Several graduate students from the Public History Program helped develop an exhibit at a historic property in the Berkshires that has won a Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History.
The award of merit was given to the Trustees of Reservations for the project “Elizabeth Freeman: A Story of Courage,” at the organization’s Ashley House in Sheffield. History graduate students Jessie MacLeod, Elizabeth Bradley, and John Morton helped develop the exhibit documenting the life of Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman, a black slave at the property in the late 18th century.
Freeman, with help from lawyer Theodore Sedgewick and an enslaved man named Brom, used the legal system and the new Massachusetts constitution to sue for her freedom on the basis that “all men are created equal.” In 1781, the courts decided in her favor, dealing a blow that helped to end the institution of slavery in Massachusetts.
Funded by the Upper Housatonic African-American Heritage Trail, the project was a community collaboration between Trustees of Reservations staff, volunteers, scholars, historians and local residents. An old garage on the grounds of the Ashley House was transformed into a new interpretive space that features a comprehensive exhibit on the life and legacy of Elizabeth Freeman and provides a space for visitors to contemplate the history of slavery in Massachusetts. Students and staff also created a new tour and programs that are being offered throughout the summer season.
The graduate students participated in the project as part of the spring 2011 course, “Museum and Historic Site Interpretation,” taught by History professor David Glassberg. He noted that the effort was led by alumna Kate Preissler, engagement manager for the Trustees.
This year, AASLH is conferring 59 national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, books, and organizations. Presentation of the awards will be made at the AASLH annual meeting on Oct. 5 in Salt Lake City.
Trustees of Reservations photo