On Wednesday, graduate students from Jon Olsen’s Introduction to Public History course proudly presented their findings from semester-long projects to a lively crowd of faculty, students, and community partners. The student groups worked on diverse projects with three institutions in Western Massachusetts: the Amherst Historical Commission, the Hadley Museum, and the Springfield Museums. Read on to learn more about these projects and see our Public History Program at work!
Emily Hunter, Trent Masiki, Emily Pipes, and Mirjam Pultar
These students worked with the Amherst Historical Commission to develop a Writers’ Walk of famous Amherst literati, including Robert Frost and Helen Hunt Jackson. The budding public historians worked from a list of writers to conduct research, photograph buildings associated with these subjects, as well as compose possible text for each granite marker and a detailed guide for future docents.
Going forward, the Amherst Historical Commission will utilize this work to set up eight to ten granite plaques in front of the building associated with each writer, creating another historical and cultural destination in Amherst.
Amy Breimaier, Susan Kaplan, Kayla Pittman, and Chuck Weisenberger
These students were commissioned by the Hadley Farm Museum to conduct oral history interviews with Hadley residents who are deeply involved in the local agricultural industry. In the future, these interviews can be useful when creating exhibitions at the museum, enhancing the Web site, or even producing digital archives and walking tours.
Some of the main themes the group saw in this project were issues of farming and memory, farming and activism, immigration and demographics, genealogy and heritage, as well as technology and ecology. But how can the Hadley Farm Museum convince visitors and residents of the diversity of stories its collections can tell, while also building community ownership? For these students, the answer is to create community connections and “spirit.” If the Farm Museum can connect with a new generation on issues of food sustainability or familial heritage through fundraising and community events, they will be able to draw in more donors and active participants. Conducting oral histories with famers is just the first step in tying the community together through the Hadley Farm Museum.
Rosa Clemente, Matt Coletti, Veronica Golden, and Rebecca Schmitt
These students worked with the Springfield Museums to research the history of the Springfield Library and Museums Association, as well as the story of the individual institutions on the Quadrangle. With this information, they designed and developed brochures outlining the history of the museums, which will serve to entice visitors to come inside (also available in Spanish!). Each description in the brochures includes a brief history of the collections, collectors, and donors. Additionally, the students propose expanding the reach of their brochures by offering scavenger hunts and online capabilities through digital walking tour applications.
While working on this project, they public historians considered questions of inclusion, social/community issues, and regional identity. They believe the material they compiled for the Springfield Museums will help address these questions and open opportunities for further outdoor interpretation.
Congratulations to all our public historians! We appreciate your thought-provoking presentations, and look forward to seeing these projects develop!