Rensselaer Co. Historical Society’s 2014 Phelan Lecture

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RCHSThe Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) has announced the 2014 Thomas Phelan Endowed Lecture Series to be held on Saturday, June 21. This year’s theme is Controversial Objects, Controversial History. The day consists of a morning lecture, an afternoon workshop and a fundraising dinner in the evening.

In 1997, the Rensselaer County Historical Society established the Thomas Phelan Endowed Lecture Series in recognition of Rev. Phelan’s longtime preservation efforts and support of the educational and cultural vitality of Rensselaer County. Prominent speakers are invited to lecture of topics relating to Phelan’s area of study as Institute Dean and Institute Historian at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, especially as it pertains to 19th century American material culture and industrialization.

The morning’s lecture features two presenters: Robert Burns, Director of the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, CT and Gretchen Sullivan Soren, Director and Distinguished Professor of the Cooperstown Graduate Program, Cooperstown, NY.

Robert Burns will present the saga of an item in the Mattatuck Museum’s collection – a skeleton of an 18th century enslaved African American man named Fortune whose bones were preserved by the man who had enslaved him, a local doctor. His presentation is timely and relevant in light of the recent debate over the location of the unidentified human remains at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

Gretchen Sullivan Soren will use objects from the teaching collection at the Cooperstown Graduate Program and images of objects and art that she has used in exhibitions, to discuss the controversial nature of historic artifacts and whether that controversy changes based on one’s world view.

The Saturday, June 21 morning lectures presented by Burns and Soren will be followed by a question and answer session moderated by RCHS Executive Director, Ilene Frank. The morning lecture is free and open to the public, details are below.

The afternoon will include a light lunch provided by RCHS as well as a hands-on workshop exploring how museums can best tell controversial history. Mr. Burns and Dr. Sorin will be joined by Travis Bowman, Senior Curator, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in leading a facilitated hands-on workshop on how museums can best preserve and share controversial history and objects. Admission is $15 for RCHS members, $25 for non-members; details below.

The lecture series will conclude with a four-course dinner catered by Troy treatery Sweet Sue’s held within RCHS’ Hart-Cluett House Courtyard. This is a rare opportunity to dine in an outdoor space not often visiting by the public.

For 2014, The Phelan Lecture is sponsored by the Thomas Phelan Memorial Fund of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region and in partnership with The Sage Colleges, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Event Details: The morning lecture, from 10:00 am to 11:30 am will be held at Bush Memorial Hall on the Russell Sage Campus is free and open to the public. The afternoon workshop and lunch runs from 12pm to 2pm at RCHS. Admission is $15 for RCHS members, $25 for non-members. The evening dinner is held from 6pm to 9pm at RCHS. Admission is $100 for RCHS members, $125 for non-members. Space is limited for the afternoon workshop and evening dinner. For more information about the program or to purchase tickets, contact Rensselaer County Historical Society by phone at 518-272-7232 or visit

RCHS is located at 57 Second Street, Troy NY 12180.

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