The Preserving Places Project has researched the cultural history of the Brooklyn-Curtis Bay area of Baltimore and partnered with various local groups and non-profits since 2009. The spring 2014 cohort for the Preserving Place Project (AMST 422/680) is a very impressive group with diverse skills and interests (see more about them under the “Students” tab). This is the first semester the course has included grad students (we have three) and an intern (a past AMST 422 student) who will focus on the social entrepreneurship aspects of the course. This iteration of the course is designed with a focus on the important issue of environmental justice and environmental history, which are rich topics in the past and present Greater Baybrook neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Curtis Bay, Fairfield, Hawkin’s Point, and Wagner’s Point.
In addition to our public history work on environmental issues, we are working with the Filbert Street Garden in Curtis Bay to plan a fundraiser for the garden to help fund the new garden manager position, which will help sustain the work on education and creating healthy food options that are already underway in the community garden. Save the date–the fundraiser will be at the 2640 space (run by Red Emma’s) in Charles Village on the evening of Sunday, May 11.
In the course students develop the skills of social entrepreneurship—working with local stakeholders to use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to assist with social change in local communities—as well as using place-based history and cultural documentation methods to tell the diverse stories of environmental issues in Baybrook. Those issues range from the history of industrial development and pollution to local green spaces and community gardens.
We also explore the past in the context of current development projects in the area—such as the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center and the Energy Answers incinerator planned for the community. We also hope to work with the Free Your Voice human rights organization based at Benjamin Franklin High School in Curtis Bay. Free Your Voice has made this video addressing both their community garden and their thoughts on the incinerator:
We will be looking at various perspectives on the past, present, and future of the Baybook community through the lens of storytelling. Narrative and storytelling are at the heart of public humanities projects. Students will respect the voices of current residents as we work to unearth the memories of the past in the hopes of creating a dialogue about the futures (plural) of Baybrook. Student work will be archived on the Mapping Baybrook website.
In the groundbreaking book The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (MIT Press, 1997) Dolores Hayden writes that, “social memory relies on storytelling” and that “historians have seen how communities gained from defining their own economic and social histories.” Our work in cultural history and event programming strives to create social space for people to come together and share perspectives on the environmental issues that matter to them. In the words of historian Jack Chen, we hope to create “dialogic space,” which opens dialogue and gives communities the power to define their own collective pasts. Students will take part in both participating in community efforts underway in Brooklyn and Curtis Bay as well as contributing to the Baybrook Oral History Project by collecting the stories and perspectives of residents, past and present. In working with and for the community we hope to do justice to the diverse stories and perspectives in this historic industrial community in the southernmost tip of Baltimore city.
During the first week of classes on the evening of Wednesday, January 29 I went to the recently opened Family Health Center of Baltimore in Brooklyn for a SoBoNet meeting. South Baltimore Network began in early 2013, with the goal to improve South Baltimore, Maryland. South Baltimore consists of many different neighborhoods, ranging widely in population, socio-economic status, race, and age. South Baltimore Network strives to bring many of the non-profits who target South Baltimore together. Through fundraising assistance, financial assistance, and training, South Baltimore Network brings together local non-profits to help them better serve the local communities. During the meeting (the second one for the new organization) the group came up with a vision statement and discussed forming committees on issues of economic development/jobs, education, health, recreation, transportation, and childcare.
One of the main things discussed by Mike from the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development (CCYD) during the meeting are the upcoming Docs in the Park events that connect health care practitioners with local residents in parks to show the importance of outside exercise. After the meeting we got a tour of the brand new facilities Family Health Centers of Baltimore in Brooklyn (3540 S. Hanover St.), which provides needed health care options for local residents in a wonderfully rehabbed building that was once an industrial space.
There is a lot going on in South Baltimore and with the Preserving Places student cohort of 2014. Check here for updates throughout the semester.
If you are interested in participating in the Baybrook Oral History Project or finding out more about the Preserving Places Project, please contact me:
Nicole King, Ph.D. Assistant Professor
Department of American Studies, UMBC – 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250
(410) 455-1457 or nking [at] umbc [.] edu