Archive for January, 2010

All Together: educational inequality and organized activism in Williamsburg

Last semester, I researched the African American YMCA movement, and I became particularly interested in activism through voluntary associations and the intertwining dynamics of ethnicity. As a prospective educator and a TESL/TEFL minor, I have also always been interested in issues of educational inequality, particularly its manifestations along racial and ethnic lines. Though I have volunteered in several of the local schools, my knowledge of these issues within the context of Williamsburg has been very limited. As a tutor, my engagement in Williamsburg educational system has been on a largely individual basis. When I began contemplating prospective projects, I hoped that I would be able to deepen my knowledge of the Williamsburg educational system while perhaps framing it in light of the increasingly multiethnic demography of the area.

I was excited to hear in preliminary meetings about a previous project done on the local organization, All Together. The group, which seeks to improve race relations in Williamsburg, is active in many key community issues, including education. As we discussed recent spotlighted education issues, including rising drop out rates and falling funding for alternative education , I became intrigued. A project focusing on the All Together’s involvement in local education issues sounded like a great way to tap into my interests in both voluntary associations and education.

I read the 2008 project on All Together and looked through the transcripts of associated WDP interviews, and have only become more intrigued by the organization. That the organization evolved from a small gathering of concerned citizens know as the “Turkey Club” to a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a vocal presence in current community issues is fascinating to me. Though the project offered a general history and addressed All Together’s influence in issues of housing affordability and displacement, I think that there is much to be added to their work. Specifically, I would like to examine All Together’s historical and present involvement in community education issues and consider how the shifting social, political, economic, and demographic environment of Williamsburg has shaped this involvement over time.

From the project, it seems that issues of education have always been a fairly central component of the organization’s efforts. The organization’s mission “to bring together the people of the Greater Williamsburg area across racial lines, to communicate and engage in activities that foster unity, inclusiveness and equal opportunity, and thereby, to improve the quality of life of the community and its citizens,” were once promoted through several steering committees, one of which was dedicated entirely to issues regarding education. As McCann and Sayles mentioned in their project, however, these Steering Committees have since been subsumed by a Board of Directors. I would be interested in examining how this structural change in the organization correlating with its designation as a501(c)3 non-profit has changed its function and the methods for addressing educational issues.

McCann and Sayles posit in their suggestions for future research that there is an increasingly international community in Williamsburg. They suggest that this population is largely comprised of non-resident workers whose labor is necessary to support business in Williamsburg, where most residents work outside the area or are retired. They assert that there are many issues associated with these population as they are often not incorporated as “full social citizens” of Williamsburg. I would be interested to see if there have been any shifts in the demographics feeding into schools, and to examine the role All Together might play in navigating issues presented by increasing internationalism in Williamsburg, particularly in terms of ESL education for both children and adults.

In looking into some of the recent Education news in the Williamsburg area, I saw that there has been increasing concern about rising drop out rates. Also due to drastic cuts in state budgets, there is rampant concern that the cuts in school budgets could require laying off teachers, eliminating enrichment and extracurricular programs, and possibly cutting summer school. The cuts seem to already be affecting alternative education programs for at risk kids. I hope to further examine how All Together is responding to these issues, and their influence in community negotiation of changes in education.

Overall, I think the project will be an interesting one, especially given the contentious and pressing nature of many these issues. Aside from interviews with All Together members, as I uncover some of the issues, I think gathering local teachers and students’ perspectives on All Together’s involvement in education could also be helpful. I would also like to obtain some demographic data about the school systems to better ground an examination of diversity in the school system and its role in shaping the debates on current programming and budgetary issues in education.

Examining the music “scene” or lack of scene in Williamsburg

For my final project, I am interested in researching music in Williamsburg, looking both at the modern “scene” (or lack of scene) and historicizing what the “scene” has looked like in the past and how things have changed. In terms of my potential resources for this project, I have started off so far looking at past Williamsburg Documentary Projects to see what questions and conclusions have been raised about music in Williamsburg, and that has been a good jumping off point. One project, focusing on the late 60s and early 70s, gave me a good idea of what the “scene” looked like at that time and potential factors to the decline, and I would like to continue that research and examine the music and performances that went on from the end of the 70’s to modern day.

To get a more in-depth timeline and framework, I want to look at archives in The Flat Hat, The Virginia Gazette, and possibly Colonial Echo (William & Mary yearbook). I would also like to meet with students who work for the student organization, AMP, on the Music Productions Committee, since they are responsible for bringing in local and national musical acts to the college community. I certainly want to visit local music venues to see what sort of performances are going on in town, who attends such events, and try to talk to some owners and performers that I may be able to interview later on this semester. I would also like to see if any local musicians (past or present) who reside in Williamsburg would be willing to do an interview with me, in addition to contacting musicians who have gone elsewhere.

This brings me to one particular point of interest, which is why people have left Williamsburg and the (possibly once vibrant) music scene, which could provide insight into what may be lacking in Williamsburg- whether it be venues, music stores, or fragmentation of taste, and so on- and I could provide a unique perspective from those who did not stay. In Kevin Leslie’s past WDP on music, he spoke of a national and local spirit that contributes to the decline of the music scene; “not only is there no longer unanimity of taste, but people have become more and more confined within their own worlds”. The community aspect of music, including going out and hearing other artists, “drinking beer and talking about music”, as Mr. Hornsby said in an interview, has been a major piece missing from the scene today. I hope to uncover some reasons as to why this communal aspect is missing and whether or not that can ever be recovered in our individualized society today.

The End of Life with the Beginning of Life

Why is there an abundance of old people in Williamsburg, mixed with a thriving population of young collegians just starting their lives?  How has this mixture evolved over time, and what effect does it have on this place, as a whole?

I’m interested in discovering how the town of Williamsburg is marketed to certain individuals, may it be college students, as it has been for centuries; older individuals embracing retirement, who began to populate this area in the 1970s; or young adults who have decided to start a life and career in Williamsburg, Virginia.  I hope my project can somehow focus in on two contrasting characteristics of this town: the old, and the new.  While exploring the history, and more so formulating a type of timeline of how different groups have ended up in Williamsburg, I also hope to uncover the questions of the ‘why’ and ‘how.’ 

 I seek to answer questions such as:

 I. Why is Williamsburg considered a retirement community, and is it still one? 

II. Why would people want to settle in Williamsburg for the rest of their lives?

III. How does this town market itself to people, both young and old? How do individual groups (like Chambrel, Williamsburg Landing, New Town, High Street) market their communities to older/younger individuals?

IV. What effect, if any, does The College have on marketing the town to younger individuals?

One of my major sources that I hope to be able to utilize are the planned retirement, assisted living, and senior living communities in the area.  Just by doing a basic Google search, I was able to find an assortment of these communities in the immediate area.  I also uncovered an interesting fact; there is a specific type of community defined by the Code of Virginia for some retirement communities, such as Williamsburg Landing.  They are called a ‘Continuing Care Retirement Community’, which aims to:

 “…accommodate residents’ needs through every stage of life. CCRCs provide this continuum of care through independent residential living, home health services, emergency medical assistance, assisted living, skilled nursing care and long-term care…all on one campus.  Services such as dining, housekeeping, scheduled transportation, home maintenance, security and activities are also typically provided (Williamsburg Landing).”

In the field, I’d like to talk to marketing directors at these communities and possibly discover what techniques they’ve used to market Williamsburg as a retirement and senior living community.  I’d also like to communicate with city officials in the Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce, and ask if, and how they attempt to market this community to older individuals as well.  I know a good deal of people who work with the court system here, and who are natives of the area, so hopefully they can point me in the right direction of who to talk to.  A little bit of informal research in the Swem online databases would suggest that towns want retirees because these individuals end up spending more money in their communities than what the local government would have to pay to provide resources to them.  This way, there’s more money coming in, and less going out; taxes are low, and everyone benefits.  Perhaps there’s an economic incentive?  In 2006, over 15 percent of the population in Williamsburg was over sixty.  Older individuals have moved here for the ‘heightened sense of community (Kalwarski).’  While this does not necessarily give me detailed information on how a community markets itself to retirees, it helps to answer the ‘why’ question.

Let’s be honest, Williamsburg is no longer a sleepy little town.  It might not be the hip inner-city such as New York or Washington, DC, but it’s not dead either.  New developments such as New Town, which was established in 1997, and still developing, and High Street, which is still in the process of complete development, are on the rise.  By visiting the New Town website, a short description categorizes it as a ‘New Urbanism’ community.  Wikipedia would define ‘New Urbanism’ as:

“…an urban design movement, which promotes walkable neighborhoods that contain a range of housing and job types. It arose in the United States in the early 1980s and continues to reform many aspects of real estate development and urban planning.  [It] is strongly influenced by urban design standards prominent before the rise of the automobile and encompasses principles such as traditional neighborhood design and transit-oriented development.  It is also closely related to Regionalism and Environmentalism.”

It would seem as though New Town caters to younger individuals; it’s a pseudo-city in a way.  Additionally, High Street promotes itself to younger families on its website as a developing, ‘vibrant community,’ and a place to call home.   I feel like these communities are growing, changing, and finding new ways to market to younger individuals.  Additionally, a handful of restaurants frequented by a younger generation have been opened in the past couple of years- Five Guys, BDubs, Firehouse Subs, Plaza Azteca, to name a few.  A Chipotle is even being built! 

Just by looking at these new communities’ websites, I can infer that they intend to be urban, youthful developments.  So are they taking over? Or just coming into existence with the older retirement communities? 

I hope to explore both of these dynamics. I want to see the effects they have on each other, but also look at differences.  Also, why does Williamsburg seem as thought it constantly needs to market itself to a group of people?  There’s a dynamic of bringing people in; does this make it different than any other city in Virginia?

One of my hesitations is that I’m looking at two different groups, which could get very complicated.  I’m also seeking to answer a series of questions, and while they may all interrelate, I’m afraid of getting my research and not knowing how to connect it.  I know it’s essential that I look at both groups of people because I’m exploring the dynamic of change.  I just hope I can maybe focus my project more, and I believe that will come about when I start to do research.

Sources: 

http://www.williamsburglanding.com/About/ccrc.asp

http://www.newtownwilliamsburg.com/about.html

http://www.highstreetwilliamsburg.com/about-high-street.asp

Kalwarski, Tara. ‘Where to Retire.’ Money. 2006.

The Battle of Williamsburg

I have always been very interested in military history, and as a Virginian, the Civil War has always held a strong appeal to me.  With these interests, the Battle of Williamsburg obviously presents a very interesting topic for me.  Much has been written on the battle itself, so, while I will do some research on the actual fighting in order to provide background information, the focus of my research will be on how the battle is remembered (or not) and what role that plays in the construction of local history.

The Battle of Williamsburg was a critical piece of the early Peninsula campaign in which a force of Confederates led by General James Longstreet held off the advance of General George McClellan’s forces long enough to allow the Confederates to solidify the defenses of Richmond.  While this was not a major battle, the defense of Fort Magruder was critical in the eventual defeat of McClellan’s forces in Richmond.

However, this battle has been largely forgotten in the widely accepted history of Williamsburg.  With the construction of Colonial Williamsburg, much of the history of the City since the Colonial Era was largely ignored or, at the very least, placed secondary to the colonial story portrayed by the re-enactors.  For example, in 1908 the Daughters of the Confederacy erected a Confederate monument on the Palace Green.  However, once the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation began reconstructing 18th Century Williamsburg this monument became an anachronism in the newly created environment.  As such, after long debate, the monument was moved in 1932 to the new Courthouse a few blocks away, a much less prominent location.

In particular, I plan to look at how the Battle of Williamsburg is remembered in Williamsburg today, both by the few physical remnants and any reenactments done in the area.  In addition to the specific memory of the Civil War, I plan to use this topic to explore the larger impact of Colonial Williamsburg on the collective memory of Williamsburg between the Colonial and Modern Eras, or lack thereof.  Another major focus of this project will be the impact of the physical landscape on collective memory.  The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has done some activities discussing the Battle of Williamsburg, but clearly does not represent that period in the physical landscape.  To study this impact, my research may expand some beyond Williamsburg to look at how other Civil War sites are preserved, but the focus of my project will be the memory of the Battle of Williamsburg.

Interpretation in Colonial Williamsburg

I would like to focus my research topic on Colonial Williamsburg somehow.  The process of interpretation is one option; how do you decide what the “right” method of interpreting is.  Is it consistent in Colonial Williamsburg, do all interpreters stay in character or do they talk to visitors as if they live in the 21st century?  I recently visited the Coffee House in CW and the Governor’s Palace on the same day and the tours differed in the way information was given by the interpreters.  At the Coffee House they all stayed in character and only mentioned the 18th century.  At the Governor’s Palace they acted as tour guides from the 21st century and did not hesitate to mention the present; because of this I learned more about the process of how the Palace was rebuilt as well as its history in Colonial times.
Should interpreters bring up more recent developments, such as the archaeology of the site, or is the main goal to stay in character and inform visitors strictly about the past?   How are some interpreters better or worse; is it the more accurate information they give or the more entertaining and captivating they are? Do different buildings in Colonial Williamsburg have different approaches to interpretation and educating the public, if not how strict are the guidelines for interpreters?
I have visited many historic houses in the area on trips for a class, so I’ve seen many different approaches that docents take when giving tours and educating the public.  Some of the information is wrong, or other times it is factual, but misleading to the public.  Some have been in costume, while others wear modern clothes; I wonder if this has any impact on the way the public perceives them or if it changes the way they give out information.

Female Fifers of the Past

When thinking about a possible project for this class, I immediately thought about studying the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps.  As a fifer myself, I have long been interested in ‘the corps down the road,’ as I grew up in the Fifes and Drums of York Town.  Although my corps is a volunteer organization and the Colonial Williamsburg musicians are paid employees of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, we do hold some uniform styles and musical selections in common.  The corps, founded in 1958 as a representation of the Field Music of the Virginia State Garrison Regiment, has educated and entertained generations of visitors to Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest outdoor living history museum.  According to the corps website (http://www.history.org/history/fife&drum/about.cfm), the corps represents “what is best about [the] community, [its] history, and [the] museum.”

When I brought up the idea of studying the Colonial Williamsburg corps in a meeting with Professor Knight and Sarah, they suggested that I might instead focus on the American Eagle Fife and Drum Corps.  I do not know much at all about the corps and have not been able to find any mention of it on the internet, but from what I understand it was an all-female junior corps (traditionally a corps consisting of members 18 and younger) in the Williamsburg area that existed in the seventies, and perhaps during earlier and/or later decades.  However, I did come across what is reported to be the only remaining female senior fife and drum corps in the country, the Totoket Ancient Fife & Drum Corps of Connecticut.  I find it interesting that such a corps existed locally, and that an all-female corps still exists to this day.

Since I have to find a website or any information on the American Eagle corps online, it seems like a perfect organization to document.  However, I am a little worried about some of the issues that such work could bring to the surface.  As far as I know, the corps was formed as a female counterpart to the all-male Colonial Williamsburg corps, which began admitting girls in 1999.  I still think that the all-female corps is worth documenting, and so I plan to just let my informants speak for themselves and discuss controversial issues whenever they see fit.  I may also be able to use past issues of the Virginia Gazette to collect more information on the corps.  I am hoping to use the fife and drum corps 50th anniversary book and video produced by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for its corps as a model for my work to answer questions such as: What is the history of the American Eagle corps?  How did the girls in the corps view their role in the greater fife and drum culture?

My Polish Grandmother Speaks to Every Pancake House Employee in Williamsburg

In Edwards’ cursory analysis of the dynamic between Williamsburg’s economic and social contexts, he appropriately emphasized the importance of several grand, historic institutions (Colonial Williamsburg, William and Mary) to shape our cultural landscape. However, I felt that he, like most of Williamsburg’s residents, had a quite myopic view of which economic entities this town actually relies on. This is why, for my research project I would like to highlight a hidden transcript of an essential labor force that provides what seems to be one of the cornerstones for the economic vitality of this colonial city. Rather than the primary, public performances of labor and capital in this city, I want to study the history of a labor force, which supports the infrastructure of the tourist/hospitality industry in Williamsburg: seasonal guestworkers.
This temporary, transient population, just from what limited personal interaction I have had with them, seems to arrive from countries around the world as disparate as Poland, Brazil, and Thailand. They stay for only a few months in varied contexts—some stay in hotels while others have houses, some perform their ethnic/racial identity quite publically at Busch Gardens while others are encouraged to hide it. And there has definitely been a dialogue between the town and this population, resulting in bars such as Alizé, which has European and Caribbean themed nights. This leads to many questions as an impetus for research. When did this phenomenon start? Who encouraged it? What economic entity brings these workers here and what sort of structure is provided for their stay? What are the cultural representations/reactions of the hegemon to these guestworkers? The legal reactions? What is the background of the young adults who choose to spend a portion of their lives here? And, most importantly, how do these workers feel about their time here and the unique cultural “place” they have been dropped into?

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As for sources for research, I feel like most of the information I would be collecting would have to be primary. I think oral interviews could be a great jumping off point, as I could ask people about their responses to Williamsburg and what brought them here, which would necessarily lead to more information about the larger forces governing this practice. I also think archival newspaper research, such as the archives of the Virginia Gazette, would yield valuable timeline information about when this invisible institution was established, who was pushing for it, and how it expanded. Also, following the advice of Professor Knight, I would like to talk with Cindy Hahamovitch about the history of guestworkers more generally and academic responses to their situations, specifically regarding eastern Europeans. Luckily I also know the head bartender at Alizé, which should be a big help getting interviews lined up.

Taverns Past and Present

I am very interested in extending the topic of last year, food in Williamsburg. I am fascinated by the new southern food empire that characters like Paula Dean and other celebrity chefs have created. Some questions come to mind when I think of the explosion of popularity things like Foodnetwok television have generated. What is it about food that brings people together? Does food have it’s own culture? Does sharing in the same types of food create commonalities between people? Can food represent time periods? All of these questions are just the beginnings, and perhaps more will come once research and interviews begin to answer them.

Particularly I am going to focus on the idea of food as a time piece and culture benchmark. Specifically I will use the Taverns to focus on Williamsburg’s use of food as a major distinction and tool to reveal past colonial histories. There has already been a project on the Taverns, so I will be picking up where they left off essentially. I am interested to know how the choices are made on the menus, the reactions of tourists to the food and the experience there. I plan to also conduct interviews with the staff and management of each tavern to compare and contrast them, and also to get their point of view on the types of people that come in, and maybe even about their training and personas they are supposed to portray to the public. There has already been some work done on the type of food they serve, just statements of their menu, but I want to find out why these certain foods are chosen and what makes them southern and colonial, and what these types of food might have meant to people in colonial times and what they mean to people in the 21st century. I am still developing ideas and more concrete questions to answer throughout the semester.

The Real Housewives of Williamsburg, Virginia?

While contemplating the idea of community in Williamsburg, I immediately found myself thinking about the various “gated communities” in the area. There are three major neighborhoods I can think of that are “gated”, Kingsmill, Governor’s Land, and Ford’s Colony. While discussing my ideas with Professor Knight and Sarah, they pointed out that there are hardly any houses in Williamsburg that aren’t associated with neighborhoods. I find this concept interesting, as as I feel it is difficult to build a strong sense of community in an area when people live in strictly defined neighborhoods.

Many of the gated communities in the area have amenities such as golf clubs, restaurants, and sports clubs that residents pay to be members of. I find myself wondering what affect these types of neighborhoods have on the idea of community in Williamsburg. Are “community centers/community activities” such as the YMCA, parks, even popular restaurants weakened by these gated communities?

I plan on researching the rise of gated communities in America, and how Williamsburg fits into these patterns. I plan on visiting the Williamsburg Realty Association to collect information concerning homeowner’s associations. I suspect that each neighborhood, especially the gated communities, have their own unique culture. It will be interesting to visit selling offices within the neighborhoods to research the marketing materials used to get people to buy the houses. I am curious  to find out if anyone has been gathering this stuff historically. How did the public relations people of Kingsmill get people to move into the neighborhood when it was built in the mid 1970s? I think it will also be interesting to study the price differences between different neighborhoods, and how much each resident must pay for the various amenities within each community.

Connecting music scenes, Past and Present

As a double major in Music and American Studies, I have developed a keen interest in local music scenes and the different cultures they harbor. I first came to understand this idea while attending local shows in my home of Richmond, which is a center for a fairly vast scene incorporating many different genres of music. Having lived in Williamsburg for a few years now I discovered that there is not much of a live music scene and it sparked my interests both as a musician and one who frequents live music performances.

After meeting with Professor Knight and Sarah, where we discussed the different possibilities and explorations I could make on the front of music scenes, I was given some past projects to read. Much to my surprise, I found out from Kevin Leslie’s project two years ago that Williamsburg had booming popular music scene back in the 1970s, hosting many national big name acts of the day including The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers and James Taylor. In addition to securing some of the biggest names of the day, Williamsburg also had a vast netword of bars and clubs where live music could be experienced any night in several places. This is in stark contrast with the Williamsburg that I know and am (somewhat) familiar with.

Another student, Jacob Charron, examined the music scene in present-day Williamsburg for his project last year. He chronicled the local music scene through three venues in specific: J.M. Randall’s, The Spot and the (still yet-to-be-opened) Green Leafe Underground. Charron discussed the scarcity of live music today in Williamsburg and how the few occurrences of it often go unnoticed with little or no advertising and publicity. As a musician and student of music, this frustrates me a great deal, especially when most other college towns and urban centers have incredibly diverse and in depth music scenes.

After reading those two reports from the past and reflecting upon my time spent in Williamsburg, several questions were raised. What happened between the 1970s when thriving music scene inhabited Williamsburg and today where there is not much of anything? How did these venues and institutions come to fall effectively dissolving much of the music scene in Williamsburg? For my project this semester, I intend on filling in the gaps between these two times in Williamsburg history. I plan on picking up where Leslie left off with the early 1980s and extending my research until the late 1990s or early 2000s, which brings us to up present day. This interests me a great deal, as well as fills in a major gap in the research of this topic that will connect us to a better understanding of the past.

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About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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