More in News
Bringing historical societies and schools together
REGION -- A $4,000 grant has been awarded to a large team that will provide area historical societies with modern technology for their collections as well as to provide teachers with access to those collections to instruct students about local history.
The Maine Memory Network (MMN) has awarded a Maine Community Heritage Program (MCHP) grant to a team comprised of: five schools, 12 teachers, and innumerable students from RSU 10; one teacher and her class from the Holy Savior School; five historical societies; two libraries; a professor and a cadre of research assistants from the University Of Maine Farmington.
"I see some great benefits," said RSU 10 Supt. Tom Ward. "This is going to help RSU 10 students to learn about the history of our communities."
This team is extremely large, until you consider that this school district is comprised of 12 towns and geographically, which, at 478 square miles, is the largest school district east of the Mississippi.
Nick Waugh, who is the project coordinator, said, "Our team is so large that they're going to try to scare up a little extra money for us. Small grant, big project. It's a very exciting project, a nice bright spot of collegiality during this dark time for the district. We have met with every historical society in the district, save one, and our long term goal is to involve them all."
MMN will train these partners and guide them through the process of researching, digitizing, and archiving historical society materials, with the ultimate objective of creating sites for the participating societies. These sites will be linked from the MMN site and a master Western Foothills District History site.
The goals for this project are primarily three-fold: provide meaningful, real life, project-based learning; promote collegiality among the towns of the RSU; reinvigorate area historical societies.
"Our hope is that the project will continue indefinitely, acquiring more partners through the years," said Waugh.
Prior to receiving the grant, an MMN representative attended a couple of meetings the district team had with the historical societies.
Waugh said, "Of the 10 societies in the 12 towns, I think reps from eight of them attended one or more meetings. In the end, five societies signed on but the others are all interested, just not able to commit this year on such short notice. They will be folded in as we go along. The meetings have been great -- very friendly and collegial. Almost everyone agreed that we would continue the project whether we got the grant or not. Fortunately we got it."
This project actually has an interesting history itself.
"Working with MMN was something we flirted with at Peru Elementary School over 10 years ago, and something I suggested to him (Ward) even before we consolidated," said Waugh.
They talked about it again last fall, and after getting permission to investigative grants for this kind of project, Waugh went to MMN. "It wasn't until then that either of us learned that Linda Andrews had won a Digitization Grant and was contemplating applying for a MCHP grant in conjunction with the Buckfield Historical Society."
"It was just a wonderful coincidence. At first, we talked about supporting the Buckfield project as a model for what we wanted the rest of the RSU to do next year. However, it eventually became clear that she and BHS weren't ready to do it this year, so we moved up our timeline and applied as an entire RSU," noted Waugh.
Waugh said this grant "will enable us to create a web presence for the five societies this coming year. We hope it will lead to further grants, and we are already looking for other sources. Our challenge is that these awards are based on a paradigm of one school, one society, and one library, whereas our team is huge -- the first enterprise of such magnitude that MMN has attempted."
According to the team statement:
Team goals for creating a website dedicated to the history of their communities on the Maine Memory Network.
The goal is to create a Western Foothills History homepage, hosted on a district server and linked to it from the RSU 10 homepage, as well as from the MMN site.
On this homepage, they intend to activities as other teachers and societies come on board.
Of the 12 towns in the RSU, only Hanover and Roxbury lack historical societies. However, the Hanover librarian finds the MMN project compelling enough that she is attempting to stir up interest in founding a society.
The options offered by the collections of the participating historical societies are many, as are the interests of the teachers who have agreed to participate.
Rumford's historical society includes an archivist who opens the collection to the public one day per week. They have a fully catalogued collection and will be able to direct teachers and students to materials for any topic.
Others, such as Peru, have fairly large collections, but are in the beginning stages of cataloguing, so teachers and students working with Peru would be in more of an exploratory mode. Peru is typical of most of the smaller societies in that its collection is stored in an unheated building and is thus inaccessible much of the year.
Teacher partners have suggested a variety of topics: World War II, sports, paper mill strikes, Maine resources, a River Valley Civilization and Maine Studies.
While their plan is to pair each teacher with an historical society, it became evident that more than one society can provide information on a given topic.
At one of the meetings, when a Dirigo High School English teacher described her intent to explore labor strikes through a locally authored novel, the president of the Canton Historical Society excalimed that he had retired from the mill in 1984 to avoid an impending strike.
Rumford and Mexico have extensive material on the mill and its strikes, but the English teacher was immediately intrigued by the first-hand experience of the gentleman from Canton.
In this light, the team believes the best approach will be to pair each teacher with an historical society for the first year, but encourage him or her in the coming years to solicit materials from any of the vast collection assembled for this project.
Indeed, the team sees this as a unique and compelling feature of an RSU-wide project. A teacher could work with one society one year and another the next. This would certainly keep things fresh for the teacher and would fully exploit the historical material available for a given topic.
The larger societies have catalogued their collections, but even the smaller societies know those areas in which they are strong. As they went around the table, the societies made these suggestions: railroad, sports, Civil War, Native Americans, mills, bridges, telephones, genealogy, the Don disaster, mining, strikes and churches.
Though the larger societies are ahead of the smaller ones in terms of cataloguing, something all the societies need is help digitizing their collections. Whether on a topic chosen by the teacher or one suggested by a society, this assistance will be the most important thing the RSU has to offer the societies. Because almost all the societies are closed in the winter, the team envisions historical society folks coming into the schools for oral history sessions as well as more mundane chores such as scanning.
While the grant will provide a certain amount of hardware to the societies, the RSU is rich in technology and technological expertise, and it is easy to envision scanning sessions, either in school or at the societies that involve multiple scanners, cameras and storage devices.
As the team sees it, the historical societies will acquire the capacity in terms of hardware and software to digitize their collections. By working with MMN, RSU 10 and the Univ. of Maine at Farmington stff, they will learn the skills necessary for the effective use of the technology. The hope is that some students will become skilled enough in the techniques and interested enough in the material that they will remain as resources for the historical societies.