Friday, January 28, 2011

Focusing in on Focus Groups

The IMLS Grant we received for this project required a Formative Evaluation. The effort will provide us with public input on the exhibit.

Rob Lillis from Evalumetrics Research helped us develop the questions and will serve as the facilitator for each focus group session.

  • We will be asking the group to differentiate between surival, ambition and greed

  • We will then ask how these characteristcs influenced those who shaped the history of our area. We will offer examples of people who were involved in the time period in question.

  • Then we will ask what they would want or need to know about these characters to help better understand what motivated them. How would one know if they were ambitious, greedy or just trying to survive?

  • Finally, What method or media would help the respondant better learn about the characters that shaped the development of WNY.

Simple? Maybe. We'll see

The focus groups will begin in Canandaigua. We have appointments with the schools. The other group of adults were solicited from the general public, the local Rotary Club and a history book club that meets periodically at the museum.

Then we will move into western New York to seek input. A post on the Museumwise (A regional musuem group) list serve seeking locations for focus groups was fruitless. Then we drafted a letter and sent it personally to all our museum contacts in the region. Two days after we mailed it we received an e-mail response from the Niagara Co. Historical Soceity, who were agreeable. They asked for a bit more information which we responded to immediately. We will likely hear from more next week.....

Speaking of next week, we will hold our information focus groups on Wednesday and Thursday; two each day. Then we will return to a local school for a Noon session on Friday.

Little by little the exhibit will come into focus.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What stories should we tell?

As we dig deeper into the history of Western New York we find that the geographic area we want to explore becomes harder and harder to define.

Western New York, in truth, did not exist under that name until sometime after the Revolutionary War. Until that time it was just a wild, unsettled territory that was the location of many competing interests.

Early - Is the story of the Jesuits and their encounters with the native Americans appropriate? Was their motivation religious or political? How about the fur traders, was the pursuit of beaver pelts an adventure or an economic effort. Then, of course there were the French including DeNonville who frequented this area skirmishing. Was their effort for Country?Louie XIV? or personal gain? Who was right?, The Indians who believed that the land was there to pass aolng to future generations or the Europeans who saw the forest as something they could sell?

Mid - In the mid 1700s the story of The Sullivan Campaign must be told. But, from what persoective, George Washington's; Oliver Phelps's, the Seneca nation or those that wanted to escape the issues of land and freedom in Connecticut, Maryland, or other established New England colonies, now states in the Union? How did Robert Morris the Financier of the Revolutionary War influence our area? Why did he have to send his son, Thomas to negotiate with the indians?

1800s - Treaties led to poineer settlement which led to conflict. Did money rule? Why did the Dutch want to invest in Western New York? Why did the Holland Land Company select Charles Ellicott to be their representative and land agent. Why did Oliver Phelps go bankrupt and die in debtor's prison? Who owned the property over which the Erie Canal was dug? Why did Ellicott fight so intensely to divide Ontario County into many new counties. Why did Canandaigua oppose the new political subdivisions of the state.

Was Greed the sourse of all this conflict? Maybe. But Greed is funny. It seems that few individuals claim to be greedy. It always seems to be the other person who is the greedy one....

We will be asking the public what they think in a series of focus groups starting in February. We are anxious to hear their take on motivations.
We promise great stories .

Thursday, January 13, 2011

As we make our way through the many complexities of researching the history of Western New York from 1650 to 1850 we come to the issue of how we tell this story beyond words. What objects, maps, documents are available to be used for the exhibition? What stories will these artifacts tell? What do they mean to the different cultural and social groups involved in Western New York’s early history?

One of our challenges is to locate artifacts relevant to our story, particularly for the first half of the time period we are covering. While the Ontario County Historical Society holds some early items such as 18th century maps and documents, and some Native American archaeological artifacts, we need to look for other sources. We will be contacting other Western New York historical agencies to find out what artifacts they may hold that we can use in this exhibit. In particular we will be working with Ganondagan State Historic Site and the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum to learn more about what artifacts would best convey the culture of the Iroquois during this time period. As some artifacts no longer exist, are too fragile for exhibition or are not available, we also will be examining the use of appropriate reproductions.

As you can imagine, a given artifact can convey different meaning to different peoples. For example, what did a land deed mean to a New England settler and to a Seneca? This draws us into the discussion of the cultural concept of ownership of property. Another example would be the clothing worn by the Iroquois in the early 18th century which incorporated traditional and Western trade materials. This encourages us to ask questions about the complexities of western and Iroquois trade systems as well as the social and economic values placed on these items.

We’re just at the beginning of this process. More to come on what types of artifacts we will be considering and what stories and meanings they convey.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Settling in with a Good Book?

Man with book sitting in chair

Although today is sunny, we know many cold, gray days are still left in a western New York winter.  That's why the Greed project team is inviting you to join our virtual reading circle.  As a part of this project, each of the team members have chosen a book related to the topic and we'll be reading and more importantly, posting our thoughts about the book--and we hope you'll join us.  Choose one to read, read more than one, or just dip in and out.  It's the easiest reading circle ever!

Here's what's on our list:

A Shopkeeper's Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837 by Paul E. Johnson.  From the publisher:
A quarter-century after its first publication, A Shopkeeper's Millennium remains a landmark work--brilliant both as a new interpretation of the intimate connections among politics, economy, and religion during the Second Great Awakening, and as a surprising portrait of a rapidly growing frontier city. 
Facing East From Indian Country:  A Native History of Early America by Daniel K. Richter.
From Kirkus Reviews:
An excellent, ambitious attempt to restore to history long-overlooked Indians who 'neither uncompromisingly resisted...nor wholeheartedly assimilated' in the face of white encroachment...A hallmark in recent Native American historiography that merits wide attention.
The Divided Ground:  Indians, Settlers and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution by Alan Taylor.
A superbly researched work of history... forces us to look anew at the American Revolution from a tragic –and necessary –perspective—The Washington Post Book World
The Treaty of Canandaigua:  200 Years of Treaty Relations between the Iroquois and the United States, edited by Peter Jemison and Anna Schein.  From the publisher:
This book tells the complex and intriguing story of the Six Nations and their relationship with the United States over the 200-year period following the American Revolution. Two hundred years after signing the treaty that was to protect their lands and sovereign rights, the Haudenosaunee -- the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy -- have been stripped of all but a small fraction leading up to the signing of the treaty and look at how the Haudenosaunee have fared under its terms.
One of us will be posting every week about our book, and we invite you to find the books (don't forget to check out your local library) and share your thoughts with us as well.  Your perspectives will be critical in helping us shape the new exhibit content.

Thanks to our colleagues at the George Eastman House who shared these historic images of readers on Flickr Commons.

Unidentified African American woman