How many Clarkies does it take to launch a historically significant, community-oriented exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum?
At least 20, for sure. For nearly four years, History Professor Janette Greenwood, along with undergraduate and graduate students and alumni, dove deep into researching century-old photos from Worcester that chronicled a national story: the blossoming of vibrant communities of color in the five decades after Reconstruction.
Their research informs the exhibition, “Rediscovering an American Community of Color: The Photographs of William Bullard,” which recently opened at the museum. It includes more than 80 portraits that Bullard took of African-Americans and Native Americans in Worcester from 1894 to 1917. Bullard and many of the “sitters” — the people whom he photographed — lived in the multi-racial, multi-ethnic Beaver Brook neighborhood.
Ten undergraduates became involved in the project through “Public History: Race, Photography and Community,” a Problems of Practice (POP) history seminar taught last spring by Greenwood and Nancy Burns, the museum’s associate curator of prints, drawings and photographs.
As part of their coursework, students contributed essays to a website devoted to the Bullard photos, and the stories behind them. Computer science major Jonathan Cyr ’17 provided the framework for the website with the help of John Magee, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. The website will remain online after the exhibition ends on Feb. 25, 2018.
On Oct. 19, 2017, Greenwood’s students will answer questions from visitors at the museum’s Master Series Third Thursday event. Their research also informs the labels that accompany Bullard’s photographs on display, and they’ve contributed blog articles to the museum’s website about the exhibition. See photos from that event here.
Among the stories and photos that the students researched:
Other students became involved in the project through an earlier history seminar taught by Greenwood, or through independent projects, including LEEP fellowships. They include:
“This has been a tremendous opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in groundbreaking research that has had an impact not only on individual families, but an entire community, with national implications,” Greenwood says.