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Students Create Historical Web Site about South Street Seaport


To visit the South Street Seaport project, click here. Photo by Chris Taggart

New York City teachers and history buffs have a new resource for all things South Street Seaport.

A comprehensive digital history of the port, titled “South Street Seaport: From its Original Conception to its Present-Day Revival,” can be found on Fordham’s Web site. It was created last spring by an honors history class in Fordham College at Lincoln Center.

“The maritime history of New York was really quite neglected,” said Roger G. Panetta, Ph.D., visiting professor of history and curator of the Hudson River Collections for the Fordham University Libraries.

Panetta, who advised the students, mostly sophomores, who developed the site, said he wanted them to create something unique and useful that also had an academic focus. The site includes a comprehensive and academically referenced history on the port’s origins, heyday, decline and restoration.

Multimedia features include photo slideshows, mp3s of sailor songs and videos featuring interviews of a historian familiar with the port’s history. There are also 10 essays on various South Street Seaport-related topics.

“I didn’t want them to do a term paper for me,” Panetta said. “I wanted them to do something for the public. I told them that the real audience for this includes teachers who bring their classes to the South Street Seaport. I put the pressure on them because the Internet is such a large audience, and they really embraced it.”

The students began their research with the help of the staff at the Quinn Library on Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus. It wasn’t long, however, until they realized they would need much more information. They called on the South Street Seaport Museum, which houses a 20,000-volume reference library plus prints, photographs and manuscripts pertaining to the history of the port of New York City.

They negotiated with the museum, which was closed for renovations, to secure three Saturday research visits. The museum provided a volunteer to help the students with their work.

“They fell in love with the historian, Jack Putnam, who is actually a volunteer with the New York City Library,” Panetta said. “He’s a person who is well read on the port’s history.”

The students recorded hours of interviews with Putnam on seafaring topics and put him on the site, which also includes a glossary focusing on seafaring and port life, including a list of slang used in those days. For example, “Kiss the Wooden Lady” was a punishment that involved tying a sailor to the mast, facing the wood. Considered a minor punishment, other sailors were encouraged to kick him in the behind.

The students even got creative, recording a few “sea shanties” that would have been sung by sailors and port hands during the port’s heyday.

“It’s exciting to see history and the use of digital history blended together to produce this kind of thing,” Panetta said. “I’m really proud of them. I helped, but the project is all theirs.”

To visit the South Street Seaport project, click here.


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