New York City’s museums provide a wealth of programs for adults and children, but fewer offerings are aimed at the demographic in between: middle and high school students. As part of its current exhibit “Lincoln and New York,” the New-York Historical Society has developed audio tours produced by, and geared toward, teenagers.
“The idea was to make a tour that would not turn off teenagers and that would make history sound exciting,” said audio producer Lou Giansante, who earned a Peabody award for his documentary work. “The New-York Historical Society is the oldest museum in New York City, believe it or not. I think the word society makes it sound a bit stuffy, but it really isn’t.”
Teens from local public and private schools were among 22 high school interns from New York and New Jersey who were accepted into the seven-month program. The interns explored the museum’s collection, conducted research, drafted the script of the tour and helped narrate the audio.
Students learn about the opportunity through teachers who have established relationships with the museum, while others happen upon the program through the museum’s website.
Browning School senior David Baird, 18, applied for the internship after attending summer lectures at the museum. Inspired by the work of staff members, such as public historian Cathleen Hulser, he now plans to pursue history as a career.
“It introduced us to a lot of the themes of the exhibit, and a lot of the interesting contradictions of the time,” Baird said.
Although Abraham Lincoln’s reception in New York was critical to his successful presidential bid, Baird explained, not all New Yorkers applauded his efforts. Among his detractors were Irish laborers who did not welcome the influx of freed slaves into the job market, New Yorkers protesting the draft and business leaders with strong ties to Southern slaveholders.
“A lot of people know Abraham Lincoln but few people realize the relationship he had with the city,” Baird said.
For the audio tour, interns read from primary sources, helped with the narration and recreated the cries of the Draft Riot mobs, the jubilation in African-American churches following the Emancipation Proclamation and the outpouring of grief at Lincoln’s funeral procession down Broadway.
“We wanted to provide teenagers another way of accessing history,” said Betsy Gibbons, the museum’s manager of high school and college programs. “Through the audio tour, another one of their senses is being activated.”
Visitors can download the tour for free on iTunes, or listen to “tour stops” as they move through the exhibit.
Giansante, who has worked on two other teen audio tours at the museum, finds that teens are particularly adept at conveying their enthusiasm for history to peers.
“Kids like to hear the voice of other kids,” he said. “The idea is that rather than having an adult tell everything and having it sound like school, it’s better to hear it from another kid.”
The exhibit will be on view through March 25. Students interested in applying for the internship can visit www.nyhistory.org/education for more information, or contact Betsy Gibbons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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