New-York Historical Society to Open the Dimenna Children's History Museum on November 11, 2011
A Museum-within-a-Museum, New Facility Brings American History to Life for Children and Families
NEW YORK, NY, November 9, 2011 – The New-York Historical Society today announced that it will open the DiMenna Children’s History Museum on November 11, 2011, as part of the grand reopening of its entire facility. This innovative new cultural institution will encourage children to become “history detectives,” exploring different periods, re-imagining key moments, and making their own connections to the past – all by learning about and identifying with other children from different times in the history of New York, and America.
The museum is named in recognition of a $5 million donation from Joseph and Diana DiMenna, and developed in conjunction with New-York Historical Society’s three-year renovation project. The new museum-within-a-museum will feature permanent installations and special exhibitions including three-dimensional pavilions, interactive elements, illustrations, and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library.
“There are children’s museums and history museums, but never a children’s history museum. At the DiMenna Children’s History Museum, our young visitors will be immersed in the history of our nation in fun, new ways that will allow them to learn about the past while also learning about how they too are part of history,” stated Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society.
"Joe and I were stunned to discover that a history museum, created just for children, didn't exist," said Diana DiMenna. "There are numerous places in New York City to take children to learn about music, dance, art, science and theatre, but nowhere parents could take their children to help them learn about their own country and their own backgrounds as Americans, particularly through the lives of other New York children from the past." "We were thrilled to jump in and work to fill that void," Joe DiMenna added.
Designed by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library are located within the New-York Historical Society, in a dramatic, 4,000-square-foot vaulted space on the building’s lower level. The DiMenna Children’s History Museum is an enticing, lively and fanciful space designed to open young eyes to history as a process of discovery. It allows visitors to search for clues about the lives of real people and the rich materials they left behind, in order to build a compelling story about what happened in the past.
Six pavilions form the core of the DiMenna Children’s History Museum. Each offers a wide variety of displays and interactive experiences. These biographical pavilions introduce a series of diverse New York children of the past. Today’s children can identify with these figures, all of whom changed the course of history through their enterprise and creativity, including:
- Cornelia van Varick (ca. 1692-1733), an 11-year-old Dutch girl in Manhattan, who was the daughter of textile merchant Margrieta van Varick;
- Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), the orphaned immigrant from the West Indies who became a founder of the United States;
- James McCune Smith (1813-1865), the son of an enslaved woman, who became the country’s first university-trained African American physician;
- Esteban Bellán (1850-1932), a Cuban youngster who became the first Latino to play professional baseball in the United States;
- an Orphan Train girl (ca. 1890), one of the many New York City children transported by the Children’s Aid Society to new homes in the Midwest; and
- a New York “newsie” (ca. 1890), one of the children who eked out a living selling newspapers on the street, and helped stage one of the first organized labor strikes.
Surrounding these core pavilions are displays and interactive exhibits that engage children and their families in the specific context of New York, and in the many themes of United States history that can be explored through the city’s unique viewpoint:
- The History Detectives exhibit introduces visitors to urban archeology and invites them to consider how historians work and how they draw meaning from remnants of earlier times. The focus of this exhibit is a media piece that gives visitors an opportunity to investigate and explore the contents of the 1695 Dutch home of Margrieta van Varick in Flatbush. Additionally, a cross-section of a privy excavation in lower Manhattan will display actual artifacts from the excavated Ear Inn Backyard, underscoring how even discarded trash such as broken pots, rusted tools and old shoes can help historians understand the real, living people of the past.
- Historical Viewfinder, an interactive tool for exploring the large-scale floor map that is the carpet covering the floor of the DiMenna Children’s History Museum. It displays how selected sites in New York City have changed over time, allowing children to learn about the history all around them.
- At the You are an American Dreamer, Too display, children can express and record their own “American Dreams,” inspired by an engaging photo gallery that combines images of New Yorkers from the past and prominent New York figures from today, from Yankees short stop Derek Jeter to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Visitors can also snap their own pictures and add the occupation they hope to have when they’re grown up. The photos and inscriptions will appear on a loop of changing images, giving children the chance to see themselves as part of the narrative of history.
- The First President exhibit is a representation of Federal Hall on Wall Street—the first seat of government of the United States of America—where George Washington was sworn in as President. Visitors will learn about the role of New York City as the nation’s first capital and will be able to deliver an inaugural address—either Washington’s, or one of their own—while standing in Washington’s place behind a replica of the balustrade of
Federal Hall. Later, the children can view the original balustrade itself, installed on the first floor of the New-York Historical Society.
- At the Cast Your Vote display, young visitors will be able to discover the history of voting in this country. Children will see which groups of people were eligible to vote in different eras, and will learn whether they would have been allowed to vote if they had been born in a different period.
- At the interactive Amazing Atlas exhibit, children and families can explore the changing boundaries of New York City and the nation. If visitors peek around the corner from the Amazing Atlas, they will also find a bird’s eye image of a thriving Manhattan and Brooklyn in the 1850s.
- At the History Hunt display, young “history detectives” explore the contents of a display modeled on the old card catalog drawers, a pre-digital-age system that will be familiar to adults, but not to many children. Visitors can open the drawers to find artifacts and images grouped around a theme– for example, printblocks of images from Heedless Johnny, along with a copy of the nineteenth-century book of the same title, and a stereopticon with stereoscopic photos popular in the nineteenth century.
- If they choose, visitors can end their tour of the DiMenna Children’s History Museum with a stop at a bright, eye-popping installation that helps them use what they’ve learned. The Whiz Bang Quiz Machine,a game, designed to accommodate a range of ages, asks a series of questions based on the content in the DiMenna Children’s History Museum. Visitors who get a certain percentage correct will be able to collect a prize – one of four DiMenna Children’s History Museum bracelets – in the New-York Historical Society shop.
At the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, young visitors and their families will find an area to sit and read children’s books. The library also features interactive displays of four rare and important printed works from the New-York Historical Society’s collection including: Sander’s Pictorial Primer, The Story of Dam Trot and her Comical Cat, the New York Gazette & Weekly Mercury newspaper and the Hieroglyphic Mother Goose.
For a sense of how books were produced in the days before computers, visitors can examine artifacts related to the Linotype system. They can also make use of a hands-on collection of children’s books about history, with a special focus on the topics raised elsewhere in the Museum. These sources allow visiting “history detectives” to do what historians do when confronted with a question: find a good source, and search for answers.
Artifacts related to the books on display will surround the library. The Library’s reference function is enriched with a display of two seventeenth-century maps: the 1660 Castello plan of New Amsterdam, and a Dutch map of the New World from Canada south to Chesapeake Bay. The scale of the world, and the remarkable extent of global travel by sea, is suggested by navigation tools (astrolabe, sextant and pocket telescope). Visitors may also examine a model of Henry Hudson’s ship, the Half Moon.
The development of the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and Barbara K. Lipman Library educational materials is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.
About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.
New-York Historical is recognized for engaging the public with deeply researched and far-ranging exhibitions, such as Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America; Slavery in New York; Nature and the American Vision: The Hudson River School at the New-York Historical Society; Grant and Lee in War and Peace; Lincoln and New York; The Grateful Dead: Now Playing at the New-York Historical Society; and Nueva York. Supporting these exhibitions and related education programs is one of the world’s greatest collections of historical artifacts, works of American art, and other materials documenting the history of the United States and New York. For more information, visit nyhistory.org.
Joseph A. and Diana DiMenna
The DiMennas' primary philanthropic focus is on education, the arts and the development of children. They have been major supporters of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, where they led in the development of the DiMenna Center for Classical Music; the Harlem Children’s Zone, Jazz at Lincoln Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, College Summit and the Robin Hood Foundation, among others. Joseph DiMenna is Managing Director of Zweig-DiMenna Associates, a New York-based hedge fund, and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of The New-York Historical Society, The Orchest