The Prompt: Summarize what you learned about Pittsburgh’s history in your school days? As an adult, did you learn anything new about Pittsburgh’s history that surprised you? What parts of local history would you like to learn about now?
I attended a public school in a blue-collar suburb of Pittsburgh. To my recollection, we never studied local, regional, or state history. Somewhere along the line I remember the names “William Penn” and “William Pitt” and the tidbit that William Pitt had never been to Pittsburgh. I have some vague memories of touching on Ft. Pitt (Ft. Duquesne) as part of studying American colonial history, but nothing more about Pittsburgh.
Thus, everything has surprised me.
A few examples
- Pittsburgh and some parts of Southwestern Pennsylvania were once attached to the British Colony of Virginia. This led to the discovery that a plantation with enslaved human beings existed about five miles from where I grew up, The property remained in the hands of the original owners until the 1980’s and is now relabeled as a farm. The owner of this plantation and person who enslaved dozens of human beings is designated as the man who founded Clairton. That seems like a salient point in current conversations about Clairton.
- The people who originally lived in these lands are known as Haudenosaunee. Iroquois was a term imposed by the French, not a term that came from the people themselves.
- The massive amount of progressive historythat took place in Pittsburgh or by Pittsburghers.
- The history of the lumber industry in Pennsylvania along with the legacy of Pittsburgh coal and gas as part of our history of extracting natural resources.
- My own family ties to Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania running much deeper than I had ever imagined.
Now, I am not a teacher or an educator, but I do think that studying the history of your own community is important. I can only imagined the sanitized version that we’d see unroll in public schools, but it would be a start. We also do have many local resources to lean into for a more robust, representative history.
I’d absolutely love to take a history class as an adult and study regional progressive history in particular. Civics for adults. There are plenty of historical spots with tours, educational programming, etc but I’m leaning more toward something that curates this information and offers me the big picture. I’d love a social justice history tour, self-guided or otherwise. I’d love to watch a series of videos about progressive regional history.
I have a plan with a historian friend to visit the Kuykendall-Forsyth estate in Jefferson Hills in the near future. That’s a start – educating myself about the information my teachers and family left out of the story.
I’m grateful to have so much still to learn, but exasperated by how much effort it requires to access reliable sources.
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