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BHS’s Young Scholars Program wins 2019 AASLH Award of Excellence for Leadership in History

By Bo Méndez

Posted on August 1, 2019

“The AASLH Leadership In History Awards is the Nation’s Most Prestigious Competition for Recognition of Achievement in State and Local History.”
AASLH Press Release
CASA Young Scholars visit the Othmer Library

CASA Young Scholars visit the Othmer Library

Brooklyn Historical Society is proud to announce that it has been named the recipient of the 2019 American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) Award of Excellence for its Young Scholars program.  The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in its 74th year, is the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history. According to AASLH, the awards, which honor people, projects, exhibits, and publications “represent the best  in the field and provides leadership for the future of state and local history.” Presentation of the awards will be made at a special banquet during the 2019 AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA, on Friday, August 30, 2019.

Through the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Young Scholars program, students become authors of their neighborhood’s history.  Offered in partnership with elementary, middle, and high schools, this annual four to six-month-long program introduces students to the dynamic process of historical research about their neighborhood, leading to the publication of a published book.  Some of those books include Sugar Power! Industry in Greenpoint, 1890 – 1910 about Brooklyn’s sugar industry by Young Scholars of PS 31; Brooklyn’s Gem: The Formation of Prospect Park by Young Scholars of PS 282 in Park Slope; Stories of Our Brooklyn Fire Fighters: Tales of Long Ago by Young Scholars of PS 158 in East New York; Gravesend Brooklyn: The Story of Us by Young Scholars of PS/IS 225 in Sheepshead Bay, and our first book, The Waterways of Bergen Beach by the Young Scholars of PS 312 in Bergen Beach.

Each book is given an ISBN and added to BHS’s Othmer Library for use by future students, educators, and researchers, thus enriching our available resources. BHS encourages young scholars to write the histories that they want to read, which often means examining and grappling with difficult themes in American history like racism, sexism, exploitation, and community displacement.

The program is structured so that students must base their writing on primary and secondary sources from BHS’ archives. They experience field trips to historic sites and museums, author talks, exhibition tours, and meet with scholars. They work with a team of professionals – historians to review their claims and sources, a copy editor, and a graphic designer – to verify their research and writing to produce the final product.

Students are incisive in their insights and probing in their questions when it comes to issues of equity and justice in their communities, and the history they write is a reflection of that instinct. An exemplar comes from Silent No More: Stories of our Ancestors (2018), in which fourth-grade students from PS 158 in East New York studied the history of slavery in their community from European arrival through the end of the Civil War. They use primary sources, like the 1790 census and newspaper advertisements for runaway slaves to demonstrate the breadth of slavery in Kings County prior to abolition in NYS in 1827. Throughout their book, they grapple with the legacy of white supremacy and slavery through stories of free black communities, abolitionists, and the fight for civil rights in the nineteenth century. Finally, they also include an interview they conducted with a descendant of a slave-holding Brooklyn family, demonstrating the complicated ways the past continues to echo in the present.

“We are honored to accept this prestigious award from AASLH, and grateful to our partners at the NYC City Council and DCLA whose funding for Young Scholars has made this work possible,” said Deborah Schwartz, President, Brooklyn Historical Society.  “The mission of BHS is to connect the past to the present and to make the vibrant history of Brooklyn tangible, relevant, and meaningful for today’s diverse communities, and for generations to come. The Young Scholars program exemplifies the mission in its design, implementation, and product. It brings history to life, helping students develop critical thinking skills while assisting teachers in preparing their students to meet rigorous New York State Learning standards.”

Young Scholars began with one elementary school in 2015.  Today, this ‘model’ program has grown to include seven elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school.  BHS has produced 14 books since the program’s inception and will produce nine more books this coming year.

Funding for Brooklyn Historical Society’s Young Scholars project is provided through the Cultural After School Adventures grants from the NYC City Council in partnership with DCLA. City Council members include:  City Council Member Inez Barron: PS 233; City Council Member Chaim Deutsch: PS/IS 225; City Council Member Rafael Espinal: PS 158; City Council Member Mathieu Eugene: S.T.A.R. High School at Erasmus Hall; City Council Member Brad Lander: PS 282; City Council Member Stephen Levin: PS 31, 307 and 380; City Council Member Alan Maisel: PS 312.

The American Association for State and Local History is a not-for-profit professional organization of individuals and institutions working to preserve and promote history. AASLH provides leadership, service, and support for its members who preserve and interpret state and local history in order to make the past more meaningful to all people. For more information, visit www.aaslh.org.

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