Writing Samples

The Brooklyn Public Library book club I run out of the record shop on Van Brunt Street in Red Hook in collaboration with with the shop owner, Bene Coopersmith, was featured on BPL’s blog, Off the Shelf. Find the article here: https://www.bklynlibrary.org/blog/2019/01/04/book-club-spotlight-red

Below is a brief historical essay composed during my 2015 Buchanan-Burnham Fellowship at the Newport Historical Society in order to provide some additional context for the Old Stone Mill Collection and to announce the creation of its finding aid. A popular and evergreen topic of research, I prioritized creating access to this collection early on in my fellowship. Available on the Newport Historical Society’s website here: http://newporthistory.org/2015/old-stone-mill-collection/

Three recent digital exhibits I am responsible for developing and curating can be found by following this link: https://newport.oncell.com/en/exhibits-29794.html.

The press release for the most recent, Making of a Newport Meal,  is located here: http://newporthistory.org/2016/making-of-a-newport-meal-a-newport-eats-digital-exhibit/

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Perhaps nothing in Newport’s history has been more continuously debated than the Old Stone Mill. Subject of both scholarly and tabloid interest for more than a century, its origins are as mysterious as its intended use, and no shortage of theories–some wild, some plausible, but all fascinating–have surfaced throughout its existence. In a continuing effort to make collections of wide appeal and interest available to the public, the Newport Historical Society is pleased to announce that our Old Stone Mill collection is now fully processed and described, and that a detailed guide to the collection is available on our website alongside our other digital resources.

The collection documents the debate surrounding the contested origins of the Old Stone Mill in Touro Park, and comprises a wide range of materials that span the 17th-20th centuries. The earliest of these are copies of Governor Benedict Arnold’s will, in which he makes reference to “my stone-built wind-mill.” Correspondence in the collection mentions that there were no printed citations of the Mill prior to 1819, though recordings in local documents such as wills and a resolution at a town meeting appear in 1752 and 1756.

The bulk of the correspondence dating from the 1940s-1950s represents the flurry of scholarship and activity that surrounded archaeological excavations of the site in Touro Park between 1944, 1948, and 1954, completed by Waldo Leland, William Godfrey, and Arlington Mallery, respectively. Herbert O. Brigham, librarian of the Newport Historical Society at the time, seems to have made it a personal mission to respond to each and every letter he received claiming to have found irrefutable evidence in support of one theory or another. He eventually went on to write his own authoritative explanation, which is also included in the collection.

Many of the pieces are in conversation with one another, and serve to substantiate or refute extant theories. Most notably, scholars and enthusiasts have purported that the Mill is evidence of Pre-Columbian voyages to the Americas by the Norse, the Chinese, the lost tribes of Israel, Crusaders of the 12th and 13th centuries, the Knights Templar, early Irish explorers such as St. Brendon, the Phoenicians, and the Portuguese. Some claim Masonic ties, others believe that the Mill’s walls bear Runic inscriptions and that there is archaeoastronomical significance to its design. A handful of scholars, including representatives of the Newport Historical Society, believe that the Mill was built by early Colonists in Newport, and offer Nicholas Easton, a builder who is known to have created other circular stone structures in the area, as its architect. Connections have also been drawn between similar mills in Chesterton, England and Barbados, where relatives of Benedict Arnold are believed to have lived. The supposed uses for the mill are equally dizzying in their array, and range from Catholic church, mill, watchtower, fortress and lighthouse to refuge from wild animals, temple of pagan worship, and even an early prototype of Newport’s summer cottages.

All together, this collection demonstrates the enduring mystery and importance of the Mill and provides researchers with insight into the theories and conversations that have made this structure central to the lore and allure of Newport, Rhode Island.

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The following is a lesson plan written for The Digital Ark as part of a grant application for funding a World War I Memorial documentation project. Throughout later sections, its secondary goal is to describe technology-driven educational tools being developed at The Digital Ark as part of this initiative.

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Memorials, Remembrances, and Mourning: WWI Monuments in the United States

Introduction

World War I occupies an unsettled place in America’s historical consciousness. At the outset of the war Americans were eager to join the cause for the sake of patriotism and adventure, but trench warfare, unprecedented brutality, and mass devastation permanently altered the worldwide perception of battle, ushering in phrases such as “shell shock” for the first time. The drive to commemorate World War I was existential, and after the November 11, 1918 armistice, immediate.

Though American losses paled in comparison to the major European combatants, the deaths of 116,000 Americans in a remarkably short span of time — almost all in 1918, at times nearing 1,000 a day, and most an ocean away — traumatized the nation. As the nature of warfare itself changed, so too did our approach to commemorating soldiers fallen in battle. No single federal initiative to commission these monuments existed; instead, individual communities formed committees and raised funds to erect memorials in honor of the war dead. It is for this reason that many WWI memorials are still undocumented today, and that many have since fallen into disrepair due to neglect, theft, or vandalism.

Political and aesthetic debates rose up around this push to honor the fallen soldiers, including a movement from monuments that single out great men to those that feature honor rolls, and from traditional statue memorials to utilitarian, or “living memorials”, such as highways, parks, libraries, or bridges. Stakeholders included veterans, women’s associations, African Americans, and state and federal governments, as well as organizations such as the American Legion.

The memorialization of the First World War marked an important and enduring transformation of commemorative practices in the nation. The World War I memorial is typified by the “Doughboy” statue designed by Viquesney, which found a home in 140 towns in 35 states coast to coast, as much as it is by allegorical sculptures or York Avenue in New York City, which was named after Medal of Honor recipient sergeant Alvin York. Different interpretations of WWI itself emerge from these memorials, which offer a unique perspective on our collective history and understanding of The Great War.

Guiding Questions

  • What drives memorialization of war?
  • What are the central issues of WWI commemoration and remembrance?
  • What role did veterans, women’s associations, African Americans, and state and federal governments have in deciding who, what, and how to memorialize WWI?
  • How did WWI memorials differ from memorials erected in honor of earlier wars such as the Revolutionary War or the Civil War?
  • What effect does the inclusion of the names of ordinary soldiers have on the impact of the memorial?
  • What were the prevailing narratives surrounding soldiers and war, and how were these altered by the events of WWI? How do they compare to our contemporary narratives?

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to trace and analyze the aesthetic and political debates surrounding WWI memorials
  • Students will explore the historical context of WWI memorials in relation to memory, mourning, and remembrance
  • Students will be able to define and understand how the disciplines of art history, literature, and politics converge on the subject of war memorials
  • Students will be able to identify and analyze the larger societal shifts at work in the movement from monuments that single out great men to those that feature honor rolls, and from traditional statue memorials to utilitarian or “living memorials.”  
  • Students will be able to provide a well-supported, written analysis of a single WWI memorial, paying special attention to the abovementioned themes and questions  

Assessment

Students will write a 3-5/5-7 page paper analyzing the tension between one particular aesthetic and political debate surrounding the creation of WWI memorials. For example, the student could choose to explore the political implications of utilitarian memorials vs. traditional memorials.

GRADE LEVEL

6-12

TIME REQUIRED

3-5 class periods

SUBJECT AREAS

  • History and Social Studies > U.S.>Monuments & memorials–1910-1920.
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
  • Art History > World War, 1914-1918–Art and the war.

SKILLS

  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Historical analysis
  • Formal analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Writing skills

AUTHORS

  • The Digital Ark Corporation, WWI Memorial Inventory Project

Lesson Activities

  • Activity 1. Over There: The War in Context
  • Activity 2. Where and When Did They Appear?  
  • Activity 3. Close Analysis of Monument Aesthetics

Activity 1. Over There: The War in Context

If time allows, consider using the following EDSITEment lesson plans to provide an overview of World War I:

  • A Documentary Chronology of World War I.” (See in particular the Chronology of WWI)
  • “The Images of War” as a general context of the power of war images.
  • For further overview of the war, consider having students review the WWI Photoessay from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Modern American Poetry to gain a general sense of the Great War. Students might consider the following questions: What do these photos suggest about the mood of the new soldiers? The mood of the civilians? What is the overall feeling that these photos evoke? How would you describe the weaponry of the photos of “The Somme, 1916.”? Please note that some of these photos have potentially disturbing images of wounded and killed soldiers

Activity 2. Where and When Did They Appear?

World War I Memorials, including those that were mass-produced, began cropping up during the Inter-war period (1919-1939). The timeline feature allows students to trace the frequency with which statues were built during that time. Coupled with the map feature, this is a powerful tool that will give students a glimpse into the regions of the country with the highest concentration of memorials, and those that are more sparsely populated.  

This activity gives students an opportunity to encounter a memorial within their community in person (if applicable), or to view high-resolution, 3-D photographs of memorials if not.

Using the map resource on the World War I Memorial Project website, students will locate a nearby memorial (ideally one that has not yet been documented) and plan a visit, including route and logistics. Once at the site, the students will use photogrammetry technology to document 360 views of the monument and upload them to the WWI Memorial Project website. The students will then try to locate their monument on the timeline, or add an entry if that information has not yet been supplied.

Tools

  • Map
  • Timeline

Activity 3. Close Analysis of Monument Aesthetics

Referring back to the assessment that connected political debates to aesthetic expression, students will have the opportunity to gain a fine-point understanding of the principles that guide the design of art, and 3D art objects (such as sculptures and memorials) in particular.

If time allows, consider using the following lesson plans provided by the J. Paul Getty Museum in order to give an overview of formal analysis and the basic principles of design:

Tools

  • 360 degree virtual tour
  • Build Your Own Monument app

Group Activity

Hand out the Formal Analysis Worksheets and break students into small groups so that they can spend time discussing the aesthetic elements of the monuments reviewed so far in class. Utilizing the Build Your Own Monument app and drawing from the lesson on formal analysis and principles of design, ask them to work together to build a WWI memorial that best encapsulates a traditional American ideal such as democracy, freedom, sacrifice, or honor. Conversely, the student could choose to expose the tragedy and devastation of war. Regroup after twenty minutes for full class discussion of how the formal elements work in conversation with the political or ideological message of the monument.