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Guide to the New-York Historical Society Public Programs and Education Records
1941-2014 (bulk, 1984-2004)
 NYHS-RG 23

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on February 10, 2021
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical/Historical Note

In 1928, New-York Historical Society's Act of Incorporation was amended by the state legislature to recognize the organization's mission as including "educational purposes." This had important tax advantages, but it also reflected the vision of the chief executive officer at the time, Librarian Alexander J. Wall, to expand public access to N-YHS's resources. Presentations on historical topics, public access to the galleries and even school tours had long been a feature of N-YHS's programs, but financial constraints limited these. In the late 1930s, with the receipt of the large Thompson bequest, the renovation and expansion of the Central Park West building, and the hiring of a small staff to direct educational programs, the programs could, and did, expand, even to include concerts and films, among other initiatives.

Librarian Wall died in 1944, but his son, Alexander J. Wall, Jr., became N-YHS's Head of Education and Public Relations in 1946 when he returned from the military at the close of World War II. With the exception of the 1950s, this connection between programs and public relations continued until educational programs were cutback in the early 1980s in the face of financial difficulties. This cutback was short-lived, and in 1983 N-YHS hired Carole Slatkin as Director of Public Programs. Over the course of the next several years, programming would expand aggressively in quantity and in N-YHS's willingness to move in new, even provocative, directions. It is this period from about 1984 through 1992 that is the principal focus of the current content of the public programs and education record group.

Carole Slatkin remained Director of Public Programs until about 1989 when she was replaced by Rae Alexander-Minter. Slatkin continued to work on program-related projects until she left N-YHS. Stephanie Starr worked as an Associate for Public Programs in the 1980s, replaced when she left N-YHS about 1989 by Erika Sanger. Judith M. Giuriceo became an Associate for School Programs about 1990. Jane Lattes was the docent/volunteer coordinator until about 1989 when Marion Galison took that role. Alisa Aydin was an administrative assistant in the unit around 1990. All these individuals, in their active management of programming activities, appear in the documents of the record group. In January 1993, at the height of N-YHS's fiscal crisis, the galleries closed to the public, bringing an end to the program staff and explaining the clear break in the records here. The galleries re-opened in mid-1995 with a renewed emphasis on education and public programs, one that has greatly developed well beyond even the significant initiatives of the late 1980s-1990s.

Following is some background on certain unique initiatives for which there is extensive documentation in the record group:

Summer Institute: This teacher workshop was conducted for three summers (1987-1989). Centered on the theme "Teaching the Constitution," the workshop accepted about fifteen educators each year from public and private schools of various grades to participate in three weeks of readings, lectures, and discussions. Each teacher developed a lesson plan as a final project based on knowledge gained during the workshop and using N-YHS's library resources. The program was overseen by Carole Slatkin, though directed by Gail Sussman Marcus, who was hired specifically to focus on the Institute's development and implementation.

U.S. Constitution Programs: The Summer Institute used the Constitution as its organizing focus at least in part because 1987 was the Constitution's bicentennial. N-YHS engaged in several educational programs drawing on this anniversary and the associated exhibition it mounted,  Government by Choice: Inventing the Constitution. Among these programs were  U.S. Constitution on the Air (a series of radio programs and related curriculum guide) and a set of teacher programs called The Bicentennial Connection. These initiatives were done in partnership with others, including a New York City educational program called Impact II, and with funding from the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution.

Why History?: This series of programs started in 1990 as an initiative to examine the meaning of history and its relationship to contemporary issues in America. It attempted to thematically link multiple events across three program components: panel discussions, film series, and music presentations. The 1991 series added a sub-theme:  Why History? Race and Class. 1992's sub-theme was:  Why History? What is American?

New York Tapes: This was a pilot program, or prototype, conducted in August 1990, that videotaped New Yorkers at various places in the city, telling personal stories. It was produced by video artist Wendy Clarke and directed by Gary Glassman in conjunction with N-YHS, with funding by the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.

Lab School Programs: This arts-in-education program was begun in 1991 as a collaboration between N-YHS and the William J. O'Shea Junior High School, or IS 44, using the Luman Reed Gallery as its centerpiece. In 1992, a second project was started, initially to study local history, but eventually to focus on Seneca Village. In addition to IS 44, collaborations included Central Park East Secondary School and the Trinity School.

Liberty Scholars Program: This was begun in October 1990, funded by the State Education Department as part of the Governor's Liberty Partnerships Program concerning at-risk students. Conducted in collaboration with Bank Street College, the program included eight Saturday sessions during which the students visited N-YHS to tour, meet professionals, learn about the various operations of libraries and museums, and to work on a local history project.

Returning the Gift: This project included various activities in order that North American Native writers might share their work. N-YHS was one of four outreach sites.