Honors Seminar Two–The Peopling of New York- On the Waterfront
In this second Honors College seminar we will investigate the role the New York waterfront played on the peopling of New York. The spaces of the waterfront have a chameleon like nature, changing and evolving with each generation of New York City inhabitants. In this seminar the waterfront will function as a portal to investigate a range of topics that have played a crucial role in the production of the city as we know it today. Some of these topics include: patterns of migration and immigration, impact of technology on waterfront industries and communities, labor and strikes at the shipyards and trade routes for people and commodities. The water surrounding the boroughs and beyond is what linked the world to New York but it is also what linked New York to the world and we will examine what this meant for New Yorkers and their waterfront. The waterfront is an often neglected geography, yet one so crucial to understand as it is a space that embodies all forms of social relations. It is historically the space where communities of the world collide and influence each other through trade and the economy.
The American Geographer, Richard Hartshorne once said, “As long as we limit our attention to land areas and associate these together in terms of large land units, referring to the seas only as an afterthought, we inevitably etch deeper the impression given by our maps, that the seas are negative in human relations and hence form the great barriers between people… The fundamental error in popular geographic thought is that of regarding the landmasses of the continents as the basic divisions of the world. You and I know that this is false. Since the time of Columbus and Magellan, the oceans have aided, rather that opposed, the spread of settlement, economic connections, cultural penetration and military action. Because the oceans are nearly empty, they do divide, but they do not separate.”
Even though Hartshorne is referencing the space between great continents for our purposes we could easily extend his concept of ocean-space onto our shores and into the fabric of our daily lives. Over the course of the semester we will work individually and in groups on guided projects pulling from both primary and secondary source materials, information collected from site visits, walking tours, interviews, and museum trips to investigate how the New York City waterfront helped to ‘people New York.’