Events & News

New Oral History Projects Launched!

May 14, 2012
Article from the Spring 2012 Newsletter

The New York Preservation Archive Project is thrilled to announce the launch of our newest oral history initiative, Leading the Movement: Interviews with Preservationist Leaders in New York’s Civic Sector. The goal of this project is to record oral histories with 15 key leaders in the preservation civic sector, capturing their unique experiences and perspectives on how preservation in New York City has evolved over the course of their careers. Participants include architects, professors, authors, lawyers, community activists, preservation professionals and funders, and other civic figures from every borough. Paired with our ongoing oral history project with the former chairs of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, these new oral histories will capture information and attitudes from within the preservation “infrastructure” and from outside influences, crafting a nuanced portrait of the field and a comprehensive account of the first 47 years of the city’s Landmarks Law. The Archive Project’s hope is that future historians, preservationists, urbanists, and others interested in the history of New York City will avail themselves of the personal accounts of these remarkable preservation leaders. Leading the Movement: Interviews with Preservationist Leaders in New York’s Civic Sector is made possible through funding from the Robert A. and Elizabeth R. Jeffe Foundation.

For the first time in our organization’s history, the Archive Project is teaming up with New York University’s Museum Studies Program to produce a series of oral histories focused on the preservation narratives of selected house museums managed by the Historic House Trust (HHT). Students enrolled in the NYU course “Historic Spaces, Cultural Landscapes and the Politics of Preservation” will collaborate with HHT and the Archive Project to conduct oral histories with a variety of figures who have been involved with the preservation of five properties throughout New York City. These properties include the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum in Brooklyn, the Lewis H. Latimer House in Queens, Staten Island’s Seguine Mansion, the Morris-Jumel Mansion Museum in Upper Manhattan, and the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt House Museum. Located across the five boroughs, these sites collectively tell the story of New York City’s evolution. From a humble Dutch colonial farmhouse to a pre-Revolutionary War country retreat, and a grand Staten Island estate to the modest home of an African-American inventor, these houses chronicle a wide range of cultural, historical, and architectural aspects of the city. Each individual house has a distinctive preservation history and a unique set of people who ensured its survival, whether they were concerned citizens, directors of civic organizations, or descendants of the houses’ original inhabitants. Through this new oral history project, many of these figures will now be able to share their stories for the first time.

Continuing for the fourth year is the Archive Project’s successful collaboration with Pratt Institute’s Historic Preservation program. As in previous years, the Archive Project develops a theme for a group of interviews and each student enrolled in the program’s “Public History” course is assigned a preservation figure who fits within that theme. This year we have set our sights on preservation advocacy on the Upper East Side and East Harlem. With the recent anniversaries of neighborhood groups such as CIVITAS and Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, it seems a fitting time to look back at the undocumented stories of individuals associated with preserving this architecturally rich corner of the city. The Archive Project is eager to capture these stories, and expose a new group of students to the power of oral histories.

Above: Adele Chatfield-Taylor, one of the project's interviewees; Courtesy of the American Academy in Rome