Program Director
Jenn Dorsey 518-782-6947
shakerworkshop@siena.edu      

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

Landmark Sites

NEH Landmark Workshops immerse scholars into the past in ways that are uniquely possible with living history sites. NEH Summer Scholars will work with museum professionals and librarians at five different sites to analyze artifacts, historic texts and material culture. We hope that this experience of learning Shaker history in hands-on ways will empower NEH Summer Scholars to think creatively about how they can utilize the intellectual expertise of museum and library professionals in their own communities.

Our NEH Landmark Sites include: 

The Shaker Heritage Society (Albany, New York) interprets nine Shaker buildings within the Watervliet Shaker Heritage District including an 1848 Meeting House and the burial site of Shaker founder Ann Lee. The Meeting House is the only large scale Shaker Meeting House with an intact interior space. It was built specifically for public worship and provides a superb opportunity for participants to explore expressions of Shaker spirituality and how it was viewed by the outside world. Workshop participants will explore the music and dance that was presented to the world’s people (e.g. non Shakers) in the Meeting House. 

Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon (Mount Lebanon, New York) is the ideal site for understanding the themes of health, medicine and diet. The North Family Shakers at Mount Lebanon were especially dedicated to the Graham system and to a vegetarian diet, and the leader of the North Family for some fifty years, Frederick Evans, was its passionate proponent. Food reform was a spiritual opportunity but it was also a social and political cause promoted by Evans and the North Family Shakers. The Shakers’ medicinal herb business at Mount Lebanon, begun in the 1820s, was among the first in America to gather, raise, and package herbs on a large scale for medicine. The Shakers tended a 150-acre herb garden for this purpose, and pressed dozens of tons of dried herbs and roots each year. Artifacts from the Museum’s collection will be used to illustrate the Shakers’ use of alternative medicines, including herbal extracts, electrostatic medical devices, and other “modern” medical objects.  

Hancock Shaker Village (Hancock, Massachusetts) is located just four miles across the New York State border. The Village features nineteen historic buildings, including a Brick Dwelling, a Laundry/Machine Shop, and the renowned Round Stone Barn, a testament to Shaker efficiency, innovation and design. At this site we will explore the themes of community, farming, innovation and technology as they relate to each of the buildings. Our objective is to understand the economic, scientific, technological, industrial, and agricultural elements of the Shaker model of economy. 

At the New York State Library (Albany, New York) workshop participants will examine original documents pertaining to Shaker educational methods as they relate to the wider education reform movement of the early nineteenth century. Among the documents in the Library’s holdings related to children and Shaker education are teacher certificates; student merit certificates; instructional textbooks (arithmetic, practical penmanship, ciphering, grammatical diagram); a copy of The Gospel Monitor: A Little Book of Mother Ann’s Word to Those Who Are Placed as Instructors and Care-takers of Children (1843); the indentures records of children adopted by Watervliet Shaker families between 1832 and 1872; and school district documents. Participants will have the opportunity to compare and contrast the education of Shaker children – and non-Shaker children – and reflect on changes in educational methods between the nineteenth and the twenty-first centuries. 

At the New York State Museum (Albany, New York) NEH Summer Scholars will consider how historic objects can be used to furnish a deeper understanding of history. In the 1910s the Watervliet Shakers entered a historic partnership with Dr. Charles C. Adams, director of the New York State Museum from 1926 to 1943, to preserve their material culture. In time the Museum received objects and documents from Shaker communities at Hancock, Massachusetts; Enfield and Canterbury, New Hampshire; and Sabbathday Lake, Maine. Today, the Museum’s Shaker Collection comprises more than 9,000 artifacts. As they explore the Shaker collection, Summer Scholars will reflect on the challenge of how to preserve the history of a community. They will also discuss with museum professionals how museum interpretation changes over time. The Museum’s early exhibitions and publications on the Shakers in the 1930s presented them from a framework of anthropological curiosity, emphasizing the “oddity” of their lifestyle choices over more positive elements emphasized in later interpretations, such as their design aesthetic and the social values of gender equality which later came to widespread cultural acceptance.