You know that old nugget about teaching a person to fish instead of just handing over the fish already caught? Well, you can apply it to a lot of things in life, including training organization and community members how to share their local history with the world, instead of doing it for them.
That’s been the philosophy behind Maine Memory Network (MMN) from day one. Instead of Maine Historical Society staff going around the state to digitize collections to populate MMN, we have trained hundreds of historical society members, library staff, teachers, and students to do it themselves. They, in turn, have taught others in their community, and so on, and so on, and so on… And not only that–but to create dynamic online exhibits, and even whole websites, that tell stories about Maine towns, people, events, industries, and eras. It’s empowering.
Speaking of exhibits, websites, and communities empowered to continue on after they’ve set out on their own, two of last year’s Maine Community Heritage Project teams have been back at work in their local school systems as if the 2009-2010 MCHP year never wound down.
In a timely nod to 2011 being the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the Downeast town of Blue Hill recently uploaded to its community website a new exhibit titled “John Edward Horton, Civil War Soldier.” It includes a biography of Horton, who was born in Blue Hill; his experiences during the war, including imprisonment in Richmond, Virginia; information about his letters home; and documents including his discharge papers and his wife’s request for an increase in widow’s pension. A sidebar features Blue Hill-ear Civil War treasures, such as an essay on “Truth” written by a student at Blue Hill Academy.
The digitized images and written narrative were created by 18 students in Cathy Snow’s and Fred Cole’s 7th grade classes at Blue Hill Consolidated School. Assistance was provided by Brook Minner and others from Blue Hill Public Library. The big achievement was topped off by an unveiling of the new exhibit and celebratory ice cream party at the school this week.
Meanwhile, back in the central part of the state, several of the Hallowell team members from the ’09-’10 year have inducted another group of Hall-Dale Middle School students through the rigors of the MCHP–this time about 80 of them.
While these students have only begun the exhibit-building process, they are creating no fewer than four of them. Topics include: Activities on the Bombahook (Vaughan Stream), Commerce on the Kennebec, The Cotton Mill and Associated Businesses, and Keeping us Safe (a history of fire and police protection; many items in this exhibit will be from the Hallowell Fire Association collection). This will bring the website’s total number of exhibits to 10, half of which will have been done by students.
Under the tutelage of teachers Wendy Wingate, Mike Quinn, and Cindy Raymond–and the incredible walking Hallowell encyclopedia that is city historian Sumner “Sam” Webber–the students have been working for months scanning, photographing, cataloging, researching, and writing the material that will soon be on the Hallowell website. Not only that, they’ve taken the same kinds of field trips last year’s students did.
And through all this, we can probably count on one hand the number of questions we’ve received from Blue Hill and Hallowell combined. Of the ongoing support we’ve provided, it’s been mostly minor, highly specific (regarding things like cataloging new kinds of items they didn’t run into last year), and–most fun of all–lots of pats on the back.