Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Potential for Collaboration: The Lost Villages Project

I have been researching today for an essay that is coming up in my Archives class. It's on the relationship between public historians and archivists- the differences and similarities- but also where there is potential for increased interaction and collaboration. The structure of this Public History program teaches just how interrelated these disciplines are just by the fact that distinct fields of their own- Museology, Digital History, Archives, GIS- are courses we take under the heading of Public History. Witnessing that interaction in the real world, however, is really where you can see the role of public historians and their ability to act as interpreters between longstanding professions like Archives, government and academic bodies, and the public.

Not too long ago a relative introduced me to a project out of Eastern Ontario started by the Lost Villages Historical Society. This nonprofit group's mission is to educate the public about the loss of a number of communities that were displaced during the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project in the late 1950s. There is a museum on-site in Ault Park near Long Sault, Ontario, but their website is particularly interesting. It includes a detailed description of the project but also a history of the area with pictures of the towns before they were flooded. Detailed descriptions of specific buildings, such as the Mille Roches Powerhouse, are included as well as information on current archaeological and diving projects. There is "Mystery" page for people to post photographs that they are seeking information about, and links to the CBC Archives website where you can see and hear footage from the event.

I thought I would showcase this site because I think it really exhibits the potential for public historians, archivists, museum professionals, and the public to work together in the creation of a dynamic historical project. Drawing on a variety of resources, including archival images and footage, mapping, and community participation, the project educates the general public on a significant moment in Canadian history by focusing on a localized experience. So often we see the Seaway as a feat of engineering and progress but fail to acknowledge the broader implications. I admit that I had never heard of these 'lost villages' until a couple of months ago. Projects such as this one not only demonstrate the benefits of increased interaction amongst heritage professionals but also educate the wider public on the complexity of history; that one event may be viewed through the lenses of progress and industry, and on the other, a lost home and dramatically-altered geography. Landscapes are ever-changing, both physically and historically. Public historians can work with a variety of stakeholders to ensure that they are preserved for their history, acknowledged for their change over time, and appreciated for the complexity and dynamism that is the historical landscape.

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