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A Special Visit and a Special Guest Speaker

Hello to all you beautiful people out there,

Thanks for checking in for my latest blog. We've certainly had an exciting last two sessions here in New York City with the Youth Historian students, and I'm eager to share what the students have been up.

With an increased effort on my part to meet more people and go more places, last Saturday we visited Barnard College, which is the prestigious women's college across from Columbia University. Two of Barnard's archivists were extremely kind to open up the library (it was still winter break!) and work with the Youth Historians all afternoon. They talked to them about what an archive is, gave them a little tour (which is rare to actually go back in an archive), and then laid out a large collection of primary sources for students to experience, such as old photos, newspapers, letters, and various documents from a former African-American Barnard student in the late 1960s. It was a great experience, and students really enjoyed the visit, particularly touching all the old "stuff" and examining the boxes like a treasure trove. For these students to be exposed to a college archive like this is unprecedented, and I'm glad that they now can visualize what an archive "is" as they begin to do more heavy research on their individual topics.

Furthermore, this past Saturday, a special guest speaker that my colleague was able to contact, Ms. Melanie Johnson Edwards, spoke with students at Columbia University about history. Ms. Edwards is the granddaughter of J. Rosamond Johnson, who was a famous black composer who wrote "Lift Every Voice and Sing" as well as the great niece of James Weldon Johnson, one of the most famous black writers of the Harlem Renaissance. She brought a suitcase full of primary documents, including her grandfather's wedding invitation, death certificates, pictures, and very old newspaper clippings. She spoke about the value of recording one's personal history and how history is a story that is very much dependent on the evidence a person has and the meaning behind that story. It was nice for students to hear from Ms. Edwards, and further conceptualize the work of a historian.

We are beginning our heavy foray into oral history the next few sessions and I look forward to telling you more about how that is going in a few weeks.


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