Seymour B. Durst, a
real estate developer, created the Old
York Library in the 1960s out of a deep personal interest
in New York City history. Durst vigorously pursued his passion
over the years, amassing a collection of approximately13,000
books, 20,000 postcards, as well as thousands of photographs,
maps, newspaper tearsheets, and other ephemera housed in his
61st St. townhouse.
Upon his death in 1995,
the Old York Foundation, established by Mr. Durst and now
run by his family, continued the work of cataloging and preserving
the Old York Library collection. In Spring 2000, the Old York
Foundation donated Seymour Durst's significant collection
of New York City books and memorabilia to the CUNY
Graduate Center. The foundation also created an endowment
to house and maintain the collection at The Graduate Center
and to fund educational initiatives that utilize the library's
rich historical materials. Soon after the Old York Library's
arrival, The Graduate Center's New
Media Lab launched Virtual New York (VNY), a new initiative
combining the rich resources of the Old York Library with
other New York City history projects, including relevant entries
from The Encyclopedia of New York City, published by
the Yale University Press. The first step in the VNY project
is the construction of a Web site that provides digitized
materials in a searchable database, drawn from the Old York
Library collection and The Encyclopedia of New York City.
These materials are also presented in a series of Web exhibits
and special presentations. The first VNY exhibit is "DISASTER",
which explores the ways human and natural tragedies have shaped
and reshaped the city's economy, politics, and citizenry.
The ultimate goal of
Virtual New York is to create a Web portal on New York City
history that will be used by scholars, teachers, students
and the general public. When it is completed, Virtual New
York will function as a site for finding information in accessible,
digital formats on the history of the city, and for researchers
and scholars of New York City history to communicate easily
with one another online.
The Old York Foundation
endowment allowed the New Media Lab to fund two Durst Research
Scholars, who work closely with Dr.
Stephen Brier and
Dr. Joshua Brown, Co-Directors of the New Media Lab, in
conceptualizing, researching, and producing Virtual New York.
The current Durst Research Scholars are Rebecca
Amato and Irene
Meisel, students in the Ph.D. Program in History.
Bender and Ellen
Noonan of the American Social History Project assisted
in writing headnotes for "DISASTER".