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Exploring History Through Voices

Lisa Peck

As a transplanted college student, sometimes it is all too easy to be swept up in the college’s culture and community, and have a shallow relationship with the City of Ithaca and the greater Tompkins County community.

Over the past semester, I interned in the education department at The History Center. This internship allowed me to get to know Ithaca in a different way: through the lens of locals.

 

This is a banner year for local history — it is the 200th anniversary of the founding of Tompkins County, and the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York state. Researching these histories for educational resources has allowed me to understand the principles Tompkins County was founded on, and the values it holds close today.

In practice, I assisted with the organization of Generation to Generation, an oral history initiative guiding local teens in interviewing elders, and connecting with Tompkins County history via those that lived it. Each participant holds a unique viewpoint of Ithaca and its own significance in their life, and through this program are able to share their story with the community. In our initial participant meet-and-greet, I met youths and elders alike that were so passionate and knowledgeable about the Ithaca they grew up in, and excited to add their discourse to the archives.

As part of my own Generation to Generation involvement, I took on the role of interviewer. From a couple of sessions full of stories and many photographs, I can begin to piece together and understand the experience of growing up in a farming family in rural Tompkins County, attending Ithaca College downtown, and building a career at Cornell University and a life in Ithaca.

Recognizing the agrarian backbone and history of Tompkins County, as well as the importance of collegiate and community involvement in Ithaca with the stories of a lifelong resident, helps me form a more complete image of the area.

I also helped The History Center prepare for the seasonal reopening of the Eight Square Schoolhouse, a one-room octagonal schoolhouse in Dryden. Each spring, local fourth-graders are treated to an authentic 1892 school day, complete with primers, cursive, quills and ink. Seeing how much education has changed in 125 years, and The History Center’s dedication to remembering and discussing our past, help us to better understand and critique our present and future.

Interning at The History Center has allowed me to learn an incredible amount about Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca through living and written history. I believe absorbing these experiences and values made me a well-rounded resident, not just an academic seasonal visitor.

Lisa Peck, a recent intern at The History Center, is a 2017 graduate of Ithaca College with a bachelor's degree in art history with a museum studies concentration.

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