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Erin Burke ’18 develops children’s programming at the Oneida Community Mansion House

By Upstate Institute on July 24, 2017

Erin Burke at the Oneida Community Mansion House

This summer I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work as an intern at the Oneida Community Mansion House. The Oneida Community Mansion House (OCMH) is a non-profit historic house museum that shares the history of the Oneida Community. The Oneida Community was a socialist Utopian group that was active from 1848-1881. They are known for their social practices, which differed greatly from their contemporaries: the Community shared all property in common, believed that women and men were of comparable standing, all men and women in the Community were spouses to one another, and that men were responsible for preventing conception. OCMH also strives to use the story of the Oneida Community as a platform to discuss pressing social issues that still face audiences today. To accomplish this dual mission of sharing history and questioning modernity, OCMH offers guided tours, educational programs, and special events to the public.

OCMH is working to expand their children’s programming and attract younger visitors to the museum. Currently, only a few children attend the museum’s guided tours and most of the special events offered are for adult audiences. OCMH is in the process of researching the reasons for its limited youth attendance, but early trends in survey data suggest a few possibilities. Firstly, the rural setting of OCMH limits the amount of drive-by exposure and makes marketing in central, family-friendly locations a challenging task. Secondly, some of the museum’s content is not appropriate for younger audiences – such as the Community’s sexual relations. In order to overcome these obstacles, the OCMH’s education department is working to develop new child-friendly programs and marketing materials that emphasize the program’s age-appropriateness.


My internship this summer focuses on evaluating the existing children’s programming at OCMH as well as brainstorming and developing new children’s programming for the museum. My largest project of the summer is assisting with the development and delivery of OCMH’s summer camp, which is currently in its second year. I will eventually combine my on-site experiences at OCMH with outside research to write a research paper about children’s programming in historic house museums that will be shared with OCMH staff and circulated within the public history sector. Ultimately, I think that the most important contribution I can make to OCMH this summer is the evaluation reports I am preparing – I am analyzing survey responses in order to suggest recommendations for new children’s programming. By leaving my reports and recommendations with the museum, my work can contribute to program development at OCMH even after my internship has ended.


As a history major and a museum studies minor, this has been an invaluable experience for me. Every day on the job I am gaining on-site experience that will help me land my dream job – a curator of education in a history museum. I was drawn to Colgate University’s Upstate Institute Field School this summer because I believe that place matters. Although I originally hail from Philadelphia, I have lived in central New York for the past three years. Building community partnerships between Colgate and its surrounding area and doing community-based research have shown me the importance of placehow the history of a community and present day community partnerships combine to create an atmosphere of understanding and belonging that makes a place feel like home.

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