May 25, 2012 – Earlier this week, on May 23, the National Endowment for the Humanities hosted a public lecture by Morris J. Vogel, President of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. “Making the Jewish East Side Iconic: the Tenement Museum and the Story of American Immigration” was held in honor of Jewish Heritage Month. Dr. Vogel spoke about the Tenement Museum’s unique approach to Jewish history in America and the work of the museum’s curators in researching and drawing from the histories of former residents of Orchard Street in the Lower East Side to create exhibits reflective of the American immigrant experience.
“At one time, when we thought about what made this country, we talked in terms of the West or the motivations that drew the Pilgrims to a shining city on a hill, or the ideals of Constitutionalism and political liberty,” said Vogel in an agency press release. “All those subjects remain important. But the Tenement Museum has been part of a recent effort to include the aspirations and struggles that brought generations of immigrants to America’s shores, many of whom settled in New York City, and in the process turned the Lower East Side into the icon of immigrant America.”
The National Endowment for the Humanities has supported the Lower East Side Tenement Museum since its founding in a condemned tenement in 1988. The Tenement Museum enables visitors to forge emotional connections to the people of the past, develop an understanding of their struggles, and cultivate an appreciation for the hurdles immigrants encountered as they became Americans. One of the fastest growing cultural institutions in New York City, the museum welcomed over 175,000 visitors in 2011, including more than 40,000 K-12 students.
Since its founding, the Tenement Museum has received numerous NEH grants, including for the preservation of the museum’s archival materials, and the implementation of permanent installations on a 19th-century sweatshop and on public health and urban sanitation. During his talk Dr. Vogel discussed an upcoming NEH-supported exhibit at the Tenement Museum called “Shop Life” on the varieties of commerce conducted by Lower East Side immigrants, presented through a recreation of a German saloon from 1870, a kosher butcher from the 1890s, a Depression-era auction house, and an underwear discounters from the 1970s.
Additional information about the event is available on the NEH website.
[Posted by: Erin Mosley]