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What's in a Name
This project began in conversation between our co-directors Ernest Morrell and Ansley Erickson in 2012. At that time, we chose "Educating Harlem" as our name. We selected it for the ways it affirms the work of Harlem residents past and present in educating their children and community. This affirmation felt especially important amidst still-powerful historical and contemporary narratives of deficit in urban and Black education.
The name fit well for some initial aspects of our work, including as the working title of an edited volume of essays on Harlem's 20th century educational history. On the cover of a history book, it was clear that we intended to depict the actions and interests of Harlem residents in shaping education there.
Our work has evolved beyond the edited volume to include more collaborative and public history work. In that process, we’ve heard concerns from multiple partners and community members that the name rang differently for them. Given the fraught history of Columbia's relationship with Harlem, and the community's decades-long experience of being acted upon disrespectfully by the university and others, the name felt off-putting or presumptuous. It seemed to imply that Teachers College or Columbia was the subject, Harlem the object. That is just the sense of hierarchy and disrespect we want to work against.
Thus, we needed a new name. We collected suggestions from community partners in our Wadleigh history work, and from colleagues at TC and Columbia and other local history institutions. We circulated a few possibilities, and with the guidance of feedback on these we chose Harlem Education History Project.
The first three words capture the core elements of this project on the history of education in Harlem, across time periods, modes, voices, and interpretations.
Why "project"? Because we want to signal ongoing work in progress, rather than a fixed body of knowledge or a finished product.
Why not "collaborative"? Many people suggested that we include the word collaborative in the title. We are committed to working collaboratively, but we also recognize that earlier phases of the project have developed collaboratively within the university but not between the university and community members. As our work becomes more collaborative with a greater range of partners, we think of collaboration as something we will constantly striving for rather than as a state we can declare ourselves to have achieved.
The Educating Harlem name will live on in the URL of this website and in earlier iterations of project documentation, publications, and posters. It is part of our project history, and an artifact of the project's development and learning over time.
We hope that our new name can be an umbrella under which exciting and just work can develop, for fostering knowledge about the past as well as thinking about the present.
Ansley Erickson, Co-Director