Hannah Fitton, ’14, is working with the large collection of flags and banners that belong to the Oneida County Historical Society in Utica. The OCHS had over 100 flags in storage that had been donated by various individuals and organizations over the years. As a Field School Fellow, Hannah created a database that included information about the type (American or Local), size, fabric condition, and historical significance, which she determined through research within OCHS’ accession record and historical files. She has created a special exhibit that displays a selection of the flags and banners that range from a large Civil War era flag with a special star pattern to a rare silk flag, as well as the flag that was raised during the 1884 Oriskany Monument dedication. The exhibit leads the viewer through the development of the American flag from the colonial Grand Union to its modern day 50-star pattern. Several local banners are also in the collection, ranging from the original Oneida County flag to a Utica Citizen Corps Cadets banner used in parades. Overall, the exhibit demonstrates how flags and banners have become more than just a communication device: they are symbols that are instantly recognizable, and help tell the stories of past times.
Hannah’s work this summer consists of lots of historical research. She has enjoyed the process of looking through online databases of twentieth century newspapers, old books, cemetery and family records, and photograph albums to find anything that could be relevant to her research on a particular flag. Her database of flags and banners will act as a working template for future additions to the OCHS collection, and she hopes that her research will be helpful for various researchers, and as a model for future exhibits on similar topics.
“Being surrounded with so much history offers many challenges as I sort through what is most important for my research on flags,” says Hannah. “I’ve been able to observe the day-to-day administration of a local historical society, and understand some of the obstacles that museums face when working to attract potential visitors. One area that I have learned a lot about is the creation of an exhibit. From the designing on paper, to the actual installation of flags and labels, I never realized how much time and commitment goes into the final display!”
Though Hannah has only completed her sophomore year at Colgate, she recognized that she wanted to have an impact on the local community in her first years. “After two years at Colgate,” she said, “I realized that I still didn’t know a lot about the region in which I was studying. I wanted an opportunity to be a part of the surrounding community and understand more about the Upstate New York area history. Being an Upstate Field School Fellow this summer has given me a deeper appreciation for the beautiful area that Colgate is located in and how Colgate students can make a direct impact in the lives of people who live here.”