Monday, April 27, 2015

Time Well Spent

by Emily Weise, Elmira College intern

During my time here at the Chemung County Historical Society, I have been lucky enough to experience a subject I truly love, but also to work with people I admire. From day one, my experiences have been nothing short of an adventure. Between Kelli’s obsession with adorable historical dogs, Erin’s love of dressing up (as practically anything) and, Rachel’s vast and really incredible knowledge of every article, photo and book in the archives, there really was not a dull moment.  

My time at the Historical Society has allowed me to experience history in a way I never had before. I say “experience” because there is no other way to describe it. I have spent my whole life reading about history, looking at history in museums and watching history on television; however, this was the first time I was able to touch history, to hold it in my hands.

The feeling is insurmountable. Holding a picture, document, or article of clothing in my hands makes my mind race. I begin thinking about who owned it? How did they come to own it? When did they use it? How did it get here? Who donated it? And why? Corny as this may sound, it really is true; I am a history nerd at heart.

I was able to work extensively with Rachel, the museum’s archivist, to catalogue a box of photographs from World War II. Many of these photos had hand-written inscriptions, yellowed tape, or black album paper stuck to the back. Apart from the interesting subject of the photos, these small details were my favorite things to see because it showed that at one time, these photos were important to someone. Details like those that I described are what made me realize that the work the historical society is doing for the community is invaluable. Not only are they preserving these unique and priceless items, but they are also making them readily available for the people that want to connect with the past.

World War II loan parade at Water and Main streets in Elmira, 1944
I also was able to work with Erin, the museum’s curator on dating antique hand fans. I have been a fashion girl all my life and I think it is safe to say that this experience has changed my views about fashion forever. Today, fashion is all about the most expensive item of clothing you own, or who designed it. Then (about 1850 – 1950) fashion was about art. Granted, art is still a major part of fashion today, but not in the same context that it was then. These fans were truly exquisite. The time it must have taken to paint on the designs or weave the ribbons is unimaginable. They are truly works of art.

Embroidered silk hand fan, c. 1870
My experiences at the Historical Society have really changed my perspectives on history. I have a much wider understanding of the city and county I live in, the people who created it, and the people who live here now. To me, my time at the Historical Society has been time well spent.

1 comment:

  1. It's great for you to share your enthusiasm, and it's infectious too!