YSU Center for Applied History Wins State Award

Youngstown State University’s Center for Applied History — along with Friends of the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor and the Massillon Museum — have received the Public History Award from the Ohio Academy of History for their 2012 collaborative project.

“Celebrating the Legacy of the New Deal” had three distinct components, including two exhibits and a two-day symposium — which were all funded by $10,000 from The Ohio Humanities Council.

Donna DeBlasio, a professor in the history department who was deeply involved with the creation and coordination of the project, said the incentive for the project was the 75th anniversary of the Little Steel Strike — a massive steel workers’ strike in the 1930s that crossed over into eight states in the Midwest and Northeast.

“It really all started because we wanted to do something for the 1937 Little Steel Strike,” DeBlasio said. “You had this important event, certainly in Youngstown’s history— some of the major action took place in Youngstown — which is why we really wanted to do something about it.”

DeBlassio worked with students in her Museum Curation class to develop the traveling exhibition “Forged in Battle: Remembering the 1937 Little Steel Strike.” It premiered at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor in June 2012 and ran until Summer 2013.

The Center also collaborated with Alexandra Nicholis Coon, the executive director of the Massillon Museum, Tom Sodders, a collector of New Deal art that is focused on labor, and several other entities throughout Ohio to create the “New Deal Labor and Art” exhibit.

Nicholis Coon said she cold called DeBlassio, after being presented with the opportunity to help organize an exhibit on New Deal art. The two decided to co-apply for the grant and then set out to plan this exhibit. This exhibit premiered at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor as well.

“We got together and met — with some of my colleagues and some of hers — and we devised a strategy for hosting the exhibit at three different sites so we could get a good presence for it throughout Northeast Ohio. And we developed a traveling exhibition that opened at Youngstown, went then to the Cleveland Public Library and finally here and Massillon. It was incredibly well received at all venues. Each site had its own interpretive spin on it that made it unique to the respective institutions,” she said. “It was a really really great project and we were really proud to be involved.”

The final leg of the project was the symposium in September 2012, dubbed, “Crucibles of Change: New Perspectives on Labor in the Great Depression and World War II.” The symposium
featured several speakers, including attorney Staughton Lynd, historian Brigid O’Farrell and art historian Henry Adams.

Martha Pallante, chair of the History Department and one of the three faculty
involved in writing the grant, said the prestigious award adds to the reputation of the center and the university alike.

“There is only one offered a year. The Ohio Academy of History is our organization of professors of History in all of the state and private institutions in the state.
To be selected by them is a pretty significant achievement. It is not awarded every year, but only in those years when there is a project deemed worthy. So it means something to actual receive it,” Pallante said.

Nicholis Coon said she believed the project received the award because of how comprehensive and involved the project was, bringing in the experiences and expertise of the Massillon museum, the YSU faculty and the YSU students, among other parties.

“I’m really proud of what we produced. It involved a wide variety of community groups. Collaborations more often than not, result in much stronger projects,” she said. “I think the fact that there were so many groups throughout North East Ohio that demonstrated an interest and played a really vital role, contributed to the success.” “It was a mulch-faceted, mulch-disciplinary exhibit. We all came together to celebrate the artwork of an area that was really trans-formative in our countries history.”

DeBlassio added that the Academy’s committee unanimously decided to grant the award to this project.

“It was the unanimous choice of the committee,” DeBlassio said. “Everybody involved — all of us that were planning it and the students that worked on it and the people who participated in the symposium and god bless the Ohio Humanities Counsel because we couldn’t have done it without them — worked really hard and produced a really good product.”