Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Art Therapy Workshop Tonight (& What's in a Name)

SOS Crown Heights kicks off its Arts To End Violence festival tonight with an art therapy workshop at the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center on Kingston. Watch this space for more announcements about their programming, and click here for more info if you want to get involved.

In unrelated news, ILFA appeared in Sonja Sharp's look at the ever-shifting borders of Crown Heights on DNAInfoNY yesterday. This is a long-running debate; click over to Brownstoner or Brooklynian for many a thread discussing both the geography and the morality of naming (Brownstoner had an active thread building on the DNAInfo article yesterday). Without offering any hard-and-fast answers here, I will say that naming, to an historian, is fascinating. Dive into the archives, talk to old-timers, and the things you find are illuminating, because names are both deeply familiar and (going all the way back to scripture) the product of an exercise of power. That's not to say that this exercise is always nefarious - as I mentioned to Sonja Sharp, minor bureaucratic decisions can produce lasting names, often unintentionally - but it does mean that it's absolutely worth asking both WHO calls a place a certain name and WHY they call it that. 

On Franklin, the Crown Heights - Prospect Heights debate has raged and subsided (with a tremendous eruption during the heady days of Pro-Cro), but that's just the most recent iteration. I once, after calling Franklin "Crown Heights," received a lecture from someone who had taught at Prospect Heights High School (on Classon and Union) for 30 years. She claimed that "Prospect Heights" had once stretched much further east, and that "people" (ah, but who?) had only lumped it all together as Crown Heights once the area had begun to suffer from disinvestment and crime in the 1970s and 1980s (a sort of reverse narrative to today's naming contests). Go back even further, and you can find claims that the area once called Crow Hill was "gentrified during the early 20th century and renamed Crown Heights." The origins and geography of "Crow Hill" are themselves debated: some claim the area lay much further east, and the question of whether "crows" were birds or free African Americans (Brooklyn had a small but noteworthy antebellum population, as ably documented by Montrose Morris over on Brownstoner recently) is also unanswered.

All of this should warn us against the fallacy of origins (there was almost always someone here earlier who called the area something different), but not so much that we slide into the "change is the only constant" morass. Asking how names came about, and why they changed, is a great historical question (and in our own moment, an interesting political one). I leave you with this fantastic description of Brooklyn in 1888 from the Brooklyn Eagle - you'll recognize some names (but not others), and 125 years ago, they too observed the passage of old names and the arrival of new ones.

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