Historic New England: Expanding the Traditional Historical Narratives of New England Life
For more than a century, Historic New England (HNE) has engaged audiences to develop a deeper understanding and enjoyment of New England home life. HNE’s 38 historic homes, farms, and landscapes across Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island span four centuries and feature a variety of architectural styles, beautiful gardens and natural areas. Visitors to the sites enjoy guided tours, interpretative “living history” programs, and museum exhibitions. HNE also maintains a huge collection of more than 125,000 New England artifacts – decorative arts, wallpaper, home furnishings, fine and folk art, clothing and accessories, jewelry, textiles, etc. – and 1.5 million archival documents and images that tell the stories of how New Englanders lived and worked from the seventeenth century to today.
In the fall of 2021, HNE launched a multi-year initiative called Recovering New England’s Voices to enrich the traditional narratives at its historic sites. During the first year, four scholars uncovered hundreds of previously unknown stories about historically marginalized people in New England history – stories of domestic service workers, immigrants, enslaved people, free people of color, and others. The stories include information about enslaved people associated with HNE’s historic sites, domestic staff and immigrant workers who kept the properties running, prison laborers’ contributions to real estate development, the experience of Indigenous peoples across the region, and women’s roles in and beyond the household.
In December 2022, Americana awarded a grant to HNE to continue this important work. Americana’s grant is funding the work of research scholar Erika Slocumb, who is building on the first year of the program by focusing on the stories of free Black and enslaved individuals connected to HNE’s sites and communities. Ms. Slocumb is conducting primary research and working closely with colleagues and community sources to develop more complete, inclusive, and authentic stories of life at HNE’s sites. HNE will use the results of Ms. Slocumb’s work to identify the historic sites with the most potential for a reimagined site interpretation, and to design expanded tour experiences and public programs that incorporate a more inclusive view of life in New England.
Recovering New England’s Voices is challenging traditional approaches to telling the stories of the past and introducing a more complete, inclusive, and authentic historical narrative. The program reflects HNE’s commitment to incorporating comprehensive changes that emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion in its historic sites. More information about Recovering New England’s Voices is available on the HNE website. Read some of the stories uncovered during the first year of the program in the Summer 2022 issue of Historic New England magazine.