The Catskills Institute preserves the legacy of Jewish life in the Catskills by holding an annual History of the Catskills Conference (since 1995), keeping an extensive website, maintaining the world's largest archive of Catskills material, developing museum exhibitions, public speaking, and assisting researchers and filmmakers.
The Catskills Institute, founded in 1995, is incorporated as an educational organization by the Regents of the State University of New York, and is an IRS 501-c-3 non-profit organization. The Catskills Institute was conceived to respond to the tremendous interest in the history and culture of the Catskills. The Catskills Institute:
Holds an annual History of the Catskills Conference. Thirteen have been held so far,at Kutsher's Country Club in Monticello. These are major sources for sharing the burgeoning research and writing about the history of the Catskills, and for generating new research. An average of 80 people attend each conference.
Collects archival material and artifacts (photos, newspaper and magazine articles, hotel menus and brochures, home movies, personal memoirs, interviews). We have had great success thus far in collecting photos, hotel memorabilia, personal narratives, interviews, and Jewish Agricultural Society records. We have a formal agreement with the American Jewish Historical Society to hold these as a special collection in their archives at the Jewish History Center in New York City. The Archive will have the most modern and visible location possible, and will provide future generations with photos, interviews, memoirs, home movies, books, hotel postcards and brochures, and memorabilia of the amazing Jewish Catskills legacy. Our collecting efforts serve to locate existing materials to ensure the survival of rare and fragile materials. The archives now hold approximately 900 postcards, 100 menus, 50 rate cards, 75 sheets of stationery, 1200 photographs, 30 books, 45 sound and video recordings, 150 interviews, 60 non-flat items (e.g. ashtrays, signs, decorative items), 120 memoirs and narratives, and assorted business records. We also have a major collection of Jewish Agricultural Society records. In one current project we are getting access to 40 digital tapes of hotel entertainment from the 1950s and 1960s that were originally recorded on reel-to-reel tape. Brown University provided a grant in 2007 to digitize the entire archive through the Scholarly Technology Group and the Library's Center for Digital Initiatives.
Conducts oral histories on audiotape and videotape to preserve the memories of a large number of people who lived, worked, vacationed, and owned businesses in the Catskills. For example, we have recently arranged an interview with the granddaughter of John Gerson, the first Jewish resort owner who opened his boarding house in 1896. Our colleague Rachel Kranson has done an extensive amount of recent interviews with women hotel and bungalow colony owners in the last two years.
Produces a newsletter two times annually to inform people about the work we are doing, beginning with a summary of the conference, interviews with people working on Catskills projects, excerpts from works in progress, and bibliographies of Catskills materials.
Maintains an extensive website to provide on-line information and research aid to both a general audience and to scholars. This is continually updated, and has attracted thousands of visitors. The website is located at http://catskills.brown.edu
Develops museum exhibitions. We are partners with the Jewish Museum of Maryland in developing their exhibit mount an exhibit that opened in 2006 on "The Other Promised Land: Vacationing and the Fulfillment of the Jewish-American Dream." This included proposal writing, creative design, archival work, and writing an essay for the exhibit catalog, which appeared in August 2005. The exhibit then moved to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. We assisted the Yeshiva University Museum in providing graphics and consultation for "A Perfect Fit: The Garment Industry and American Jewry," that opened in December 2005 at the Center for Jewish History. . We are working on having an exhibition of our major collection at the Jewish History Center, and hopefully at other institutions.
Assists filmmakers working on Catskills documentaries. We are currently working with several groups of filmmakers, providing archival resources, research consultation, and connections to people. A rough cut of one such film was shown at one of our conferences, a documentary on Carrie Komito, ex-owner of the Aladdin Hotel in Woodbourne.
Develops college courses. Phil Brown taught the country's first course on the Jewish Catskills at Brown University in 1997, and Irwin Richman taught one at Pennsylvania State University (Harrisburgh).
Assist in research on the Catskills. We provide help to several undergraduates and several graduate students each year. We were instrumental in Samantha Goldstein's dissertation research that led to a presentation at one conference, and have been working with Rachel Kranson on her dissertation, part of which was also presented at several of our conferences. We previously helped research the Furriers' Lodge, for which she found many records and people to interview.
Assists fundraising efforts of synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, and other Jewish organizations, through consulting and loaning gratis materials.
Provides lectures at synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, Jewish organizations, schools, and colleges.
Assist individuals in genealogical research, in locating friends and relatives from their Catskills past, and putting together memory books.
Brown faculty collaborators:
Other project collaborators:
Back to Phil Brown's Brown Research Profile