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Founded in 1863, the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) is a museum, library, and educational center preserving and encouraging the study of Brooklyn's rich 400-year past. The Brooklyn Historical Society houses materials relating to the history of Brooklyn and its people. These holdings supply exhibitions illuminating the past and informing the future. BHS hosts over 9,000 members of the general public at its exhibitions each year. In addition to general programming, BHS serves over 70,000 public school students and teachers annually by providing exhibit tours, educational programs and curricula, and making its professional staff available for instruction and consultation. Exhibits at BHS are designed for audiences of all ages.
BHS reported assets of $21.783 million on June 30, 2006 and took in revenues of $1.889 million in its fiscal year ending on that day.
The Brooklyn Historical Society was founded in 1863 as the Long Island Historical Society. At that time, the city of Brooklyn was the commercial and cultural center of Long Island. During World War I, LIHS contributed to the war effort by transforming its 600-seat auditorium into a Red Cross headquarters by removing the seats and building a flat floor over the original sloping floor. After 1926, this space was subdivided and rented to commercial tenants to raise funds for the institution's operating expenses. During the mid-twentieth century, LIHS operated only as a library, although it continued to add to its collections.
In the 1980's, new leadership reestablished the organization as a museum and education center. In 1989, after conducting its first capital campaign, BHS restored its ground floor, installing a permanent exhibit that showcased the eclectic range of its collections and chronicled the history of African-American, white, Latino, Asian and Native American Brooklynites. The exhibit included a wax figure of Nat King Cole from Coney Island, Dodger memorabilia, tool boxes from the WWII Brooklyn Navy Yard, "The Honeymooners" stage set, and a drawing of a 17th Century Brooklyn Indian. BHS also began to create a series of exhibits focusing on topics such as the history of African-American churches in Brooklyn, an insider's view of Latino communities, and a chronicle of Crown Heights. BHS' AIDS exhibition was the first to cover this topic at a history museum in the United States. Documentary photographers working for BHS have recorded thousands of images of contemporary Brooklyn.
BHS has the most comprehensive collection of Brooklyn-related materials in existence. In 1993, the U.S. Department of Education designated its library as a "major research library" under Title II-C of the Higher Education Act. As one in seven Americans can trace their family roots to Brooklyn, the BHS collections represent an important national resource. Inquiries received each month reflect the nationwide interest in the borough and its relevance to many family histories.
In October 1999, BHS began a full-scale restoration of its National Historic Landmark building. A central objective in the renovation of its headquarters is positioning BHS as a community hub for the exchange of ideas and an accessible resource for learning. Since reopening our building in 2003, BHS has served 120,000 students and teachers throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan through on-site educational programs, classroom visits, teacher development workshops, and classroom "tool kits." Additionally, the public now has access to a database containing 33,000 images, walking tours of Brooklyn, and on and off-site exhibits ranging in a variety of topics covering the social and cultural history of Brooklyn. BHS is committed to offering programming that helps Brooklynites young and old develop pride in their own cultural traditions while fostering understanding of their neighbors' similarities and differences.
In 2005, the BHS was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
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