I attended the American Historical Association’s annual meeting this past January in New York City. The conference provided lots of historical nourishment and reinforced to me how blessed that I am to be doing what I love. It is fitting that the conference was held in New York, because it is a city known for making dreams come true. Surrounded by historians, I was living the dream!
I have been to New York numerous times and will probably post more on specific sites in the future, but for now I will just concentrate on a few. On the first night, I went out to explore the city and visit one of my favorite places—Grand Central Station. I was humbled to think of how many people got off a train and passed through that station with a hope for a greater future. During the turn of the century, people poured into New York looking for a new life with grand hopes for financial stability. New York was a place where dreams could come true. Travelers must have felt like they were living in a dream when they stepped off the railroad platform and entered the main concourse of the central terminal. With its soaring ceilings and rich architecture, I can only imagine the impression that it made on weary travelers. As they exited the building, they would have looked up to see monumental sculptures of Roman gods on the façade. Their first impression was one of greatness and grandeur. Sadly, most of New York’s laborers would never come to know riches (or even modest comfort), but their city extolled extravagance. For more on Grand Central’s history: http://www.gcthistory.com/#intro
The next evening, a friend and I visited the Morgan Library. What a magnificent place!! The Morgan family were an influential financiers who accumulated a massive amount of wealth. By the late 1800s (Gilded Age), J.P. Morgan was one of the richest men in the world. His New York mansion epitomized Gilded Age excess–no one could say that J.P. Morgan didn’t know how to read in style. His library took me to another time (and class) when a vast library was an indication of a cultured person. It was here that I was able to view the famed Crusader Bible—its pages rich with biblical stories gilded in gold and saturated with color even 800 years later. http://www.themorgan.org/collection/Crusader-Bible
Seeking more cultural enrichment, I went to one of my favorite places—The Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are many amazing museums in New York, but the Met is my favorite. After seeing so many wonderful pieces that my head was swimming, I proceeded to what I considered was saving the best for last—Hatshepsut. Born in 1508 BCE, Hatshepsut reigned as the first female pharaoh during the 18th Egyptian dynasty (died 1458 BCE). She accomplished many positive gains for Egypt, but her reign is especially notable since she ruled at a time where women had little power. Her subjects considered her 22-year reign extremely successful. As pharaoh, Hatshepsut re-established trade routes with other countries that had been disrupted by the Hyksos occupation of Egypt. She oversaw a mission to Punt where many trade goods were obtained, notably myrrh. She commissioned many buildings that were grand and architecturally impressive, such as the Temple of Karnak and the mortuary temple complex at Deir el-Bahri. Her reign was a time of peace for Egypt. Knowing her history makes this exhibit come alive and I encourage you to check it out the next time that you are in New York. A website that I created, Women Who Dared, provides bibliographical information on Hatshepsut.
As my taxi left town and I said farewell to this city of dreams, I had a peace that I hadn’t felt before. I used to come to New York frequently and was always saddened upon leaving the hustle and bustle and the rich historical treasures, but this time I took comfort knowing that through my study of history I can come back anytime that I want.
***There are many sites that can’t be missed in NYC, but this blog just concentrates on The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Morgan Library, and Grand Central Station. I encourage you to explore many of the other historical riches that the city has to offer: Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, New York Public Library, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Carnegie Hall, Financial District, Flat Iron Building, Old Merchant’s House, Rockefeller Center, Trinity Church, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building.