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The Newport Historical Society Expands Program of Visiting Scholars

Continued Support by the Buchanan and Burnham Families

More than a decade ago the Newport Historical Society (NHS) began what is now an endowed program to bring young history scholars to the NHS each summer for research and training in the public side of history practice. The Buchanan-Burnham Summer Internship, funded by Helen Buchanan and Richard and Fanchon (Monty) Burnham, was visionary on behalf of the donors and transformative for the NHS. It connected NHS with emerging scholars and their research, and alumni of the program are now teaching and working in museums all over the country. The program is now heading into its 15th year with an expanded emphasis.

The Burnham family and the Trustees of the Helen Buchanan Trust have recently agreed to increase both the funding and the purview of the Buchanan Burnham program. Now called the Buchanan Burnham Endowment for Visiting Scholars, this program will have two components. The long-standing summer program, now called Buchanan Burnham Fellowships, will continue to focus on public history and research with competitive awards of 3-5 graduate fellowships each summer. Applications for the Summer 2017 program can be found on the NHS website.

In addition, a new program of Visiting Curators at the NHS will be established under the Buchanan Burnham umbrella, replacing the traditional full-time Curator. “NHS’s collections are too comprehensive, and our programming arena too large for one person to be an expert in everything we do,” explains the Society’s Executive Director Ruth Taylor. “We function on many levels at once: fostering and collating scholarship, maintaining our museum and satellite exhibits, lectures on five centuries of history, a living history program and more. We need to stay abreast of current scholarship and to keep our vision broad, at the same time that, practically, we must remain at a staffing size that is sustainable in our community.”

These appointments will allow working scholars to take a hiatus from other work and bring their expertise to Newport and to the NHS collections, taking a greater knowledge of Newport’s history with them when they leave for other endeavors. Visiting Curators will be mature scholars working on topics in history relevant to the NHS’ current areas of mission-related activity. Appointments will be long-term temporary, full or part-time, and will carry an appropriate stipend. The NHS is preparing to appoint three Visiting Curators in 2017:

Taylor Stoermer, PhD. Visiting Curator of Public History. Dr. Stoermer is former Chief Historian at Colonial Williamsburg, in charge of interpretation, and now teaches history and public history at several regional universities including Roger Williams and Harvard. Dr. Stoermer will continue to direct the research on the recent gift to the NHS of a sword given by the Marquis de Lafayette to Newport’s Daniel Lyman. Additionally, he will help develop programs that support the NHS’ growing brand as a public history organization.

John Tschirch, M.A.  Visiting Curator of Urban History. Formerly at the Preservation Society of Newport County, Mr. Tschirch will serve as the coordinating scholar for the project Mapping the Newport Experience. This work will create a visual timeline for urban development in Newport, using maps, photographs, and written descriptions from the collections at the NHS and elsewhere to demonstrate how the City grew from its origins into the 20th century. A series of walking tours and lectures, an exhibit, a web presence, and a publication are planned.

Michael Simpson, M.A. Visiting Curator of Native American History. Mr. Simpson is a specialist in Native American history who served as a Buchanan-Burnham Fellow last summer. He will coordinate a program to research the role of Native peoples in Newport County. Much documentation exists in the NHS’ collections and in other repositories in the state, as well as in native traditions, for the interaction of early settlers with the original inhabitants, including cooperation, conflict, economic exchanges, the role the tribes played during the American Revolution, and more. Many of these stories are currently absent from the main narrative of Newport’s history that the NHS interprets for the public. It is anticipated that new programs, signage and exhibit modules, and walking tours will be created.

“Making of a Newport Meal”: A Newport Eats Digital Exhibit

The Newport Historical Society is pleased to debut a new digital exhibit Making of a Newport Meal: Selections from the Newport Historical Society’s Collections, curated by NHS summer intern Michelle Montalbano, on the Explore Historic Newport app.

This digital exhibit, part of the Newport Eats history of food program initiative, explores the role of food and culture in Newport in the 19th and 20th centuries. Making of a Newport Meal reviews the early 20th century mussels industry, neighborhood groceries in ethnic and immigrant enclaves, and the guest book and vouchers from wealthy estate owners alike. The images exhibited range from digital reproductions of glass plate negatives, to bound recipe books, household records, and advertising cards and other ephemera.

To view Making of a Newport Meal click here. The Explore Historic Newport app is also available as a free download on the App Store and Google Play.

Newport Eats explores the lived experience of the past through food. The NHS is regularly featuring programs, events and exhibits that explore the role of food in Newport’s rich and diverse history. Click here to learn more about Newport Eats.

Michelle Montalbano is currently the Associate Archivist at The Digital Ark in Providence RI, a digital archiving and media development firm specializing in digitally preserving and sharing historic collections at many prominent Rhode Island cultural heritage institutions, including the Newport Historical Society, Little Compton Historical Society, U.S. Naval War College, St. George’s School, Brown University, and the Providence Public Library. She created two other digital exhibits for the Newport Historical Society: Fraternité: All Things Come Back to Newport, which connected to the docking of the Marquis de Lafayette’s ship L’Hermione on Newport shores, and Newport at War, which expanded upon the exhibition created by the Buchanan Burnham Fellows at the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard/ Revolution House—both in 2015. She also created finding aids for two collections in the Newport Historical Society’s holdings: the Old Stone Mill Collection and the Newport Association of Mechanics and Manufacturers records.

Above: A collection of historic images and advertisements featured in the digital exhibit “Making of a Newport Meal”.

“An Evening of Culinary Indulgence & 18th Century Culture”

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On Saturday September 17, 2016, the Newport Historical Society presented An Evening of Culinary Indulgence & 18th Century Culture at the 1739 Colony House. The event recreated aspects of a colonial-era festive family meal using 18th century recipes. Cocktails and drinks such as Colonial Fish House Punch and the Rattleskull were served in reproduction drinking vessels. The dinner presented seasonally appropriate foods including quahog chowder, “salat” of local greens, succotash, and apple tansey with cream for dessert. Many attendees commented on how well our forefathers ate. To review the menu and related notes about the history of these dishes, click here.

The evening also featured costumed interpreters who represented specific figures from 1765 Newport. These living historians mingled with guests during the cocktail hour and after dinner, discussing their viewpoints on political and social matters that were once central to life in this prosperous seaport. The Ministers of Apollo, a musical ensemble specializing in 18th century musical entertainment, performed during the cocktail hour and after the dinner. Towards the end of the evening, one unfortunate sailor was dragged from the Colony House by Royal Navy sailors as he was pressed into service aboard HMS Maidstone; this mini reenactment represented a naval impressment incident from June 1765.

Co-chaired by Elizabeth Leatherman and Susan Jacquet, An Evening of Culinary Indulgence & 18th Century Culture quickly sold-out and plans are underway for 2017.  The dinner was catered by McGrath Catering, who adapted the colonial recipes, and was sponsored by Newport Storm, Thomas Tew Rum, and Doug Newhouse and Holly Bannister. All photographs by Nick Mele.