Science and Sylvester Manor

Sylvester Manor is a Georgian-era plantation home on Shelter Island, New York that was built in 1652 to act as a provisioning plantation for the Barbados sugar trade. The Manor was founded as the home of the Dutch merchant Nathaniel Sylvester, the first European inhabitant of the island. Remarkably, it has been in the same family for eleven generations. The current Manor dates to 1737, and serves as a museum and site for archaeological exploration of the lives of the enslaved Africans, Dutch plantation owners, and native Americans who intersected on this land during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The home’s collections include silver, paintings, furniture, wallpaper, ceramics, documents, and architectural elements that range from the seventeenth century to the present day. This class will provide an introduction to the scientific study of material culture, using the Manor and its collections to demonstrate how materials analysis can inform humanities scholars about the past. For example, the silver collections of the Manor will be examined to explore their relationships to the Dutch and English silver standards of the period, and the ‘coin silver’ alloys that were prepared in the American colonies using Spanish Reales from Peruvian, Mexican, and Bolivian mines. The silver sources identified will allow BGC students to be the first to let the Manor collections “speak for themselves,” probing the extent of the trade network that took place at this rare and remarkable survival of a Northern plantation. This course will involve two visits to Shelter Island, Long Island. The first trip will be to learn about the Manor and its collections, and to review possible research project options. The second trip will be to collect data and samples for your semester-long research project. Your project will be presented at the end of the semester as the course’s final paper. Shelter Island, located on the east end of Long Island between the North and South forks, is a three-hour trip from Manhattan. As a result, the two classes that happen at the Manor will take place on weekend days to avoid conflicts with other classes. These day trips can be extended to overnight trips to the island depending upon the class’s preference. 3 credits.