Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Landmark Site Visit Schedule
Session One Site Visit Schedule
Monday, July 8, Hancock Shaker Village, “Hands to Work: The Shaker Model of Christian Communalism and Enterprise, Hancock Shaker Village”
Tuesday, July 9, New York State Library, “Shaker Education: So the Children Can ‘Pronounce Their Words More Proper and Consistant [sic]’”
Wednesday, July 10, Watervliet Shaker National Historic DIstrict, “Hearts to God: Shaker Spiritual Life and Religion”
Thursday, July 11, Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon, “Seasoned with Grace: Shaker Diet, Health and Medicine”
Friday, July 12, New York State Museum, “Preserving Shaker History: ‘I Almost Expected to Be Remembered as a Chair’”
Session Two Site Visit Schedule
Monday, July 15, Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon, “Seasoned with Grace: Shaker Diet, Health and Medicine”
Tuesday, July 16, New York State Library, “Shaker Education: So the Children Can ‘Pronounce Their Words More Proper and Consistant [sic]’”
Wednesday, July 17, Hancock Shaker Village, “Hands to Work: The Shaker Model of Christian Communalism & Enterprise”
Thursday, July 18, Watervliet Shaker National Historic DIstrict, “Hearts to God: Shaker Spiritual Life and Religion”
Friday, July 19, New York State Museum, “Preserving Shaker History: ‘I Almost Expected to Be Remembered as a Chair’”
Site Visit Themes
Hancock Shaker Village, “Hands to Work: The Shaker Model of Christian Communalism and Enterprise”
At Hancock Shaker Village we will focus on the economic system of early American Shakers. The Shakers viewed work as a sacred privilege, a form of worship to be carried out to one's utmost ability yet also with joy. The emphasis that was placed on work led the Shakers to become justly famous for the quality of the workmanship and materials that went into the products made for sale, as well as the items made for their own use. Shakers were entrepreneurial and industrious at a time when Americans venerated enterprise. But Shakers were also committed to living and working by the principle of cooperation in a cohesive communal society modeled after the primitive Christian Church.
Hancock Shaker Village is located in Hancock, Massachusetts just four miles across the New York 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. It is the ideal site for understanding the themes of community, farming, innovation and technology as they relate to each of the buildings. At Hancock Shaker Village workshop participants will focus on how the Shakers developed and expanded their particular model of Christian communalism and enterprise as an alternative to the American model of political economy.
Todd Burdick, Director of Interpretation & Public Programs, will lead an on-site tour of inquiry-based and experiential learning. The Site visit will end with a discussion between participants and museum professionals on how the Shaker model of economy can potentially inform contemporary debates on sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, green architecture, and smart growth community development.
Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon, “Seasoned with Grace: Shaker Diet, Health and Medicine”
At Mount Lebanon we will focus on Shaker views on celibacy, health, sanitation, and medicine in the context of public health reform in early nineteenth century America. Shakers were early proponents of the social and diet reforms of Sylvester Graham as well as vegetarianism and temperance. They stressed the value of pure foods that would produce a pure body and in turn a general purity of life. This relationship between good diet and a purity of life is simply stated in The Shaker Manifesto (1882), which proclaimed: “I doubt whether really good men and women, Christians, can be raised upon poor bread, made of adulterated materials and chemically corrupted by leaven. If a clean thing cannot be brought out of an unclean, then how can a good thing be made out of bad materials?”
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.
Mount Lebanon Shaker Village consists of ten remaining Shaker buildings including a stone barn, a washhouse, a granary and workshop on thirty acres of land. In the Wash House, participants will visit the two-story flour mill developed for grinding Graham flour, and see the many architectural features in the building used to better health and sanitation. The site of the community kitchen garden, which provided for the mostly-vegetarian community for over a century, will be toured, as well as the Meetinghouse, seat of the Shaker Central Ministry. Additionally, participants will view the short film Medicinal Wetlands to understand the history of the 500-acre swamp at the base of Mount Lebanon. 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.
New York State Library, “Shaker Education: So the Children Can ‘Pronounce Their Words More Proper and Consistant [sic]’”
At the New York State Library we will examine evidence of child rearing practices in Shaker communities. Shakers raised children collectively. Children who entered the community with their biological parents were treated no differently than children who were “adopted” by the community from orphanages and charitable organizations. In response to the growth in the population of young children, the Shakers established a “public school” at Mount Lebanon in 1817 to formally educate their children. In 1821 Shaker Brother Seth Y. Wells, an experienced educator, was appointed superintendent of the Shaker school and worked to perfect and expand Shaker educational practices.
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. We expect that workshop participants -as educators themselves- will identify with the teaching strategies of Shaker teachers. Participants will be able 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.
Senior librarian Vicki Weiss will demonstrate for teachers (and, then, by extension, students) how they can be “history detectives,” examining diverse types of evidence (maps, letters, photographs, newspaper articles, city directories, censuses, etc.) to draw conclusions about the past. Workshop participants will then explore the one-of-a-kind documents pertaining to Shaker educational methods at the Library. They will be encouraged to identify education-related documents that they can use to create a teaching unit that will make the experience of nineteenth century Shaker students relevant to contemporary students. Participants will receive a CD of digitized documents that they have chosen for their lesson plans. Later in the workshop participants will be asked to share two-minute summaries of their lesson plans with the group. Copies of the teaching materials and drafted lesson plans will be made available to all the workshop participants via Blackboard.
Watervliet Shaker National Historic DIstrict, “Hearts to God: Shaker Spiritual Life and Religion”
American Shakers sought to live as angels, aspired to perfection in all aspects of their lives, and yearned to experience direct communication with God and inhabitants of the spirit world in personal and community worship. The Christian communal societies that they built in across America were meant to be “heaven on earth,” free from conflict, possessiveness, exclusive relationships, vanity, personal possessions, individual ambition, distinctions based on race, class or gender, and unhealthy personal habits.
The Shaker Heritage Society interprets nine Shaker buildings within the Watervliet Shaker Church Family property 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 an ideal place for participants to explore expressions of Shaker spirituality and how it was viewed by the outside world.
Executive Director Starlyn D’Angelo will lead the participants in a discussion of the buildings and landscape of this property as expressions of Shaker faith and spiritualism. Participants will then explore the music and dance that was presented to the world’s people (e.g. non Shakers) in the Meeting House. She will provide participants with examples of Shaker diagrams of dance formations and clips of Shaker music and worldly interpretation of Shaker music. Participants will discuss the evolution and function of dance in Shaker worship and then learn a Shaker song and dance. Following this exploration, the group will review large maps showing the location of spiritual fountains at the Watervliet site. Education Coordinator Samantha Hall will lead the group on a tour of the Church Family property. The tour will focus on the physical manifestation of Shaker theological principals in the design of the community and in the emphasis on hard work as a form of spiritual expression. We will end the day with a seminar discussion between participants and museum professionals about the challenges and rewards of teaching the history of religion and spirituality in schools and museum settings.
New York State Museum, “Preserving Shaker History: ‘I Almost Expected to Be Remembered as a Chair’”
At the New York State Museum we will consider the rise of Shaker romanticism. The Shaker population dwindled at the turn of the twentieth century and communities began to consolidate. 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 New York State Museum’s Shaker Collection comprises more than 9,000 artifacts.
The Museum’s Shaker collection includes a wide variety of artifacts that reflect the simple elegance of Shaker design and express the pride and pleasure that the Shakers eminently took in their work. The quality of Shaker craftsmanship is evident in the smallest objects, such as wood mitten and thumb forms, in the woven tape foot stools and ladder back chairs, and in the details of larger objects, like rotating wood pegs that open and close cupboard doors, and the turned wood knobs of chests of drawers. Other objects serve as examples of Shaker ingenuity, which can be seen in Shaker inventions or improvements such as the circular saw blade, the label printing device, and the side chair with metal tilters.
Lisa Seymour, Research and Collections Technician, will lead participants in a discussion of how historic objects can be used to furnish a deeper understanding of history. An additional component of the discussion will be on the theme of changing interpretations 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.