Alison Cornyn and Kathleen Hulser
Medium: Archive, History, Transmedia, Video, and Website
Issues: Documentary, Incarceration, Juvenile Justice, Narratives, Race, and Social Justice
Incorrigibles is a transmedia project that tells the stories of ‘incorrigible’ girls in the United States over the last 100 years—beginning with New York State. We draw on the personal narratives of young women in “the system” to investigate the history and present state of youth justice and social services for girls. The project centers on gleaning information from archival documents relating to young women’s incarceration, starting with those from the New York State Training School for Girls (1904-1975). We are expanding our research to include other youth detention centers in the United States; recording and sharing accounts of women alive today who were confined in these institutions, and organizing community engagement events with young women and the public to encourage critical analysis around youth detention and behavioral intervention. This history holds significant meaning for contemporary debates around penal reform, child welfare, juvenile justice, use of solitary confinement, and the role that race, gender, income and immigrant status play in determining what is a crime and appropriate punishment. The project title relates to a term encountered again and again in various source documents, including records from the New York State Archives and The New York Training School for Girls in Hudson, New York—the project’s’ pilot site of study: ‘Incorrigible’. The term was used to describe and categorize the girls (ages 12-16) who were incarcerated there. The term expressed how they were perceived and labeled by the people around them as “unable to be corrected or reformed.” Digging through documents and historical images spanning the period between 1904 and 1975, we discovered letters that the young women at the Training School wrote to their families, detailed reports of doctor’s examinations, legal decisions made by the court that led to their incarceration, and letters written by parents to the institution. One of the young women deemed ‘incorrigible’ and incarcerated at the Training School during the 1930s was the legendary jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald.
Alison Cornyn is an interdisciplinary artist whose work often focuses on the criminal justice system. At the convergence of traditional media and technology, her social practice aims to aggregate communities of shared interest and foster civic dialogue. Her work has received numerous awards including a Peabody Award, the Gracie Allen award for Women in Media, the Online News Association’s award for Best Use of Multimedia, the Batten Award for Innovation, the National Press Club Award, as well as the Webby Award for net.art. She is founding partner and Creative Director of Picture Projects, a Brooklyn-based studio that produces in-depth new media projects about some of the most pressing social issues of our day with a focus on investigating complex stories from multiple perspectives. Often merging art, photography, media, technology, and journalism, the studio creates engaging environments, both online and as physical installations. Cornyn teaches at the School of Visual Arts Design for Social Innovation MA program.
Kathleen Husler is curator at the New York Transit Museum. She is a public historian and educator with a background in curating, public history, museum administration, education, college teaching, and grant writing. Her expertise includes managing and interpreting history and cultural resources and engaging the public and broad audiences. She has curated major national exhibitions at New-York Historical Society, and she has had speaking experience with important media: CBS, NY Times, NPR, History Channel, BBC and at professional conferences such as Organization of American Historians, and the National Council on Public History. Her specialties include urban history, public spaces, New York, slavery, women, and brownstone neighborhoods. Her many projects include Podcasts, cell phone tours, and websites on Lincoln and the Underground Railroad. Kathleen is the public historian for Incorrigibles.