Category Archives: Social History

Can you please help us understand the value of this gift?

Our schools’ two piece high chest left; on the right high chest attributed to Eliphalet Chapin, East Windsor, Connecticut, 1771–1795

The class began wondering about the value of this antique gift that resides in our school’s beautiful Cone Lounge. (See more in our slides here.) Our athletes sign commitment letters to their future schools there. Other students have met there because they are part of clubs who have a special event there or perhaps they observed a special Passover Seder ritual feast there. One of the intriguing goals for the class was to find out more about this piece of antique furniture that stands between the two doors of Cone Lounge. Another dimension of our inquiry became the project to write about the social history fo our community asset that is in plain sight. Some call this hidden history; for project-based learning classes, this type of public history is an authentic way to spread the learning outside the classroom walls, and writing and sharing to our community will help students leave a more meaningful footprint of learning behind. In order to appreciate the value of these high chests in colonial culture, the class read Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s “Furniture as Social History: Gender, Property, and Memory in the Decorative Arts.” We also enjoyed reading (great reading quiz scores) Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains; Chapters 4-5 animate the cultural context of such a high chest. Along with appreciating the value and roles these cultural artifacts played in colonial culture, the opening chapters also answered many great student questions. As we were coming to terms with researching colonial slavery and making new discoveries about the lives of slaves in our historic homes on main street, students pondered deeply the dynamic among slaves and slave owners. What was slavery really like here? How did New England owners keep slaves from running away? What were the conditions of indentured servants? Imagining the fears associated with running away in colonial times did help us imagine a world of colonial paths which when we stripped away highways, railroads, and canals, only had wagon ruts and horse traffic added to the distinctions that served when they were Native American trails. We read chapters in the seminal text for Connecticut History, Complicity, and learned about the violence whims the owners of Venture Smith and his wife’s owners had on their lives. Now as we prepare for our upcoming community presentation on April 23rd, we want to learn who made this piece of furniture and try to explain the context in which Dorothy Fuller Bissell (class of 1916) made this gift. Can you please help? Feel comfortable connecting with us on the class Twitter account: https://twitter.com/caisct_pbl or just by commenting on this post. Thanks!