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.

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