The Exhibit

SAFA fellows helped curate Exploring the Journals of Gabriel Furman, an exhibit on one opinionated, passionate, and quirky Brooklynite. Furman (1800-1854) was one of nineteenth century Brooklyn’s most avid chroniclers. From 1815 until his death, he wrote regularly in his journals, offering colorful commentary on everything from life as a bachelor to yellow fever and cholera, from Brooklyn history to Jacksonian politics.

In the exhibit, the student fellows analyzed both Furman and the changing Brooklyn in which he lived. Between his birth and death, Furman participated in and chronicled 19th-century Brooklyn’s remarkable transformation from a quiet agricultural hamlet into one of the largest cities in America.

SAFA fellows sought to capture the breadth of Furman’s interests, as well as his unique personality and writing style. They focused on Furman’s observations on the 1832 cholera epidemic, his depictions of African Americans, his commentary on the Mormon religion, and his documentation of the changing built environment of Brooklyn Heights. In four small groups, students selected and transcribed journal entries, conducted secondary source research, wrote exhibit labels, and made suggestions about what other objects to include in the exhibit.

The exhibit also chronicles Gabriel Furman’s promising career and tragic downfall. A lawyer by training, Furman was an influential Brooklyn politician and civic leader. He was also a prominent local intellectual, amassing one of the largest libraries in Kings County. But by the 1830s, Furman had begun taking opium because he believed it to be a common preventative for cholera. He eventually became addicted to the drug, neglected his law practice, and withdrew from public life. Furman died in relative poverty and obscurity in 1854. Through this exhibit, the SAFA fellows have revealed the important contributions of one of Brooklyn’s most complex and prolific residents.

Exploring the Journals of Gabriel Furman is open to the public at Brooklyn Historical Society from Wednesday – Saturday, 12:00 – 5:00 pm. It is located on the second floor, just outside the entrance to the Othmer Library. For more information on visiting the museum, please see this page.