There’s nothing fun about learning history while sitting in a classroom or studying a textbook.
What if, instead, schoolchildren could learn about the histories of their towns or cities by poring through old documents, photographs and artifacts?
Students in eight Maine communities, including Bangor, will have a chance for a hands-on experience in discovering their hometown’s history as the second year of the Maine Community Heritage Project gets under way at the end of the month.
The Queen City was selected along with Biddeford, Blue Hill, Cumberland-North Yarmouth, Guilford, Hallowell, Lincoln and Scarborough to form a collaboration among students, librarians and local historical societies. The result for each community team will be a Web site that highlights its local history. Each team will get up to $7,500 to support their individual projects.
Web sites created by the communities in the program’s first round, including Bath, Farmington, Hampden, Islesboro, Lubec, New Portland, Presque Isle and Thomaston, recently were launched through the Maine Historical Society’s Maine Memory Network site, www.mainememory.net.
Steve Bromage, assistant director of the Maine Historical Society, which is working on the project with the Maine State Library, said the Maine Community Heritage Project seeks to encourage collaboration in communities.
“We’ve worked to help foster the partnerships,” Bromage said. “[In some places] the teachers didn’t know how to get into the historical society, and the historical society didn’t know who to call at the school or when [the school] was teaching history.”
The Maine Community Heritage Project grew out of the Maine Memory Network, an online museum with digital images contributed by more than 200 Maine local historical societies or other organizations.
Maine Community Heritage Project began last year thanks to a three-year, $850,000 federal National Leadership Grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Bromage said the institute gives few grants each year, and only to programs that potentially could serve as national models.
“A lot of attention is being paid to what’s happening here,” he added.
Deborah Averill, a Bangor High School librarian who is serving as the Bangor group’s team leader, said the potential for students to get excited about their city’s history was one of the reasons the school wanted to be part of the project.
“Sometimes I think that kids can get more involved in historical kinds of things if they start from something they’re familiar with, their own community, and what used to be here,” she said. “I think that’s a good jumping-off point for kids.”
In addition, Averill said, the primary-source research that is involved with the project fits with the school’s information skills curriculum.
The program is intensive, starting with a sort of Maine Community Heritage Project boot camp at the end of July in Portland.
Over the course of the year, the teams must inventory their local resources, digitize 100 to 200 documents, photographs or artifacts and upload those images to the Maine Memory Network, write an online narrative of approximately 3,000 words to introduce key topics and themes, create online exhibits, and then create a new Web site to showcase the team’s work.
The new sites should be ready for launch next June.
The teams can research any area of community history. Averill said the Bangor team might focus on the achievements of Bangor High School graduates, as well as the city’s industrial and transportation history. Another focus could be the China trade, considering Bangor High is one of a few schools in the state to offer an Asian studies course.
This likely will be the final full round of eight communities working with Maine Community Heritage Project. There may be two to four communities next year involved in the entire project, but Bromage said the historical society’s goal is to make available the project’s tools so other communities can tailor their own projects.
“We want to go from here and broaden the model,” he said. “We’ll put up resources for communities to take on elements of this work, whether they go the whole nine yards with the Web site or not.”
For more information, go to www.mainememory.net/mchp/