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History

StoryCorps hopes to reconnect a divided America, selecting Richmond as its starting point

Renowned public service organization calls on Virginians of differing perspectives to record conversations for inclusion in the library of congress amid America’s crisis of polarization 

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StoryCorps, the groundbreaking national nonprofit dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs, launches One Small Step, a multi-year national effort to begin to mend the fabric of a country at the breaking point, today in Richmond.

The organization, in collaboration with local media, political, religious, and community organizations, is calling for Richmond residents to participate in 40-minute, one-on-one conversations with strangers, to share about their lives, and, in turn, to help people get past the labels of “Republican” and “Democrat,” “liberal” and “conservative.”

“Our research shows there is something special about Richmond. Even amid a contentious election year, we believe Richmond residents can show the rest of America that we can once again be neighbors and communities if we have the courage to listen to one another,” said StoryCorps Founder and President Dave Isay. “Every day brings new evidence of how frustrated, angry and disconnected from each other Americans feel. One Small Step aims to remind people of the humanity in all of us, and that it’s hard to hate up close. We believe Virginians can model this change.”

By bringing together strangers of divergent perspectives to have courageous and meaningful conversations about their lives, One Small Step helps to decrease feelings of contempt across political divides, allowing Americans to see one another as human beings.

StoryCorps has developed the initiative over the past three years with the input of scientists, researchers and psychologists. Conversations recorded for One Small Step are not about politics, but rather about who we are as people, what we care about, and our dreams for the future. Every interview becomes part of American history at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (with participant permission).

Richmond is one of four cities in which StoryCorps is anchoring One Small Step; the others include Wichita, Kansas; Birmingham, Alabama; and Shreveport, Louisiana. The organization conducted polling and other research, including a pilot in Richmond in partnership with VPM and determined these cities were particularly likely to carry out the initiative successfully, as residents expressed exhaustion with political divisions and also a willingness to listen across them.

StoryCorps first piloted One Small Step in 2018-19. In the time since, data have shown a widening chasm between Americans. A 2019 study showed that about 40 percent of people view the other party as “downright evil”; one in five Republicans and Democrats agree with the statement that their political adversaries “lack the traits to be considered fully human”; and about 20 percent of Democrats and Republicans think the country would be better off if large numbers of the opposition were dead.

One Small Step is made possible by the generous support of the Fetzer Institute, Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg’s The Wunderkinder Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Charles Koch Institute. StoryCorps thanks these donors for their commitment to this project and to bridging divides in America.

To participate, just click here.

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Downtown

New Valentine Museum exhibit “Breathing Places” tells the story of Richmond’s carefully crafted greenspaces

The Valentine’s newest exhibition Breathing Places: Park & Recreation in Richmond opens at the museum on May 5th and explores the design, use, and evolution of Richmond’s many parks, recreation areas, and natural spaces.

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The Valentine’s newest exhibition Breathing Places: Park & Recreation in Richmond opens at the museum on May 5th and explores the design, use, and evolution of Richmond’s many parks, recreation areas, and natural spaces. Over the last 170 years, the region has developed and maintained these greenspaces for some residents while limiting and denying access to others. The new exhibition will explore this complex story while providing a window into the ongoing effects on residents today.

“Breathing Places both celebrates and critically examines a central part of community life,” said Christina K. Vida, the Elise H. Wright Curator of General Collections. “As spring approaches and Richmonders with access take to their local parks, fields and yards, it’s the perfect time to explore the histories of those important spaces.”

The exhibition’s title comes from an 1851 recommendation by Richmond’s Committee on Public Squares, which advised “securing breathing places in the midst of the city or convenient to it.” This recommendation would have dramatic (and disproportionate) impacts on Richmonders.

The debut of Breathing Places comes on the heels of the Valentine welcoming visitors back to the museum with new outdoor programming, spring and summer events and more.

“As residents and visitors alike begin to return downtown to enjoy many of the greenspaces they’ve missed for over a year, now is the ideal time to open this exhibition,” said Valentine Director Bill Martin. “Breathing Places is not only an opportunity to fully explore the history of parks and recreation, but to inspire visitors to experience these spaces for themselves while considering how we can improve community access going forward.”

Breathing Places will also include a slideshow of rotating images featuring community-submitted photos. Richmonders (both individuals and organizations) can submit images of themselves, their families or their friends enjoying greenspaces across the region.

Breathing Places: Parks & Recreation in Richmond will be on display on the Lower Level of the Valentine from May 5, 2021 through January 30, 2022.

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Education

Great Depression brought to life through interactive photo collection now available through UR’s Digital Scholarship Lab

Photogrammar is an open-access, web-based tool that allows users to easily navigate and engage with 170,000 photographs taken between 1935-1943.

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The University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab and Distant Viewing Lab has released a new project that gives its users the ability to explore what life was like in America during the Great Depression and World War II.

Photogrammar is an open-access, web-based tool that allows users to easily navigate and engage with 170,000 photographs taken between 1935-1943.

Photos can be browsed by categories that were assigned in the 1940s, from expansive themes like “Work” to far more targeted slices of life, society, and the economy during the Depression era like “Dancing,” “Strikes,” and “Abandoned Mines.” Users can also zero in on photos of their own communities from 80 years ago through an interactive map.

“This project allows anyone to experience some of the most iconic images of the era by photographers like Dorothea Langea and Walker Evans as well as others rarely seen before,” said Lauren Tilton, assistant professor of digital humanities and project director.

“What began as an initiative to support and justify government programs put into place to foster the country’s recovery from the Great Depression, these photographers quickly expanded their vision and set out to document America,” she added.

The image collection was originally digitized in the 1990s by the Library of Congress, and in 2010, Tilton and University of Richmond statistics professor Taylor Arnold began the Photogrammar project with a team at Yale University. Tilton and Arnold joined UR in 2016, and the project has continued to evolve with their guidance, being supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and American Council for Learned Societies.

Photogrammar is the latest installation in UR’s Digital Scholarship Lab’s award-winning American Panaroma: An Atlas of United States History. From immigration and federal urban policy to slavery and electoral politics, American Panorama features data-rich, interactive mapping projects that are a go-to resource for journalists, policymakers, educators, and citizens alike.

“From the moment it launched a decade ago, Photogrammar has been a groundbreaking project,” said Rob Nelson, director of UR’s Digital Scholarship Lab. “The photographic archive behind it offers an incredible window into all aspects of life in Depression-era America. We are very excited to have this new version as part of American Panorama. ”

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History

Union Presbyterian Seminary demolishes one of Northside’s oldest houses, dating to 1790s

The 230-year-old McGuire Cottage, one of Northside’s oldest homes, is no longer standing due to what its owner, Union Presbyterian Seminary, claims is “repentance” for the benefit the seminary received from the labor of enslaved persons.

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The 230-year-old McGuire Cottage, one of Northside’s oldest homes, is no longer standing due to what its owner, Union Presbyterian Seminary, claims is “repentance” for the benefit the seminary received from the labor of enslaved persons. The house was once home to a Confederate surgeon – also cited as a reason for demolition – though the seminary says it has no plans for the tract of land on which the house stood.

Critics say the home had a great historic significance and calls to preserve the home by moving it were met with complaints that using staff resources to research grants for such a move would be “prohibitive.” Several publications say the demolition will also pave the way for additional development on the property.

While recognition of the wrongs of our nation is warranted, one wonders if half of Richmond wouldn’t be flattened by the seminary’s logic of demolishing structures tied to those who were on the wrong side of history.

From Richmond BizSense:

One of the oldest homes in Northside is no more.

The 1800s-era Westwood house, also known as McGuire Cottage, was demolished this week at the behest of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

It owns the so-called Westwood Tract where the structure had stood for two centuries — dwarfed in recent years by the newly built Canopy at Ginter Park apartments.

Seminary spokesman Mike Frontiero said its board of trustees voted last year to demolish the structure, originally the home of Confederate surgeon Hunter Holmes McGuire, “as recognition of and in repentance for the resourcing provided to the seminary through the labor of enslaved persons.”

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