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Collaborative for Educational Services (Northampton, MA 01060-3947)
Richard D.W. Cairn (Project Director: March 2014 to present)

Forge of Innovation: The Springfield Armory and the Genesis of American Industry

For seventy-two teachers, two one-week workshops focusing on the economic development of the Connecticut River Valley over two centuries.

Established by George Washington in 1777, the Federal Armory at Springfield, Massachusetts, became an influential force for technological innovation. In the early 1800s the Armory created fully interchangeable weapons using methods that launched the U.S. precision metals industry as well as mass production in a host of industries in the Connecticut River Valley, including cutlery, sewing machines, bicycles, textiles, shoes, furniture, and paper. Directed by educator Richard Cairn, this workshop explores the leading role the Armory played in the Industrial Revolution and related social, political, and cultural transformations. In addition to the government-funded and -directed Armory, the region was also home to small-scale entrepreneurship (an economic development common to much of America), larger investor-designed transportation systems and industries, and even an abolitionist utopian community formed around producing silk as an alternative to cotton that depended on slave labor. In examining these different economic engines, teachers consider key factors such as capitalization, management systems, labor sources and labor rights, markets, transportation and systems to promote technological innovation. Participants work with collections in the Museum of Springfield History and Smith Gallery of Fine Arts, and they spend a day in Holyoke to explore aspects of what was one of the first planned industrial communities in the U.S., accompanied by Robert Forrant (University of Massachusetts, Lowell) to discuss city design and to interpret the landscape of canals and repurposed mill buildings. At Wisteriahurst in Holyoke, the teachers see the home and collections of silk manufacturer William Skinner, and contrast this with the lives of largely immigrant servants and workers. A trip to Florence focuses on the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, organized around reform movements to counter mainstream social, political, and economic structures. The Springfield Armory is visited twice: on Monday, to consider the development of the American system of manufacturing, and then on Thursday, in relation to discussions of the environmental impact of industrialism and the role of Springfield weaponry in numerous wars, including World Wars I and II. In addition to resources found on the Emerging America website, primary materials such as Longfellow's poem "The Arsenal at Springfield" and excerpts from Bellamy's Looking Backward, readings include a wide range of articles and book chapters, such as "The Wilderness Should Turn a Mart" (William Cronon), "The Literary Landscape: A Delightful Excursion" (Jill Hodnicki), "The River Gods in the Making" (Kevin Sweeney), "Arcadian Values: The Connecticut Valley in Art" (Martha Hoppins), "The American System of Manufacture in the Antebellum Period" (David Hounshell), and selections from A Place Called Paradise: Culture and Community in Northampton, Massachusetts, 1654-2004 (Kerry Buckley, ed.) and Working People of Holyoke: Class and Ethnicity in a Massachusetts Mill Town, 1850-1960 (William Hartford). The faculty includes several scholars from the history department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst: Richard Chu, David Glassberg, John Higginson, Bruce Laurie, Alice Nash, and Leonard Richards.

Project fields:
Cultural History; U.S. History

Landmarks of American History

Education Programs

Total amounts:
$168,400 (approved)
$168,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
10/1/2014 – 12/31/2015