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June 17-21 July 8-12
(Same schedule repeats)

Monday, Day 1 / Orientation, Introductions, and the Origins of New York as Port City

The first day of our institute will begin at 10am, with introductions and orientation at our home base for the workshop, at CUNY Graduate Center in midtown Manhattan.

Mid-morning we will host a talk by Andrew Lipman. This will give us an opportunity to examine the histories told by institutions next to the overlooked or suppressed Native American histories that precede and overlap with them. Q&A and discussion will follow the talk.


We will then break into small groups for structured discussion of participants’ own teaching, research, or public history projects related to institute themes. We will explain the format of Thursday’s “Lightning Talks” presentation and give participants guidance on how to prepare a three-minute presentation of an experiential learning lesson-plan or some aspect of their own research related to maritime history or New York Studies.

Tuesday, Day 2 / Maritime Migration and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Day two of our institute will begin with a visit to the African Burial Ground Monument and Museum in downtown Manhattan, including the on-site memorial designed to evoke (and approximate the experience) of a slave ship’s hold. These sacred burial grounds were used from 1630s to 1795 but were only rediscovered during a construction project undertaken in 1991. The monument and on-site museum offer a window into the history of enslavement and its role in the development of New York City, sometimes overlooked as a key site in the transatlantic slave trade. A discussion session will conclude our tour.


Over lunch we will discuss the difficulties of preserving space for memorials in a rapidly developing city, drawing on the assigned readings and our earlier site visit. 


Then we will take a short walk from lower Manhattan to Chinatown to visit the Museum of Chinese in America where we will be joined by Dr. John Kuo Wei Tchen, a scholar of Chinese immigration and estuarial eco-histories of the New York City harbor. Dr. Tchen’s research, in his own words, “links the work of the China trade and the formation of Chinatown to new research tracing the dispossession of Munsee Lunaape from the region and the related ‘importing’ of enslaved labor. These extractivist practices foreshadowed the massive industrialization and manufacturing that was to proliferate in the 19th century.” Dr. Tchen will also discuss his work with the New York City Panel on Climate Change and recent research that explores how the impacts of early settler colonialism have led to ecological imbalances in the New York–New Jersey estuary. Linking the histories of immigration with environmental concerns, Dr. Tchen’s talk will offer us an ideal transition between days two and three of our workshop.

Wednesday, Day 3 / Preserving Maritime Histories, Remediating Harbor Ecologies

The third day of our workshop will explore two themes. First, we will read and learn about the labor practices of maritime industries and their effects on the demographics of neighborhoods near port areas. Secondly, we will explore the harbor itself—its histories, its geographies, and the cycles of ecological pollution and remediation it has endured. Our day will begin in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where we will visit a ship called the Mary A. Whalen, a retired coastal oil tanker that is home to PortSide, a non-profit that is a “living lab for better urban waterways” and that advocates for “more maritime uses on NYC’s waterfront” and a greater “maritime focus to ‘waterfront revitalization.’” We will learn from them about two of their initiatives. The first is their African-American Maritime Heritage Program. We will focus on the story of the last slave ship to land in American in 1860 and the trial that ensued. We will also learn about African American participation in maritime work. Between the Revolution and the Civil War, more African Americans were employed in the maritime trades than in any other industry. The second is their Resiliency 101 Project, which focuses on the effects of climate change on the local maritime environment, recovery from Hurricane Sandy, and plans for mitigating future flooding. A discussion session will conclude our visit. 

In the afternoon, we will take a short ferry ride from Brooklyn to Governor’s Island in New York Harbor, which possesses a rich and varied history that reflects the changing dynamics of the region over time. During the American Revolution, it was Britain’s headquarters for its North American operations; after the war, it became a fort and military installation for the next two centuries. In 1995, the Coast Guard closed its facilities and the island was handed over to the City of New York. Since the early 2000s, activity on the island has grown enormously, including public and private investments. After visiting some of the historic military bases on the island, we will receive a tour of the Billion Oyster Project, a project centered on the island that attempts to restore the health of oyster populations that once flourished in New York Harbor. The oyster farming is not meant to reintroduce extractive shellfish harvesting to the harbor but to use the oysters as a natural means of cleaning pollution from the waters.

After our tour, we will stop for refreshments at one of the island’s many eateries and reflect on the ways the harbor’s maritime histories may help us understand the destructive legacies of maritime commerce. How might knowing those histories inform plans for the future health of the harbor and the city? We will also ask the participants to share their plans for the next day’s “Lightning Talk” presentations. ​

Thursday, Day 4 — Port Authority, Memory Cultures, and the Reengineering of New York’s Waterfront 

On the fourth day of our workshop, we will learn about the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the public agency that has been tasked with managing commerce and transportation infrastructures within, across, and beyond those two states since 1921. The Port Authority has also participated in massive development projects related to these infrastructures, including the bridges and tunnels crossing the Hudson and East rivers, as well as the landfill developments of lower Manhattan, including Battery Park City and the World Trade Center. Over time, its leaders’ and workers’ vision of its mission and sensibilities have shifted. Questions about its purpose, whose interests it serves, and what commerce and transportation even mean, have been reshaped time and again in dialogue with tensions over the city’s and region’s political, economic, and social forces.


In light of these questions, we will begin the day with a waterfront walking tour along the Hudson River from the meatpacking district to the World Trade Center, passing piers that were once actively used for industry and maritime commerce but which fell into disuse in the post-war period. These piers have now been reengineered into parks and other public–private amenities. We will begin our walk at the Whitney Museum where David Hammons’ “Day’s End” sculpture pays homage to the now demolished Pier 52 shed. This and other disused piers were repurposed in the 1970s as a zone for public sex by gay men; Pier 52 was also subject to “anarchitectural” deconstruction by the artist Gordon Matta-Clark in 1975—an artwork that Hammons’ sculpture explicitly recalls. This visit will prime our discussion of waterfront cultures, and the ways that minority groups repurposed the city’s post-industrial infrastructure to create community and political agency in the ruins of New York’s maritime industries (Anderson 2019, 130-158). We will also discuss the complex processes of gentrification and real estate speculation along the Hudson that have emerged in the decades since. Our walk will end with a tour of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, another site that emerged from ruined architectures of finance and global trade. A discussion session will conclude our walk.

After lunch, we will convene at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, a CUNY school located near the World Trade Center. We will be joined by Dr. Marita Sturken, Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University and author of the book Terrorism in American Memory: Memorials, Museums, and Architecture in the Post-9/11 Era. In her talk and discussion, Dr. Sturken will provide further analysis of the Lower Manhattan waterfront, its architecture, and its role in a re-invented post-9/11 world of commerce. She will talk to us about the role of the Port Authority in building the original twin towers, and the roles of real estate development and memory culture in the transformation of lower Manhattan from a port zone into a center of global finance.

After a break we will end the day with three-minute “lightning talk” presentations by participants who wish to share their experiential learning lessons or research projects related to New York City waterways. (Participation will be encouraged but not mandatory.) We will provide feedback in preparation for participants posting these lessons and other materials on our website at the end of our workshop.

Friday, Day 5 — Port Newark, Port Elizabeth, and the Future of New York Harbor 

On our final day, we will take the PATH train to Newark, New Jersey to visit the Port Newark, also run by the Port Authority. It is the largest container port in the eastern United States and it handles the vast majority of containerized goods that are shipped into and out of the Northeast. First opened in the early twentieth century, its history tells the story of changes in shipping, manufacturing, and the waning strength of longshoreman unions in New York City. We will take a charter bus from Newark Penn Station to the Port of Newark, where Dr. Angus Gillespie, whose book Port Newark and the Origins of Container Shipping examines the construction and expansion of this port, to provide us with a tour of the area via bus. 

We will begin the morning with discussion at the Seamen's Church Institute along with an early lunch. Then we will board the bus to tour the port areas of Newark and Elizabeth and meet with mariners and workers. Dr. Gillespie also discuss containerization from the 1960s to the present, a phenomenon that facilitated the rise of newly global supply chains and “just in time production.” On our ride back to Newark Penn Station, we will wrap up our visit and reflect on our learning. 

Header image is a video still of the John J. Harvey fireboat in action, painted by artist Tauba Auerbach in an optical art design for a Public Art Fund project. Videographer unknown. Used courtesy of the Public Art Fund and fair use guidelines. 

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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