylvania History course I decided to include a unit on the Conestoga Massacre and its aftermath.  I assigned Kevin Kenny’s excellent book Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment.  This book tells the story of the December 14, 1763 murder of six Conestoga Indians from the perspective of the Scots-Irish frontier-dwellers known as the Paxton Boys. But how did the Conestoga experience this massacre?  I am not sure we can answer this question, but a new graphic novel has tried to imagine what it must have been like.  The title is Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga. Here is a taste of an interview with author Lee Francis and artist Weshoyot Alvitre at the NPR website:

This project was supported by the Library Company, one of the oldest libraries in the country. We know who has historically had access to certain kinds of records and histories, so how did you approach collaborating with this institution?

Francis: Too often we’re brought in at the end of projects to greenlight things. Like, “Hey, I’ve got some Native characters and we just want to make sure everything’s OK.” And sometimes it’s not OK. Sometimes it is OK. But the not OK usually is like, “Hey, there’s some things we need to change, some things you need to work on. And that tends to ruffle some feathers. And at the end of the project, we can’t really make a lot of changes. So Will [Fenton] wanting to draw us in at the beginning of the project and have myself and Weshoyot and, you know, Native writers, Native illustrators, Native publisher all the way across the board, was something that was refreshing for me.

Alvitre: From the very first field trips we went on, the very first meeting we had with the Library Company, [Will] introduced us to the building and the archive material. Some of his employees up in the print archive documents center pulled a selection of all the original cartoons that we were referencing from Day 1. So we got to see these old, archival, historical political cartoons, and we could literally touch them in the papers. And just to lay that out for us in such a respectful way, and it’s not something that you get often.

Read the entire piece here.

Learn more about Ghost River (including an exhibit at the Library Company of Philadelphia) here.

The *Philadelphia Inquirer* Responds to the Financial Struggles of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

HSP

I spent a lot of time in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) in the 1990s when I was writing my doctoral dissertation.  I have also lectured there a few times.  So needless to say I was saddened to learn that this venerable institution was having financial troubles.

Yesterday the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer called on the city to strengthen the HSP.

Here is a taste of the editorial:

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania realized $2.2 million last November by selling 1,102 commemorative medals from a collection bequeathed to it in 1897. The financial struggles of this nonprofit institution in Center City are worrisome but all too familiar. In 2018, the Philadelphia History Museum abruptly shut down. While it will be rebooted through a partnership with Drexel University, neither the Historical Society’s proposed affiliation with the University of Pennsylvania nor with Drexel has borne fruit.

HSP calls itself “Philadelphia’s Library of American History” with good reason: It is home to a printer’s proof of the Declaration of Independence, a first draft of the Constitution, a journal of the Underground Railroad, and millions of other handwritten, printed, and engraved materials.

Selling commemorative medals said by society officials to be of marginal scholarly and public interest was at best a stopgap measure. Last year, the Historical Society, founded in 1824, laid off one-third of the employees on a staff described as already bare-bones.

This suggests a broader, deeper, community-driven effort is needed to strengthen this institution. The society is part of an ecosystem of institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, that support the city’s status as a global center for historical research. They are stewards of a legacy that belongs to us all.

Read the rest here.

Teaching Reading Through Historical Sources

Paxton_massacre

Do you want to teach your students how to think historically?  Do you want to teach them to read in a deeper way?  Do you want to teach them about the past?

If your answer to all these questions is a resounding “yes” (as it should be), you will like this piece at Education Week. Reporter Sarah Schwartz spent some time with the teachers attending a Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History summer seminar on native American history at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Here is a taste of her piece:

Gathering in small groups around folding tables laden with 250-year-old maps, pamphlets, and images, the teachers thought aloud about what the documents could tell their students—and what questions the pages couldn’t answer.

“Even before getting into information—who wrote this?” said Mark Stetina, a local middle school history teacher, pouring over a political cartoon and imagining how he would introduce it to his students. “Then, almost more important is—who’s missing?” he said. This question of missing voices was central to the day’s workshop, part of a project at the Library Company called Redrawing History. The library has digitized hundreds of documents about this massacre, but almost none are from Native American sources. Now, the organization is working with native artists to create an original graphic novel that attempts to recover some of those voices.

For teachers, the workshop offered a look into the archives and lessons on how to use the forthcoming novel. And it raised a question about teaching history: How do you paint a full picture of the past for your students when some voices have long been silenced?

Since the introduction of the Common Core State Standards a decade ago, teachers have been encouraged to give primary sources a more prominent place in the classroom. The standards emphasize close analysis of texts across subject areas, which in history and social studies can mean reading these kinds of archival documents. In the years since, both the U.S. Library of Congress and the National Archives have expanded their digital collections in an effort to make resources available for teachers.

Read the entire piece here.

By the way, you can view of a lot of the sources used in this Gilder-Lehrman seminar at the Digital Paxton website.

Richard Newman Steps Down as Director of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Library 1Here is the press release from Howell K. Rosenberg, the President of the Board at the Library Company:
It is with deep regret that I inform you that Richard Newman will be stepping down as director of the Library Company effective August 1, 2016. As Dr. Newman explained to the Board of Trustees, family health issues have compelled him to make this very difficult decision. Over the past two years, Dr. Newman has served ably as the Edwin Wolf 2nd Director. He successfully met the first two years of the NEH Challenge Grant to endow the Program in African American History. He diversified and enhanced the Library Company’s public programming and created the new position of business manager to bolster the institution’s administrative operations. Finally, working closely with the Board, he has overseen the expansion of the Library Company’s property holdings on Irving Street. We thank Dr. Newman for his service on behalf of the Library Company and wish him well in all future endeavors.
 
We will now begin the task of searching for our next director. The Board of Trustees has appointed a committee to conduct a national search for the Library Company’s future director, as well as a transition committee to oversee institutional affairs until the search has been completed.
 
During this time of transition, I want to assure you that the Library Company remains in a very strong position. As always, our curators and staff are dedicated to excellence and will carry on with the many tasks that have made the Library Company such a renowned institution through the years: serving scholars, educators and students studying American and Global history; planning and running dynamic public events; making sure that the financial side of the organization is run efficiently; and attracting new supporters to Benjamin Franklin’s library.
 
Best of all, in my eyes, the Library Company still has its most important resource: shareholders and supporters like you. Few places have a membership that is as passionate about their institutions, as you are about the Library Company. Your on-going dedication as shareholders assures the Library Company’s future for a long time to come.

Richard S. Newman to Lead Library Company of Philadelphia

Press release from the Library Company:

The Trustees of the Library Company are delighted to announce that Richard S. Newman has been appointed to succeed John C. Van Horne as the Edwin Wolf 2nd Director of the Library Company of Philadelphia. A distinguished historian with research specialties in Early American, African American, and Environmental History, as well as Print Culture and New Media, Dr. Newman has a long association with the Library Company, beginning with the award of a research fellowship in 1995. We believe Dr. Newman has the rare combination of scholarly authority, commitment to public engagement, and passion for our mission that will enable him to bring the Library Company to new prominence.
Currently Professor of History at Rochester Institute of Technology, Dr. Newman is the author or editor of five books—-including The Transformation of American Abolitionism, a finalist for the Organization of American Historians’ Avery Craven Prize; Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers; and Love Canal and the American Dream: 500 Years at America’s Most Notorious Environmental Place, forthcoming from Oxford University Press—-and numerous scholarly articles. He is also co-editor of the book series “Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900,” published by the University of Georgia Press and the Library Company.
As an educational and museum consultant over the past decade, Dr. Newman has worked with research archives, public history sites, and teacher training programs on a variety of outreach initiatives. He is committed to exploring ways that the Library Company can use its collections to empower people in their civic lives and careers while at the same time continuing to foster the best in current scholarship—-and he sees this as a vital way to connect the institution with Benjamin Franklin’s founding ambitions for the nation’s first successful lending library and now its oldest cultural institution.
Dr. Newman will begin in his new role in June 2014.