Big news, Shipsters! We recently learned that we have received a competitive grant to build an interactive website experience that will help share some of the organizationís vast archives with a worldwide audience. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Senators from Rhode Island, and Warwick, R.I., Mayor Scott Avedisian were on hand to announce the $50,000 award, presented by the National Parks Service through the National Maritime Heritage Grant Program. Federal funds for the program were generated from the scrapping and sale of obsolete vessels from the Maritime Administrationís National Defense Reserve Fleet, which were purchased for recycling.
With this federal funding, SSHSA will be able to create a public resource aimed at educating students about an important period in American history while promoting the subjects of science, technology, engineering arts and math in high schools across the country.
"Steamships have played an important role in American history, and I commend the Steamship Historical Society of America for winning this competitive grant. This program helps document, preserve, and advance our maritime heritage and share it with a wider audience. Once completed, this project will be a great tool for educators, researchers, and the general public," said Senator Reed.
The interactive online experience, titled "Steaming into the Future," will focus on a period beginning in 1807 when the first commercially viable American steam engines were successfully powering ships. This began the transition from sail to steam-powered vessels and transformed shipping, commerce and travel across America. Students will work directly with primary sources to better understand these changes and think about how they may offer opportunities for the future.
The Steamship Historical Society of America is helping preserve part of our nationís maritime history for the next generation," said Senator Whitehouse. "I congratulate the Society on winning this federal grant to bring its Rhode Island-based archives to a worldwide audience." Work on this program began back in 2013, when SSHSA was awarded a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities to bring in a team of teachers and educational consultants to select artifacts and documents from its collections and provide feedback regarding what items and concepts were best aligned with 11th and 12th grade curricula. The Maritime Heritage Education Grant will allow the scope to be broadened and shared beyond Rhode Island.
We are enthusiastic that the Steamship Historical Society of America has decided to call Warwick home," Mayor Avedisian said. "With already tremendous success, we look forward to the future of this great organization." Overall, $2.6 million was distributed to 34 organizations around the nation to repair and restore an array of sites integral to Americaís maritime history and help launch a variety of historic exhibits, education programs and online resources. "There really isnít a better place for a collection like this to be housed than here in the Ocean State, and we are proud of what our new home in Warwick has become," SSHSA Executive Director Matthew Schulte said. "Our next step is to provide a context for some of these materials and help future generations understand the innovation and ingenuity that drove this great technological leap in the early 19th century."
In January we held our first Membership Saturday event with Don Leavitt, board member and volunteer in organizing our ephemera collections. The modest sized group were very engaged, and together with archivist Astrid Drew, Don led discussions about many aspects of specific items in SSHSA collections. A highlight was that one of the attendees had worked aboard a ship called the Queen Frederica as a young man, and Don was able to find a brochure from the time he was aboard. Attendees looked on as SSHSA staff opened a "mystery box" from the unprocessed portion of the archives, and together we looked through the artifacts and inventoried them. There was much discussion and visitors were able to help identify many of the items, such as wall hooks for ship fire axes, and insignia on certain pieces of china.
Our February event featured speaker Eric Wiberg, who spoke about German U-boats that operated along the United States coast during World War II. The lecture was very well attended (we had to set up a waiting list), with an audience consisting of history buffs and veterans, and many more.
In March, it was SSHSA Board Member Eric Takakjian who captivated a dedicated audience on Easter weekend. Mr. Takakjian - a captain and experienced diver who has helped find dozens of lost vessels - spoke about the research and field operations that led to the discovery of the wreck of the SS Newcastle City, which was lost in 1887.