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New York-Historical Society Offers Workshops for US Residents Seeking Citizenship

The New-York Historical Society will launch the Citizenship Project, a major initiative to offer green card holders free civics and American history workshops led by the museum’s educators.

Nari Ward, “We the People” (2011) (photo by Will Brown, courtesy Speed Art Museum)

For permanent residents in the New York region seeking American citizenship, studying for the naturalization test is about to get a whole lot easier, and much more fun. Yesterday, the New-York Historical Society announced the launch of the Citizenship Project, a major initiative to offer green card holders free civics and American history workshops led by the museum’s educators. A partnership with CUNY’s Citizenship Now!, which offers free and confidential immigration law services, the project will harness the museum’s unique collection to make the preparation process engaging as well as instructive.

James Henry Cafferty, “Baltimore News Vendor” (1860), one of the objects incorporated into the scavenger hunt (image courtesy New-York Historical Society)

“New York has a huge demand for these resources, which is not currently being met,” Louise Mirror, the New-York Historical Society’s president and CEO told Hyperallergic. “Our New-York Historical program, with object-based learning, will be unique.”

Specifically, art and artifacts will be used as teaching tools to help participants better understand pivotal moments in US history over the course of the nine-session classes that the Ford Foundation has funded. These workshops, which occur on-site, begin this summer and are offered at various times and intensities so individuals may select a schedule that best fits their needs.

The museum has also created a scavenger hunt that any visitor can participate in that focuses on objects on view related to test questions on the naturalization exam. Question #3, which asks about the first three words of the Constitution, for instance, leads you to Nari Ward’s “We the People” installation, which he made of donated shoelaces. Question #58 — “What is one reason colonists came to America? ” — takes you to George Henry Boughton’s 1867 painting of Pilgrims going to church, as an illustration of those escaping religious persecution or in search of economic opportunity. The guide is a smart way to animate the New-York Historical’s rich holdings and steers people away from rote memorization, instead learning through a visual and cultural method.

The museum, which hosts naturalization ceremonies in its auditorium, has been considering a program to help with studying for the naturalization exam for several years now, understanding that even American-born citizens would find it difficult to pass. But the need for one became more timely after President Trump’s incendiary January 27 executive order that restricted travel for thousands, from refugees to permanent residents.

“When the first travel ban initially included legal immigrants, we realized that we could put our skills to use helping green card holders learn the civics and history they need to know to pass the test, so that they could participate fully in American civic life as citizens and also be protected under the Constitution,” Mirrer said. “The project would draw attention, as well, for Americans, to the high bar set by our nation for citizenship.”

For citizens who want to see how they would fare on knowledge of American history and civics, questions and answers to the hunt will be on display at the museum’s entrance, on interactive tablets, and online.

From the New-York Historical Society’s scavenger hunt (courtesy the New-York Historical Society)
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