Two one-week workshops for eighty school teachers on the nineteenth-century Shaker movement and the communitarian society it produced.
This workshop is anchored in the observation that "[t]he impulse toward utopia has played a vital role in the evolution of American culture from the seventeenth century to the present." Given the opportunity to engage in close study of Shaker history and material culture, teachers gain a deeper understanding of the importance of the utopian experiment in American history. The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing (Shakers) came to America under the direction of Mother Ann Lee (1736-1784), who evangelized on the basic tenets of their faith, including celibacy, gender equality, and a communal life. The growth of the Shaker movement took place against the backdrop of industrial and commercial transformation that was particularly intense in New York, with its aggressive investment in transportation; by the 1830s approximately 6,000 Shakers lived in nineteen communities from Kentucky to Maine. Assigned readings include works by visiting scholars Stephen Stein (The Shaker Experience in America) and Glendyne Wergland (One Shaker Life: Isaac Newton Youngs, 1793-1865, and Sisters in the Faith: Shaker Women and Equality of the Sexes), as well as readings drawn from nineteenth-century Shaker writings and testimonials. Participants visit Hancock Shaker Village in Hancock, Massachusetts, as part of a general introduction to the time in which the Shakers lived and how their community life responded to it, as explained by project director Jennifer Dorsey. Glendyne Wergland leads sessions on two days, covering a wide range of topics--health, diet, celibacy, gender roles, education, children--and accompanying the group on field trips to the Shaker Museum and Library at Mount Lebanon and to the New York State Library in Albany, which houses a collection of documents relating to Shaker educational practices. On the fourth day, Stephen Stein joins the group to discuss Shaker spirituality in the context of the Great Awakening; in the visit to the Shaker Heritage Society in Watervliet, New York, director Starlyn D'Angelo discusses Shaker architecture, music, and dance. On the last day, Professor Stein focuses on the post-Civil War decline of the Shaker movement, the mythology or romanticism about Shakers that subsequently emerged, and the Shakers' efforts in the early twentieth century to preserve their own material culture, culminating in a visit to the New York State Museum's Shaker Collection. The teachers are expected to develop curricula that incorporate material culture or use primary source documents.