Saturday 19 September 2015

The Secret Victorianist at Brooklyn Historical Society

Two weekends ago, the Secret Victorianist visited the Brooklyn Historical Society to see two exhibitions relevant to anyone with an interest in nineteenth-century history.

Brooklyn Historical Society
The first, In Pursuit of Freedom – Brooklyn Abolitionists (on show until Winter 2018), celebrates the lives of the unsung heroes of Brooklyn’s anti-slavery movement.

Laid out chronologically and covering the period from the end of the Revolutionary War to post-Civil War Reconstruction, the exhibition uses written testimonials, maps, paintings, photographs and census records to explore the lives of black and white Abolitionists who lived in Brooklyn - the centre of New York slavery due to its high levels of agricultural labour.

The six towns of Kings County
What I particularly enjoyed about the exhibition was seeing the geographical changes in Brooklyn over the course of the nineteenth century and how the black communities that lived there had a large impact on the history of the area and country.

It was also fascinating to learn more about slavery in the North and the continued tensions about the issue, even post-Abolition - especially since the most many of the most famous examinations of the American slave trade, from a non-American perspective, focus on the South. New York, for instance, was home to anti-Abolition riots, and spats of extreme violence between former slave and Irish immigrant communities, who were often competing for the same jobs.

'In Pursuit of Freedom - Brooklyn Abolitionists'
The exhibition also features a rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863).

Meanwhile, the second exhibition - Personal Correspondents: Photography and Letter Writing in Civil War Brooklyn (on show until Spring 2016) – focuses on the 30,000 Brooklynites, from all backgrounds, who fought for the North in the Civil War, through the lens of their letters home.

The well-curated and interactive exhibit gives you insights into life on the battlefield and the lives in Brooklyn these men had left behind, drawing you into personal stories of loss and the human impact of war.

'Personal Correspondents: Photography and Letter Writing in Civil War Brooklyn'
The Society’s beautiful building (constructed in 1878-1881) is a wonderful setting to learn more about the area’s history in, and there are also exhibits focusing on more modern features of life in the city – from a history of New York City’s Disability Rights Movement to a plotted history of the city’s sewerage systems. I would definitely recommend a visit.

Where in New York would you like to see the Secret Victorianist visit next? Let me know – here, in Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist!

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