Thursday, February 24, 2011

Upcoming Webinars to Introduce Key Historical Figures and Events

As many of you may well know from this blog site, the Museum will be opening a major exhibit in 2012 that will be focusing on the role of human desires in the transformation of western New York from a vast wilderness dominated by the indigenous Iroquois peoples of the Six Nations to a bastion for white settlement formed around planned communities and framed by participation in the larger agrarian market economy. As part of our efforts, we are focusing much of our research on debunking the myths and erasing the stereotypes associated with western New York’s transitional period from 1650 to 1817 (Cut-off year currently undetermined). All too often, we may associate frontier settlement with savage Indians, corrupt federal officials, greedy aristocratic speculators, and the ideal rugged frontier settler who hacked out his existence through hardship after hardship fighting off weather, savages, disease, and wild animals while being isolated from civilized society and standing in stark contrast to the wealthy and indifferent speculators who time-and-again took the miniscule profits that the frontier settler was able to muster.

What we hope to create through our upcoming exhibit is the opportunity for the individual viewer to make their own well-informed judgments based on the information that we are able to provide.
  • Were the Iroquois peoples actually naïve, savage, or stubborn in the face of the inevitable as one might expect? 
  • Were the Iroquois in fact faced by a united front in the form of state and federal officials, speculators, and white settlers or were they the victims of an array of competing interests that drove western expansion further and faster than the natural rate of population growth among whites would have necessitated? 
  • Were white emigrants to western New York predominantly poor New England discontents looking to free themselves from the demands of eastern society and religion? 
  • Was their desire to establish a new egalitarian way of life in western New York where all men were equal? 
  • And finally, are the speculator-developers who purchased the original rights to the near four million acres of formerly Indian inhabited lands west of Seneca Lake best characterized as greedy money grubbers hoping to turn a quick buck at the expense of the heroic settler and naïve Iroquois chiefs as we might imagine them to have been? 
 These are just a few of the questions that we hope will inspire you to not only come and visit our upcoming exhibit, but also motivate you to take an active interest in who the people were that influenced western New York in the formative years from 1650 to 1817. This exhibit will not only focus on informing the viewer, but more importantly, inviting the informed viewer to see a different perspective of events. In so doing, we hope to highlight that next to the elusive elements of truth and fact, subjectivity may be the most important aspect to our historical understandings. The judgments and conclusions will be left to you, the viewer, but our desire is that the exhibit presents these individuals and events in formats that allow for all sides of the story to be told without any skewed biases. It is not the Museum’s intent to point out the legitimacy of individual desires, but rather, to present our selected historical actors in a format that leaves their individual desires open to your interpretations.

 As part of our efforts to create an informed visitor to our upcoming exhibit, we would like to invite our membership and the general public to attend two live, web-based, lectures that will introduce many of the key individuals and events that shaped western New York in those formative years. We will begin on April 13th by presenting a lecture on Oliver Phelps, Charles Williamson, and Joseph Ellicott who comprised the three major speculator-developers that collectively played the greatest role in shaping the villages, towns, and counties of western New York that are still recognizable today. We will also highlight their combined role in establishing the security and economic opportunities that would ensure the success of the many eager and entrepreneurial individuals that initially made their way to western New York.

Then on May 18th, we will present another web-based lecture on the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794 highlighting the precarious position of the federal government in 1794, the importance of the treaty to settlement in both western New York and the Ohio Valley, and the motivations behind the Six Nations’ decision to negotiate the treaty in 1794. We will also point out the importance of the individual articles that establish the independent sovereignty of the Six Nations and outline the enduring relationship between the Six Nations and the federal government that the articles of the Canandaigua Treaty were intended to establish.

You will be able to attend these webinars from the comfort of your home or office after receiving an email link to a separate web-page. You will not need to be technically savvy or computer literate beyond opening an email and clicking on the enclosed web-link to attend the live webinar lectures and there will be plenty of opportunity for individual questions at the end of the presentation. Details on how to register and pay for these web-based lectures will be advertised in the coming weeks. Those involved in the Ontario County Historical Society and Museum’s upcoming exhibit hope that you will take this exciting opportunity to become an informed visitor in the months before our exhibit opens and we are excited to be hosting these presentations on behalf of Canandaigua National Bank and Constellation Brands. Hope to see you online!

Friday, February 11, 2011

What's Your Perspective?

Perspective and point of view are certianly part of our conversations as staff continue to talk about the 2012 exhibit on the history of Western New York, 1650-1825. An earlier blog related that staff members had each chosen a reading assignment to inform and broaden our thinking as early phases of work preparing for the exhibit are underway.
My reading assignment is Daniel K. Richter's Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. The prologue of Richter's book opens with the author looking East out his hotel room window through the St. Louis Gateway Arch. It occurrs to Richter that the eastward perspective was the point of view of native populations as Europeans landed on the Atlantic shores. Rumors about the Europeans and perhaps some physical evidence of their culture probably traveled from seaboard tribes to those in the interior over time. Eventually some trade goods may have traveled to the interior as well, perhaps long before native groups actually encountered any of the newcomers.
Although perspectives and native encounter experiences with Europeans differed, how were Europeans viewed?
Were they to be welcomed? Were they to be feared? Should they be driven away or redirected at neighboring tribes? Were they competitiors? Were they suppliers of sought after goods? Did a relationship with them bring status within a tribal group?
Did a relationship with Europeans provide status and control that neighboring groups may envy? How would the encounters reshape traditional cultures? How would encounters with Europeans change one's family's life, both day-to-day and long term?
Interesting points of view to think about for sure.

I'm still reading and will share more at a later time. Stay tuned.