"Red Hook WaterStories” (RHWS) Project Moves Forward
Team grows and makes substantial headway!
What is Red Hook WaterStories
A water-themed history trail about and for fascinating Red Hook, Brooklyn. It will educate visitors and locals, help revitalize Red Hook and help protect this community from floods. It tells NYC's maritime story in microcosm. This year, we are launching a pilot multimedia map and creating a hard copy visitor guide and signs with QR codes around the neighborhood that alert people to the website. We will create large, outdoor, exhibit panels with this content. We are taping more oral histories to share.
PortSide offices aboard the ship MARY A. WHALEN are a buzz as we push ahead with Red Hook WaterStories. Many new consultants and interns have come aboard to help develop and catalog content. The accessibility of our new home is allowing people with valuable skills, but no prior relationship to PortSide, to literally step (or ride their bicycle like David Levine) up to the pier and get involved.
We thank Councilman Carlos Menchaca both for seeing the importance of our new home and for the $20,000 in funding that is pushing the project forward. We have applied for other funding, and have launched a campaign to raise another $20,000 by then end of June 2016.
New people, new energy!
Our Curator and Historian Peter Rothenberg has been joined by a team of consultants, advisors and interns. Some are interviewing, some research archives, some are deep in the html end of the archive. Bios of the team on the Red Hook WaterStories webpage.
We have been collecting new content and looking backward, meaning we sought technology and advice on how to get our archive coded and organized. David Levine has 25 years experience in content management at major corporations and is leading the tech end of the project, selecting the software for content management and website creation. Lots of conversations between him, Peter and new advisors Johnathan Thayer and Marilyn Oliva helped selected us Omeka as the archivist software to use. The first version of the multimedia RHWS website may be Omeka itself. Much to learn and code in all this!
Johnathan Thayer teaches archival practice and preservation at Queens College and is the Senior Archivist at Seaman’s Church Institute, founded in 1834 which has thousands of items and oral histories in its collection. Despite all that content, they have nothing about Red Hook in their files – proof that PortSide’s project has something to contribute.
Regina Carra, a graduate student at CUNY Queens College studying Library Science and History, learned about RHWS from Johnathan and was so excited by the project that she rejiggered her schedule to work with us one day a week.
We have had long meetings and brainstorming sessions around the galley table to discuss what themes, issues and peoples to include so we know to look for such content and have the archive coded in advance to be ready to receive that kind of content. “War” and “”military,” how are they the same or different? With our focus on immigrants who arrived by water or worked on the waterfront, what do we do about the “non-ethnics,” the English or WASPS? How do we deal with false history (the errors so often repeated in the era of Google)?
Do we include a layer that explains sources so people can see that many a map or engraving that has been used to show “this was Red Hook” is an illustration of a plan, an intention, and did not yet exist? That kind of discussion is so pertinent to the resiliency (flood prep) aspect to Red Hook WaterStories.
As a water-aware organization, we planned to talk about underground water issues since we started this work in 2005. After superstorm Sandy, information about the historic filling of creeks, swamp and shoreline is very timely. It's key to understand that so many historic maps of Red Hook show a street grid of intentions over “land” that remained water and swamp into the 1900s. On a lighter note, in honor of our ship cat Chiclet and her devoted followers, we decided to add cat WaterStories. History needs to be fun too!
We have a bottomless font of facts and tips about the history in advisor Norman Brouwer, a noted maritime historian and the person who built the South Street Seaport library. He also has a personal collection of thousands of maritime postcards which we hope to access for illustrations.
Julia Golia, Director of Public History at the Brooklyn Historical Society, told us about resources in their archives and was receptive to partnering as they move ahead with their waterfront museum and waterfront history website in partnership with Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Melinda Boros, an immigrant from Romania, brings us a fresh perspective in her role as consultant. Red Hook was one of the first neighborhoods she found after emigrating in 1998. It's abandonment was something she expected in Ceaucescu’s Romania not the USA, so she dove deep into historical research to come to understand it. Barbara Wye, a recent grad in Anthropology and Digital Media Design with experience in community organizing around preservation, is helping with outreach, event planning and graphic design.
Many Red Hook WaterStories involve Spanish speakers, especially since the first point of arrival for Puerto Ricans in NYC was ships docking at Red Hook piers. Intern Ivy Ann Rosado, a senior at Hunter College of Dominican heritage is helping with this research and other aspects of the project.
We are interviewing more people for more video and oral histories. Jenny Kane leads the oral history work. John Weaver handles the video camera. Our President Carolina Salguero, an award-winning photojournalist in her prior career, does some of the interviewing.
If you, or someone you know has some Red Hook WaterStories to share, get in touch! WaterStories include: all things working waterfront (shipbuilding/repair, ports/freight movement, creation of ports/changing shoreline, merchant marine/worked on boats, ferries), emigrated here by ship, worked at waterfront facilities, played/fished/relaxed on the waterfront, waterfront religious rituals, drownings, Sandy experiences, created an art work or piece of literature inspired by the Red Hook waterfront.
This project is supported in part by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and funding from NYC Councilman Carlos Menchaca.