Fall 2014 Alumni Spotlight: Aileen Chumard
Meet Aileen Chumard
Aileen Chumard is the Executive Director of Programs & Exhibits at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She develops and oversees tours, programs and exhibits and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, a unique visitor center and the first and only publically accessible building at the Yard. BLDG 92 will celebrate its three year anniversary in November.
What do you enjoy most about working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard?
The Brooklyn Navy Yard is a public history dream. I have always been drawn to the historical field not out of a particular fascination with the names and faces of the past but rather out of a curiosity about how our understanding of the past effects our present and future. The Brooklyn Navy Yard is an amazing site that served as America’s premier naval shipbuilding facility for over 165 years. Though today the Yard is a thriving industrial park, its connection to the past is so strong. This space boasts a two hundred year heritage of entrepreneurship and innovation. Inside the Yard, the past continues to meet the present as people are launching businesses and creating innovative technology, while craftsmen use hand tools to produce their creations.
I oversee the exhibits at the Yard, not just for the public but also for the people who work there. I want the people who work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to see themselves as part of a larger historical narrative. They have inherited the legacy of hundreds of Brooklynites who were drawn to this space before them. Today, the technology may be different, but the core concept remains the same. The work done here is always couched within that rich history.
What would you consider to be your career highlight or greatest success?
My greatest career success thus far has been the successful opening of BLDG 92, which is the only publicly accessible building in the Navy Yard. I first came on to this project as part of the curatorial team and now I am the full-time head. This site was closed to the public since 1801 and now having successfully opened it to the public I am taking on the challenge of how to make the public aware of this development. With the three-year anniversary of BLDG 92’s opening, bridging the gap to the public and making BLDG 92 a resource for our tenants and surrounding communities remains a goal. There is a growing opportunity for the community to know about the Yard and to visit, and to tap in to their history.
Do you or did you have a mentor who has helped you in the Public History field?
I have had a series of great mentors who have helped me in the field. Peter Wosh has always been a great resource to bounce ideas off of. Richard Rabinowitz the founder of American History Workshop is a genius in terms of how to use exhibits to tell a narrative. I also have a group of fellow students and APH alums that I became close with in the program, and we continue to support and inspire each other.
What advice would you give to an individual considering Public History as a career?
The most important advice I would give to current students is to remain open regarding future prospects and to recognize that Public History opportunities are everywhere. Your training does not only make you qualified to contribute to the historical record, but in fact Public History can be more broadly defined. Be open and creative to the ways that Public History can serve broader agendas or organizations. Certain parts of the field may appear more attractive than others, but be open to job opportunities. Public Historians’ sense of place and ability to translate that can be made attractive to individuals in other, seemingly unrelated fields. If we can successfully commodify this skill, we can get paid for our ability to tell a story in an interesting way. Another important piece of advice, both in work and in life, is to develop a strong support system.
Besides focusing on her work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, here are some of Aileen’s other interests.
While I’m not sure I love the word itself, I am a foodie. I love cooking, and food and wine. I’m a devotee of the Slow Food Movement, a yogi and I love to travel. I can also nurture these interests at the Yard because it is home to the Brooklyn Grange and the oldest whiskey distillery, and I get to do fun things with them.
What is your favorite local place to visit?
My favorite place to visit is probably Prospect Park. I grew up in Hudson Valley and so while I appreciate urban living, it is really important to me to be near an outdoor park.
Do you have a quote you live by?
I believe in the power of positive thinking.
Featured January Profile: Suzanne Wasserman
I am an historian and award-winning filmmaker. I have a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a Ph.D. in American History from New York University. I was part of the very first class of public historians at NYU and graduated with a degree in American history in 1990. Everything I do today, as a film maker and as an historian, is informed by my training as a public historian.
Currently I am the Director of the Gotham Center for New York City History at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. Our mission is to promote everything and everyone having anything to do with New York City history to the widest possible audience – that includes academics, students, history buffs, curators, archivists, tourists and others.
I lecture, write and consult about New York City history, especially the history of the Lower East Side. I have published widely on topics such as the Great Depression, Jewish nostalgia, housing, restaurant culture, tourism, pushcart peddling, silent films, 19th century saloons and 21st century street fairs. I was an historical consultant on Ron Howard’s, Cinderella Man. I am the co-author of Life on the Lower East Side, 1937-1950: Photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006) which is in its fourth printing.
My 2003 award-winning film, Thunder in Guyana, is about my cousin, Janet Jagan, who became President of Guyana in South America. The film premiered at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in June, 2003 and aired nationally on PBS as part of the national Independent Lens series in 2005 and Global Voices in 2010. My second film, a short documentary, titled Brooklyn among the Ruins premiered at the Coney Island Film Festival in 2005 and was broadcast on PBS/WNET’s series REEL New York in 2006 and is about a subway buff who built a life-size subway car in his apartment in Brooklyn. My third film is a short documentary, Sweatshop Cinderella, about the Jewish immigrant writer Anzia Yezierska. My fourth documentary about New York City butchers is the award-winning Meat Hooked! It premiered at the New York Food Film Festival in 2012 and was part of the 2012 national PBS series America Reframed. My films have been seen at over 50 festivals and other venues. Sweatshop Cinderella and Thunder in Guyana are distributed by Women Make Movies. I am in pre-production on a fifth film, Children and Their Discontents, about the children of psychoanalysts. (I am one!)
December: Emily Brown
October: Adina Langer
September: Maurita Baldock
May: Nicole Belle Derise
November: Andrea Meyer
December: Joanna Steinburg
January: Kathleen Sabogal
February: Leslie Fields
March: Nicole Milano
April: Laura Zeccardi
May: Steve Novak
June: Dave Stark
Summer: Sushan Chin
October: Liz Steinberg
November: Jenny Pachucki
December: Teresa Mora
January: Jason Steinhauer
February: Margaret Fraser
March: Karen Murphy
April: Kevin Murphy