What is it about the white gloves? That’s what Denise Doherty, Project Aspire teacher at Biddeford High School, wants to know. They’ve become a big hit in her class. One student took his home; some have tucked them away in their school mailboxes. And they’ve all gotten into the habit of slipping them on during workshop sessions with the MCHP team.
Perhaps it’s because the gloves–on the surface, a simple necessity for handling historic items–are really symbolic of something larger. Technical expertise. Professionalism. Care and respect. When you don those gloves and prepare to handle something special, you are, by extension, pretty special yourself.
Or, okay–they’re just darn cool.
But I think it’s more than that. Especially because this team–which, along with Denise, includes McArthur Public Library staff Renee DesRoberts, Brooke Faulkner, and Sally Leahey, as well as Biddeford Historical Society’s Raymond Gaudette–has, from day one, expected all that adherence to standards and professional behavior from the students.
The team’s goal is simple and direct: Model for the dozen or so students what doing good history is all about–and then have them do it. Elevate each one to the level of History Detective and give them all the training and tools they need to meticulously investigate the past and reveal, for themselves, Biddeford’s colorful and complex history.
To date, students have handled, selected, scanned, photographed, researched, transcribed, and cataloged a wide variety of items–snapshots, letters, diaries, and other documents, clothing, needlework, cups and dishes, military medals and war-related artifacts, mill machine parts, and much more.
Along the way, they have learned intimate details about the lives of people who appear in the photos, wrote the letters, wore the clothing, or handled the items. Laborers on the massive downtown sewer construction project in the early 1900s. Sunbathers at Biddeford Pool. A Civil War soldier whose canteen survived the journey. Mill worker Beatrice Lord’s penchant for recording in her diary all the movies she saw–and their stars–in the early part of the 20th century–a list that spans 48 pages!
Not surprisingly, these objects that students can pick up and hold and imagine themselves using have proved especially popular. And because the team wants students to direct the selection of many of the items to include on the website, it became apparent that a little more in-depth training in digital photography was in order.
So at the team’s request, MHS sent Image Services Coordinator Dani Fazio to facilitate a hands-on 90-minute workshop on digital photography techniques. Far more than a quick-and-dirty “lights, camera, action” session, Dani’s training schooled the students in everything from setting up a mini studio, to various shooting angles and aperture settings, and fine lighting details like reducing glare on shiny objects.
Students took turns adjusting the tripod, moving lights, and changing the shutter speed. Multiple photos were taken of a single item–such as a pair of fancy, hand-crocheted children’s gloves–to get the best possible digital representation of history.
It’s not often these students are asked to exhibit the kind of patience required for such detailed and repetitive work. But by and large, they were an attentive group and some students clearly had an eye for design and a natural aptitude for the technical minutiae.
That’s what makes the team members proud to be a part of MCHP, and why they have put so much effort into every detail–and will continue to do so–for the students.
“I’m so glad they are the ones who get to do this project,” says Renee DesRoberts. “They really deserve it.”