Animating the Stories of New York’s Beginnings

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Animating the Stories of New York’s Beginnings




Interpretive Planning



for the

New Amsterdam History Center
in connection with its
Virtual New Amsterdam 3D Model and Accompanying Database



by

American History Workshop



Dr. Richard Rabinowitz, Project Director

Dr. Dennis J. Maika, Historical Consultant

Cory Munson, Educational Consultant

Chris Lawrence, Consultant on Social Media

Mirla Morrison, Curriculum Adviser



in collaboration with

Haff Associates
Hudson Microimaging
Environmental Simulation Center





September 20, 2010

The Urgency and the Opportunity

Discovering who we are

The history of New York has often been a history of forgetting, of leaving behind ancestral homelands and terrible experiences of persecution and enslavement. It’s often only the grandchildren or great-grandchildren who return to the port and countryside of departure in Europe, Africa, and Asia, and reconnect to a family’s torn past. The immigrant herself seldom looks back.

We New Yorkers are a people of new beginnings — re-inventing ourselves, starting out on new adventures. We learn one another’s languages, we share one another’s foods and social customs. Sometimes we give one another a wide berth. But what we mostly share is a taste for risk-taking. This is not a city for the faint of heart. Well-trained engineers from Seoul or lawyers schooled in Bamako are willing to start anew, at the steering wheel of a delivery truck or behind a grocery counter, in order to make a better life for their children. Those New York children grow up in the wake of these courageous self-transformations and are themselves challenge-seekers.

Oddly enough, or perhaps not so oddly, that was as true of the men and women who peopled Peter Stuyvesant’s New Amsterdam as it is of Michael Bloomberg’s New York. Shirking the privileges of their lives in Leiden, Hamburg, Hull, or Bergen, leaving behind the people who knew them best (and who served as their “safety nets”), they came here to venture. Every skill they had, from felling trees to stitching garments, was a trade they could practice. Always a part of a broader Atlantic community, they brought their connections to the world with them. They needed survival skills, but they aimed at a more ambitious economic role for their Atlantic outpost.

In New Amsterdam the European and the native American and the African converged, and began a new life together. The Atlantic creoles who came to New Amsterdam in slaves’ chains knew from their days in Loango and Elmina in Africa and Cartagena in South America how a trading outpost worked. Their labors built the dock and the canal, the fort and the wall. Their service in protecting the little settlement earned them land and half-freedom from the Dutch governors. Some merged with the native peoples up the island or across the great river to form new communities that survive to this day.

At the tip of Manhattan, the amalgam of Europeans — often fugitives from the wars of Dutch independence and the Thirty Years War on the Continent — tried to link themselves into the rapidly growing shuttles, triangles, and quadrilaterals of maritime commerce of the Atlantic world. Fur pelts from beyond the river’s falls, wheat from Hudson Valley plantations, dried cod from the New England coast, tobacco from the Chesapeake, packed beef from the margins of Long Island Sound — all these, plus shrewdly purchased goods of Caribbean islands, constituted the cargo of vessels that would justify the dreams of these emigrants to the American shore.

We can all recognize this story. Its lineaments are still visible in the day-to-day lives of our city.

We, too, occupy this astonishing and fortuitous landscape of islands, bays, and rivers. Perhaps for the first time in 150 years, New Yorkers are re-attaching themselves in our generation to shorelines and water-views, as parkland replaces the forests of masts and the hulks of warehouses along our coasts.

We, too, occupy a community of people from everywhere, united chiefly in their aspirations for success.

And we, too, occupy a city of ceaseless enterprise, an engine of economic possibility for development here and everywhere else in the world. New York has always been a global city.

The Importance of This History


Most New Yorkers do not know much of this history. Our city hasn’t enshrined its past in a single preserved historic precinct, like Philadelphia. We don’t have an easily mapped chain of historic landmark buildings, like Boston’s Freedom Trail. We can’t observe the original plan of our city very easily, as one can in L’Enfant’s Washington. We do have many preserved landmarks now, and wonderfully evocative historic districts, but they don’t tell the basic story of how New York began and how it developed.

Nor have our schools done a very good job. The “beginnings” of American history are frequently identified with Jamestown in Virginia and Plymouth in Massachusetts. Now some point to St. Augustine, Florida, as an earlier starting-point, or to outposts of New Spain like Santa Fe, New Mexico. Heroic as these ventures were, they were the roads not taken in our national development.

Unlike these places, the city of New York still occupies the very same terrain – though much changed. Here one can still discover archeological treasures, a ship or even the remains of hundreds of African men and women, beneath the places where thousands of us still live and work everyday. Wall Street is still exactly where the Dutch wall of the 1650s was built.

But even more important, New York’s history is the clue to many of the essential elements of modern American life. Our ignorance of that history puts blinders on our ability to understand our lives today. When we teach American history without focusing on the New York story, we avert our gaze from critical aspects of the American political, social, and economic story.

We did not evolve as a country filled with many tiny utopian refugee settlements, as the Plimoth Plantation might have predicted. We didn’t wind up as a company-sponsored agricultural and mining venture, as the original Jamestown might suggest. Americans are now an urban people, living with astonishingly diverse neighbors, seeking our own individual family fortunes through labor and capital investment. We do come together to create a political system that promotes the well being of the whole, much as the Dutch did before us.

Colonial New Amsterdam, then, is the almost-secret key to the American destiny. Because the Dutch lost the colony, and because few Americans could read and translate the colonial records of New Netherland, our historians have found it easier to locate the interesting narratives of our history in the archives of Massachusetts and Virginia, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas.

Fortunately, the records of the 17th century have survived political upheaval, revolution, frequent relocation of the provincial and state capital, and a devastating fire in the state archives. A century ago, the Castello Plan, a map of New Amsterdam in the year 1660, was discovered in an Italian villa. It was first published in 1916. The plan provides us with an amazing window into the physical geography of the town – the only such early guide to a colonial town in North America. Around the same time, the antiquarian I.N.P. Stokes painstakingly traced every land transaction to provide a genealogy of the development of New Amsterdam and collected every extant image of the colony in his superb six-volume Iconography of Manhattan Island.

Since 1922, the Holland Society of New York has published the quarterly journal de Halve Maen. Now under the editorship of David Voorhees, the well-illustrated magazine is a popular vehicle for new research illuminating the Dutch contribution to American history. That research, undertaken by historians and archeologists on every continent, has included editions of many original archival collections relating to the Dutch settlement of this region and its 17th-century context.

The most ambitious of these editorial efforts has been the work of Charles Gehring and Janny Venema, associated with the New Netherland Project based in Albany, to complete the transcription, translation, and publication of all Dutch documents in New York repositories relating to the 17th-century colony of New Netherland. The New Netherland Institute, which organizes support for the translation project, also sponsors an important annual scholarly seminar and a variety of public educational endeavors. In New York City, the Collegiate Church Corporation, heir to the original Dutch church in New Amsterdam, has also been a steward of this history, creating an archival and publication program for church and ministerial records and materials.

In the years leading up to the 2009 celebration of the quadricentennial of Henry Hudson’s voyage, a growing awareness of this Dutch-American legacy sparked historical activities throughout the Hudson Valley. Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America (2004) was greeted with critical and popular acclaim. And, finally, in 2005, the New Amsterdam History Center was established to strengthen the public’s awareness, on a long-term basis, of this crucial chapter in our national history.

Enter the New Amsterdam History Center


For the purpose of creating a public interpretive and educational center, the Collegiate Church Corporation and others fostered the establishment of the New Amsterdam History Center [NAHC] a nonprofit institution, chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York.

The mission of NAHC is to encourage public exploration of the early history of New Amsterdam and New York, its diverse people, landscapes, and institutions. It is the Center’s intention to collaborate with existing historical sites and museums in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, New York State and New Jersey.

The NAHC aims to perform a unique service for New Yorkers and visitors through its creative public presentations of the enduring influence of the Dutch settlement of New York. The center will encourage patrons to explore the historic past, from 17th-century New Amsterdam to the 21st-century metropolis that New York is today.

NAHC’s programs will employ a wide variety of media, including:



  1. The development of classroom curricula in history, social studies, and other relevant disciplines; distribution through in-service and other training opportunities for teachers and supervisors; a web-based center for teaching and learning about New Amsterdam and early New York.

  2. Performances, presentations, lectures, concerts, media programs, self-guided and guided tours, and other events offered independently and in conjunction with other historic sites and partner institutions.
  3. The creation and operation of a visitor center in Manhattan, offering interpretive exhibitions, orientation to self-guided and guided tours of historic sites, facilities for school visit programs; space for distributing teaching and learning materials; and a gift shop.


Each of these initiatives is committed to employing the most sophisticated and economical state-of-the-art technologies, the most thoughtful pedagogical strategies, and the best management and promotional techniques to attract and benefit the broadest and most inclusive public possible. The NAHC believes strongly that its core narrative — the establishment of a multicultural, dynamic, and progressive colonial outpost in this magnificent setting — is a story that belongs to every American and every visitor to New York, whether they arrive in person or via cyberspace.

Virtual New Amsterdam

The first challenge facing the NAHC was to fashion a conceptual “container” for all of the rich historical material — documentary, physical, visual, archeological, folkloric — that could be assembled by students of early New Amsterdam and New York. Volumes of translated texts, collections of original archival materials, folders of visual materials, carefully labeled boxes of material gathered from hundreds of excavations and digs, centuries of historical scholarship — all these are overwhelmingly daunting to the uninitiated.

The Castello Plan, however, offered a remarkable tool for organizing this array of resources and for making New Amsterdam’s history into a coherent whole that could more easily be investigated by anyone. If all the data collected by Stokes in his Iconography, or by genealogical researchers, or by the editors of de Halve Maen over the years, could be linked to locations on this map, and accessible by clicking on map sites, and if the map could be turned into a virtual, three-dimensional world, then it might be possible for visitors to explore the history and meanings of this remarkable place house by house, street by street, story by story.

With funding from the New York Empire State Development Corporation and the Collegiate Church Corporation, NAHC embarked upon the creation of the Virtual New Amsterdam Prototype. For this work, NAHC enlisted the professional talents of the Environmental Simulation Center and Hudson Microimaging. Error: Reference source not found of Haff Associates coordinated the project.

Creating a 3D model of New Amsterdam in 1660


Since 2005, the Environmental Simulation Center of New York (ESC) has taken the lead in designing and developing the Virtual New Amsterdam project (VNAP). The computer-interactive program combines a randomly accessible three-dimensional immersive environment with text, numerical information, static images, and primary sources, allowing users entry into the rich social, economic and physical form of New Amsterdam in the 17th century. This non-hierarchical web-based environment was built using Google Earth and the Drupal Content Management System and contains digitized primary sources, such as Volume IV of Stokes’s Iconography, which were previously unavailable in digital form.

The current iteration of the model features the entire Castello Plan, up to and including the wall, modeled in 3D in various levels of detail, as well as detailed models of ships, the fort, the windmill, warehouses and a wharf populated with people, objects and animals. Several areas of the model, including the Stone Street Pilot Area, are “clickable” and connected to the Drupal system.

Drupal is an open source software that provides a framework for organizing, storing, and linking the diverse forms of digital information that have been gathered and created for the VNAP. This powerful tool has allowed NAHC to create different user “roles” that can view, access and/or edit varying levels of information.

Documenting the Life and Times of New Amsterdam in 1660

Courtney Haff of Haff Associates was the major force behind the conceptualization and execution of the VNAP. He brought the Environmental Simulation Center and Hudson Microimaging into the project, managed the grant-proposal and reporting functions of the project, and coordinated the relationship with the board of the NAHC. His was the most important contribution in getting the project off the ground. He worked with the NAHC Scholarly Review Committee to gather resources, check facts, and review the images used to represent people and places in the VNA.

Hudson Microimaging took responsibility for populating the model with information about the inhabitants and activities of New Amsterdam in the era of the Castello Plan, assisting in the development of the 3D model, and helping to define the functionality of the Drupal database.

Over the course of more than three years, HM has scanned thousands of documents and defined a database that allows users to explore the factual world beyond the 3D representation of the VNA. Additional sources of data came from Stokes’s Iconography, Arnold Van Laer’s New York Historical Manuscripts, and published works by Charles Gehring, Jaap Jacobs, Marine Gosselink, Firth Haring Fabend, and many others. This data set will allow future users to create additional curricula, to research individuals, families, places, objects, or specific themes in a manner that is significantly more user friendly than any currently in place for this subject.

The Curriculum Project:
Translating Data into Narrative


American History Workshop, under the direction of its president, Dr. Richard Rabinowitz, was brought aboard the project in February 2010 to strengthen and demonstrate the utility of the Virtual New Amsterdam 3D model and database. For researchers and genealogists, the prototype was already a wonderful asset in visualizing and locating historical names, activities, and events on the Castello Plan, an extraordinarily accurate and contemporary representation of New Amsterdam in 1660.

VNA and Database as Tools

For teachers and the general public, more was needed. Such users might be fascinated by the Google Earth platform and the illustrations of the Stone Street streetscape. But a highly focused inquiry required three additional elements — motivating questions, clearly demarked pathways through the data, and satisfactory rewards at the end. In other words, the map as a resource
needed to become a process. Or a story.

Initial meetings among veteran designers of computer-interactive materials for classrooms and for museum visitors made it clear that the VNA model had to be understood as a tool. For educational purposes, the best tools must be developmentally age-appropriate. They employ the learning capabilities and address the issues most meaningful for children at particular stages of their lives. Upper-elementary students are, for example, beginning to explore how they can contribute to the survival and well being of their families or social groups. They are concerned with orderliness. Middle-school students worry over issues of fairness. High schoolers get excited by seeing how systems work (and may not work!).

After conducting several wide-ranging discussions with teachers, curriculum developers, historians, marketing specialists, NAHC leaders, and collaborators in the creation of the VNAP.1 AHW decided it would embark on three parallel curriculum-development projects, aiming to produce a three- or four-day lesson plan for fourth-grade students, and others in grade seven and eleven. These projects could demonstrate the utility and feasibility of the VNA model as a resource for teachers and students, and point the way for needed improvements and modifications.

Choosing the themes or scenarios for these demonstration curricula involved asking these questions,


  1. What aspects of the story of New Amsterdam might be most compelling to children at different ages? Without this, it would be difficult to motivate students (and teachers).

  2. What kind of big, open-ended questions — questions about the shape of our ordinary lives in the past and the present — could be raised as the framework for these lessons? Memorable lessons make connections that students can see in the world around them.

  3. How could this curriculum fit into the constraints of school technologies, the organization of classroom time, teachers’ priorities, and, just as important, state learning standards? The potential acceptability of the program depended upon its adaptability to the current situation of educators.

  4. How could we provide historical materials, beyond those already collected for the data base, that might be interesting to children, help them with their inquiries, and be within children’s capabilities? The database had been created with adult users in mind. Could we create and mix in “mocuments,” or educational resources that were derived from historical research and had the form and appearance of real documents, but were not actual primary sources?

From Themes to Scenarios to Curricula and Lesson Plans

Early in April, a central theme was defined: Getting By and Getting Ahead in New Amsterdam. With the participation of a team of experienced classroom teachers led by an experienced secondary school teacher and curriculum developer, Mirla Morrison of Ossining, New York, a highly participatory pedagogical approach was developed. Students would role-play members of households in the VNA database and work in teams to solve problems facing families and the community in historic New Amsterdam.

Cory Munson, a museum education consultant at AHW, then defined three framing questions.

For the 4th grade: How will you obtain enough cordwood to heat your house for the winter?

For the 7th graders: Was Manuel de Gerrit de Reus (Giant Manuel) treated justly in being sentenced to death for being one of the eight men who confessed to murdering Jan Premero?

For the 11th graders: Why will your proposed cargo and destination reap the greatest benefit for the ship captain and for New Amsterdam?

Each of these became the core of a scenario, which outlined the historical issues, provided actual historical documents and “mocuments,” and suggested how teachers might lead their students through the process of resolving the framing question. Toya Dubin of Hudson Microimaging then produced a user scenario that translated these pedagogical instructions into modifications of the existing software program of the VNA model.

At this point, Toya Dubin and the ESC team initiated further modifications of the model to support the scenarios, particularly adding details of the major public spaces of the colony, so that teachers and students could navigate through the town as they went through the exercises of these curricula. Toya offered useful explanatory links, content listings and tags to help organize the data, and supplemental documents and maps. To insure historical accuracy, Toya regularly solicited the advice of several New Netherland scholars.

In mid-May, a team of educators was brought in to construct lesson plans based on the scenarios. Mirla Morrison organized the creation of the lesson plans by selecting three teachers (one for each curriculum area) and guided their work by offering a specific template design, one that is typically used by and easily accessible and understandable to educators. All lesson plans included an essential question(s), clarification of relevance to specific elements of the New York State Standards in Social Studies, specific activities and procedures, and suggestions for assessments and culminating activities. As the lesson-writing process was underway, Dr. Dennis Maika (high school teacher and New Netherland scholar) evaluated the historical accuracy of new material being added to VNA, assessed the lesson plans, and created historical summaries —short historical background papers that could be useful to teachers who would be using the lesson plans.

The lesson plans completed by the three teachers are included in the Appendices to this report.

The author of the 4th-grade lesson plan, Diane Mallett of the Todd School in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., expanded on Cory Munson’s wood-gathering scenario to take a wider look at daily life and everyday struggles in New Amsterdam; the unit’s essential question was “Could settlers survive and thrive in New Amsterdam?” (See Appendix I, Part A.) Three separate lessons were created, each requiring one to three days. The first of these, on Peter Stuyvesant as a “man for his times,” set the stage for future activities and gave students an opportunity to explore VNA. In the second lesson, on how occupations affected daily life, students completed exercises that would prepare them for their final task (during the third lesson) of resolving the 17th-century need to secure wood for individual households. The three lessons incorporated most of Cory Munson’s suggestions for student activities but added new writing tasks in the form of “extension” and “optional” activities. The teacher also included additional resources that would provide background for other teachers as well as students.

Like her 4th-grade colleague, Mikki Shaw, the educational consultant who created the 7th-grade lesson plan, translated Cory Munson’s activities into an effective three-day series of tasks that would help students answer the essential question “What factors shaped the concepts of justice, courage, and community in the early Dutch settlements of New Amsterdam?” (See Appendix II, Part A.) Day One’s activities encouraged students to get to know the people who lived in New Amsterdam’s households by exploring the VNA model, and then speculate on how they might think about the religious, political, economic, and ethical dimensions of their society. Special focus would be given to understanding slavery in this context. The “Dispatches from New Amsterdam,” a “mocument” created by Cory Munson, was integrated into these activities. On Day Two, the actual scenario involving the murder of the slave Jan Premero and the subsequent confessions of Manuel de Gerrit de Reus and other slaves was introduced. Students were to test and apply their perceptions from the previous day to this real historical event. As the lesson ended, the students were informed of the actual verdict in the case and were encouraged to form preliminary conclusions. On Day Three, students were to consider the scenario’s aftermath by examining excerpts from actual documents as well as other material in VNA. As a final assessment, students were to write first-person narratives describing their opinion on the essential question; the narrative could take different forms but needed to include specific references to the VNA database and primary sources.

The 11th-grade lesson offered a more radical but appropriate modification of Cory Munson’s original scenario. The teacher-author, Greg Varley of Lakeland (N.Y.) High School, created a “New Amsterdam History Project,” that encouraged high school juniors to think like historians and use the VNA to research the essential question “Were the key requirements of a successful commercial society available to the New Amsterdam colony?” (See Appendix III, Part A.) As designed, this exercise could last from several days to several weeks, depending on the instructor’s goals. Students would be challenged with a series of research questions that put New Amsterdam in the context of both Dutch and Atlantic World history. Their research tasks would be to access and evaluate primary sources from VNA, establish “critical components” useful in answering the essential question, then apply these criteria to what had been learned about New Amsterdam. Working individually or in teams, students would then present the results of their research to their classmates. In order to facilitate the research emphasis of this activity, the author included a “Link Set,” a series of references available outside the VNA database that would be useful for student research.

Overall, the Curriculum Project produced three meaningful learning experiences for students at different grade levels. The teacher-authors were given valuable professional development experiences that made them aware of the richness of New Netherland history and gave them a chance to examine topics not often discussed in typical classrooms e.g. slavery in New York, Dutch history, and Atlantic history.

The project also revealed much about the ways in which teachers would naturally approach VNA. All the teacher-authors relied on and expanded on the “scenarios” presented to them. Clearly, these “narrative pathways” were essential for using VNA to create lesson plans and would be invaluable for future applications. Also, teachers naturally sought to stimulate critical thinking in their lesson plans but also sought to develop writing and research skills. Thus, as work on VNA moves forward, the ways in which teachers would use the resource should be guide the future collection of data and development of the visual components.

Expanding the Education Plan


To exemplify this approach, Dr. Dennis Maika has authored these suggestions for proceeding with the educational effort of the NAHC.
Initiative 1: Begin to firmly establish a web-based presence that would serve educators and students.

These resources should include support for teaching. The following recommendations could be added to a redesigned website for the New Amsterdam History Center.

    1. Create a “Doc Box,” a Document Resource Catalog (for seventeenth-century Dutch history, as well as New Amsterdam / New York history).

Building upon the current “Content Type – Documents” area of the database, NAHC should invite New Netherland, New York, and Dutch scholars to identify a specific document they feel reveals something significant in the history of New Amsterdam/New Netherland and/or the United Provinces of the Netherlands in the 17th century. These should be critical features in history and should also be clearly and directly related to New York State or National Social Studies Curricula and Standards. A short historical context piece could be provided by the historian, and the complete document could be included. A selected educator (grade 4, 7, or 11) could then excerpt the document for classroom use, offer a specific exercise, and review these activities with the historian. (The Gilder Lehrman Institute has provided an excellent model for this. See http://www.gilderlehrman.org/collection/online/)

    1. Create an “Image Box,” a Visual Resource Catalog (for seventeenth-century Dutch history as well as New Amsterdam / New York history).

Most teachers find visuals (maps, illustrations,) to be useful in their classes. A start on such a resource has been made with the “Content Type – Documents” area of the database. This should be expanded in a way that is parallel to the Document Resource Catalog.


    1. Offer the Lesson Plans created for the VNA 3D model

These need to be field-tested and perhaps revised. At the same time, the model must be made publicly available before these can be effectively deployed in the classroom.

    1. Offer links to relevant sites.

These need to reviewed for historical accuracy before they are included. In the spirit of cooperation with other New Netherland entities, links to other educational websites should be included. These will need to be updated regularly, as external sites evolve.

    1. Develop an “interactive component” to the website

Consider soliciting lesson plans for teachers who already teach New Amsterdam / New Netherland / Dutch history. Invite them to submit their lesson plans for review by a historian and eventual publication on the website. Blogs, list-serves, and other interactive elements could be developed later.

    1. Create a “This Week in New Amsterdam History” segment.

    2. Create an “Events Calendar” offering items of interest .
Initiative 2. Redesign the NAHC website.

Emphasize the items listed above and make the site “user-friendly” to educators and students. This must be developed as a “state of the art” design.
Initiative 3. Continue development of the Virtual New Amsterdam 3D Model and Database.

Complete the work necessary for the newly created lesson plans and begin new development based on specific “scenarios” or “narrative pathways” suggested by historians. Relevant documents and information related to these scenarios could be collected and added to the model. These scenarios could eventually be used as the basis for other lesson plan development.

As these scenarios evolve into curricular units, the model itself will be elaborated, perhaps to include more and different interior scenes, activities, and object-related imagery.

Initiative 4. Coordinate with other New Netherland curriculum development projects already underway

Investigate and collaborate with efforts being undertaken at the New Netherland Institute, the New Netherland Museum, New-York Historical Society, Museum of the City of New York, New York State Museum, and the Bank Street School curriculum (Sam Bryan, developer). When a specific goal has been ascertained, consider a meeting/workshop of representatives of these various groups. A common initial activity might involve lobbying the New York State Board of Regents to place more emphasis on the history of New Netherland.
Initiative 5. Engage local educators and university education programs to help design professional development opportunities and projects for teachers at all levels.

This activity, however, should only begin in earnest after basic resources have been collected and a plan is underway.

Beyond Schools:
Enlivening New Amsterdam History in the Contemporary City

The Virtual New Amsterdam model is only a beginning. It can help the New Amsterdam History Center discover the most interesting and engaging questions for contemporary audiences. But the greatest asset of the NAHC, of course, is the historic cityscape itself. Nothing exceeds in excitement the sense that one can traverse the same streets, look out on the same harbor, and mingle with our own versions of the polyglot populace who shared the little town four centuries ago.

As with the VNA model, the key to making the historic city come alive is to introduce narrative, to dramatize this as a landscape where “things took place.” Visitors spending an hour or a day in lower Manhattan can feel that they are participating in a story or even writing a story.

American History Workshop has imagined two different forms for introducing this narrative quality.

A Visitors Center


The first is the creation of a physical visitors center that can serve as the jumping-off point, “a base camp,” for explorations of the historic city. Visitors can start and end their journeys at the visitor center. For school and college groups, and for family visitors as well, the visitors center can offer opportunities for hands-on and computer-interactive learning. They can try their hands at making cookies, decoding Dutch documents, or role-playing key moments in colonial history. In one space within the center, the VNA model can be projected very large, enough to become a setting for immersive experiences.

In the long run, a physical center is very important. Program sponsorship is useful, an engaging presence on the Web is very valuable. But a powerful institutional presence, partnership with other cultural institutions, improved fund raising (especially among private and corporate supporters), and public notice often comes only with having a recognizable site in the public landscape.


Creating the New Amsterdam History Center
through Social Networking

Just as the Virtual New Amsterdam 3D and its accompanying database employ cutting-edge technologies to animate the archival records of the colony, so too the NAHC can take advantage of new methods of institutional development through social networking. Just as the VNA model visualizes New Amsterdam as an exotic place plunked down amid the Google Earth landscape of 21st-century New York City, the social networking program imagines the modern city as a game board, on which it is possible to move, dig beneath the contemporary surface, interact with historical materials and other players, and learn a good deal of history in an emotionally compelling way. These programs, using handheld devices and existing or customized “apps,” are particularly relevant to attracting potential stakeholders in their 20s and 30s — a group that has been hard for most cultural institutions to reach.

Chris Lawrence, a long-time consultant on interactive media approaches for American History Workshop, has developed five possible directions for initiating social networking programs around the theme of New Amsterdam history. These social games or mobile adventures scenarios and a social media strategy would leverage the popularity of social networks and introduce the rich early history of New Amsterdam to informal learners. They explore the city with geo-locative devices that are mapped to the geographic locales of the old city. A recent Washington Post article about social games described the players of such games:

The demographic profile of today’s gamers cuts across genders and age groups, .... People play at work, on their commutes, at lunch, on the couch, in their pajamas—plowing crops, waiting on tables, building words, often in bursts lasting no longer than five minutes.

The popularity of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, along with the penetration of smart phones, has offered a rich playing field open to the public to both play and innovate their own games and narratives in a social context around historical content.

Program 1. Establish a social network identity for the New Amsterdam Society

Begin seeding popular existing social networks to build a content-rich network while activating an early adopter community of interest. Establish a page on Facebook, begin a Twitter stream, and populate a Flickr account with high-quality images with tags and detailed captions. Exhibit designer Jim Spadaccini calls this activity the “colonization of social web 2.0 spaces” and he advocates creativity in cheaply leveraging these open-ended platforms to advance institutional missions.
Program 2. Develop New Amsterdam on Four Square

Four Square (http://foursquare.com/) is a popular website and mobile app that allows users to “check-in” at various locations utilizing the GPS function of web or mobile apps. Users may then push out their pathways and messages to friends within the game or to other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Those who check in most frequently at a location become “mayors.” Users compete for this honor. Users also collect “badges” that signify activities unlocked like “five check-ins in a day” or “longest distance covered.” Points are also awarded and score is kept among all players and sorted by various factors like your “friends,” “near you,” or even in citywide competitions. The game also gives users the functionality to create locations and geo tag them. Using the database and 3D model as a guide, an NAHC team would create “locales” in lower Manhattan and leave historical content that can be read at “check-in.” So while in the modern world you may actually be at J&R Music World, you could check-in on Four Square and have arrived at an identified New Amsterdam residency, tavern, or merchant’s shop. Badges could be created for players to receive within the New Amsterdam context like “Trader” or “Power Broker.” Messages and questions can also be pushed through the system alerting players who check in about lectures, exhibition openings, or other noteworthy activities around the themes of New Amsterdam history.

Program 3. Mobile Phone Adventures

Create a narrative based mobile adventure game that utilizes cell phone capabilities like SMS, MMS, GPS, digital photography, and audio. There are two companies that provide authoring tools for institutions to create scenarios that then are pushed out for anybody to access and play. Players could choose from a number of scenario game narratives like “Recent Immigrant,” “Beaver Trapper Looking to Trade” or “Ship Captain.” The game scenarios would leave geo-located challenges, clues, puzzles, and instructions, while leading the player through a learning journey of New Amsterdam history. The database and other historical documents would provide the details and content for rich and authentic game play experience.

One company, SCVNGR (http://www.scvngr.com/) offers an excellent platform with the lowest technological bar of entry with games and tours based solely on SMS text, a feature in almost all cell phones. SCVNGR also has richer interactive features as well. The second tool is through a Dutch Company called 7 Scenes (http://7scenes.com/), which has built a dynamic mobile game-authoring tool designed for urban exploration and incorporating rich multimedia capability.


Program 4. QR Tagging Fan Fiction

This concept seeks to combine the dissemination of historical information into the architecture of lower Manhattan, while inviting users to create historical fiction narratives to overlay on top of this real and virtual network using QR codes. QR code is a matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by QR scanners, mobile phones with cameras, and smartphones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on white background. The information encoded can be text, URL, or other data (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code). They are easy to create with online tools that will turn URLs, images, and other data into the QR code (http://qrcode.kaywa.com/). The NAHC, using the database and other online resources, would seed lower Manhattan and other relevant locales with QR codes that users could than access with mobile devices to learn about New Amsterdam history and drive traffic to dynamic NAHC web content. Additionally, a portal would be created in which users are invited to create historical fictional characters based on New Amsterdam archetypes and historical information from the VNA database. Users are invited to craft their narratives and then convert the URLs to QR codes and post them to New Amsterdam signposts distributed through lower Manhattan. Users would then both interact with the New Amsterdam and “read/write” narratives throughout the city with mobile devices. While this concept requires a higher degree of engagement than some of the others, it yields a dedicated user base with a highly creative and multi-modal experience.

Fan fiction is a fast growing leisure activity where writers use existing narrative landscapes to create new stories and characters. Popular source materials are Harry Potter and Star Trek, although many media fiction narratives have spawned fan fiction communities. While a historical record offers different source material from popular culture, there is still rich material and open-ended exploration for those who would want to combine a love of history and historical fiction writing. The narratives would be built as web content, secret codes in the city landscape, and, of course, NAHC assets such as the database and the VNA model.

Media scholar Henry Jenkins calls this “Transmedia Storytelling” and defines it as a mixed-media storytelling format. He describes the combination of Fan Fiction and Transmedia Storytelling as:

The encyclopedic ambitions of transmedia texts often results in what might be seen as gaps or excesses in the unfolding of the story: that is, they introduce potential plots which can not be fully told or extra details which hint at more than can be revealed. Readers, thus, have a strong incentive to continue to elaborate on these story elements, working them over through their speculations, until they take on a life of their own. Fan fiction can be seen as an unauthorized expansion of these media franchises into new directions which reflect the reader’s desire to “fill in the gaps” they have discovered in the commercially produced material.

Or, in our case, in the historical documentation we are collecting.

Program 5. Facebook Game: New Amsterdam:

Facebook has become one of the most popular online platforms for gaming. The fast growth in adoption and popularity can be explained by its encouragement of the social elements of game play that are inherent in social networks. Games such FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and Scrabble connect players and offer game experiences that can take place in both synchronous and asynchronous formats. Using questing/status-building games like Mafia Wars and Restaurant City as models, a game could be developed that sets the narrative, quests, and achievements in the context of New Amsterdam and the Age of Exploration in the 17th century. In a way similar to that described in the Four Square and Mobile Game ideas, above, players must acquire, trade, purchase, and scheme to “level-up” by completing tasks based on a character and motivations they choose. While the players obviously have some control of their moves, the entire game proceeds in a historically accurate context and contains narrative elements drawn from the historical record.

For a recent Washington Post article on social games see this link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/02/AR2010080203336_2.html?sid=ST2010080203373



1 Rachel Magni of American History Workshop conducted the meetings. Among the participants were Stanlee Brimberg, Bank Street School; Bill Tally, Center for Children and Technology; Jill Fruchter, an independent designer of educational materials for the Web; Leah Potter, American Social History Project, CUNY; Chris Lawrence, New York Hall of Science; Jeff LeBlanc, software developer, Potion Design, New York; Error: Reference source not found, an independent scholar on the advisory committee for the VNA model; Casey Kemper and Error: Reference source not found of the NAHC board; Courtney Haff of Haff Assoiates; Michael Kwartler, Elizabeth Hamby, and Alihan Polat of ESC; Toya Dubin of HM; and Richard Rabinowitz, Lynda B. Kaplan, and Flora Boros of AHW.




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