By an overwhelming margin, photographs represent the bulk of the historic material focused on by teams in the Maine Community Heritage Project. And no wonder–they are easy to transport, scan quickly, and open up a visual world into the past. And yet there’s nothing quite like a three-dimensional artifact that you can hold in your hands to experience the real weight of the past. Perhaps especially for the younger members of the teams.
Given the logistics of transporting objects to schools–or students to the objects–only a handful of MCHP teams have been able to put kids and artifacts in the same room together more than once.
One of those teams is Guilford. A small town in central Maine, Guilford has the advantage of proximity. Piscataquis Community Middle School, whose 60 students in teacher Rex Webb’s three social studies classes make up the MCHP educational contingent, is within walking distance of Guilford Historical Society. And Rex has a certain amount of flexibility with his classes that make alterations in the schedule possible.
So while Rex’s students have scanned a number of photographs from the ultimate convenience of their classroom, the 60 8th graders have also made several substantive trips to the Society. Initially they came to learn about the collections and get a tour, most of them having never set foot in the building. Then they came to begin identifying items to use for research for their “Guilford Schools” exhibit topic. And finally, they keep returning to get up close and personal with the everyday items their forebears used in days past.
Thanks to an historic artifact photography workshop by Maine Historical Society’s Dani Fazio, they have learned how to correctly display, light, and take the best shot to represent the item in question. And since then they’ve used that knowledge on a wide variety of items–from the small (award ribbons) to the oversized (a 1940 American Legion Drum).
No doubt the experience will stay with the students for years to come. Of course the product–a significant contribution to their town’s MCHP website–will be something to point to immediately and say, “Hey, I did that!” But perhaps more valuable over the long-term is the methodical process by which the students gingerly handled, carefully analyzed, and meticulously memorialized these objects of a bygone day–time-specific, but also timeless, and universal, skills.