A visitor to the Brooklyn Collection archive this summer will notice an eye-catching display in our exhibition case. Stepping closer, they’ll learn about the Dreamland fire in Coney Island, read political cartoons about the Verrazzano Bridge, and even see a replica of the Farragut Houses public housing project. The visitor will more than likely learn something new about Brooklyn’s history from this exhibition by local researches. They may be surprised to learn that all of these researchers are students.
The exhibition is a sampling of the culminating projects that thousands of fourth through twelfth graders worked on as part of the Brooklyn Connections program. The school outreach arm of the Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Connections works with students and teachers to bring archival research skills to classrooms throughout the borough. Classes embark on a yearlong partnership with a Brooklyn Connections educator who guides as they research a local history topic of the students’ or teachers’ interest. This approach to archival education led to Brooklyn Connections being the recipient of this year’s Archival Innovator Award presented by the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The award “recognizes an archivist, a group of archivists, a repository, or an organization that demonstrates the greatest overall current impact on the profession or their communities.” SAA particularly seeks to reward creativity in archives outreach programs. Through the effort of Brooklyn Connections educators, the Brooklyn Collection reaches communities from Bushwick to Bensonhurst, East New York to DUMBO, and beyond. Brooklyn Connections’ educators were in Austin, Texas last week to receive the Archival Innovator Award at SAA’s annual meeting.
This past year students researched Brooklyn’s ties to the Civil Rights movement and American Revolution, told the story of the Crown Heights riots and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, and even researched the history of their own school buildings. Brooklyn Connections students engage with a wide variety of sources from the Brooklyn Collection during this process, such as photographs, newspapers, ephemera, and maps. They conduct archival research many college students never do, let alone fourth graders. Classes have studied the history of housing in Brooklyn and drawn parallels to gentrification and displacement today. They’ve studied civil rights and harnessed the spirit of their studies into activism around gun violence. Regardless of the topic, fourth through twelfth graders are remarkable researchers when given the tools to explore the archive. The Brooklyn Connections program continues to work with these young researchers as they bring Brooklyn’s history to life. At the end of the school year, thousands of students gather in Central Library’s Dweck Auditorium to present their projects and celebrate each other's achievements at a convocation event.
It is not only students who benefit from Brooklyn Connections’ approach to archival education. As a New York State certified professional learning provider, Brooklyn Connections offers a plethora of events for New York teachers each year. The events are hosted in collaboration with a wide variety of cultural partners such as Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Museum of the City of New York, and Green-Wood Cemetery, to name a few. The events offer educators hands-on experience on how to teach with primary sources, including lesson plans and curricular tie-ins to the subject matter at hand.
Brooklyn Connections aims not only to make archives relevant for students but to give them the tools to tell the stories of their own communities. The Brooklyn Collection is a vital repository of Brooklyn stories waiting to be told so it is central to Brooklyn Connections’ mission to empower Brooklyn students in the telling of these stories. Students develop not only research and academic skills but also a sense of place and ownership over their home borough.