Friday, 4 March 2011

Keeping It Fresh

Teachers often ask me how I keep it so fresh -- that even though I often repeat the same class for several different groups in the same week, I'm always energized and act like it's the first time I've ever heard that question.

Partly it's knowing that, for these students, it is the first time and you need to bring your A game every time.

But it's also because the teachers don't always know all of the fun and diverse things I get to do between classes.

This week my Monday started with an email forwarded from the University of Lethbridge. A woman was trying to find the identity of a German Prisoner of War who had been in southern Alberta in the 1940s. All she had was the name of the town where he had worked on a farm, the last name of the farmers and a nickname. She had tried all kinds of archives and places but with no luck. And our Archives did not have any records that could help her. The amazing good fortunate was that my Dad had lived for a while in this town and I had cousins who had or did live there. So I sent out a few requests on email and by noon the next day the name of the POW had been tracked down. How gratifying it was to be part of this woman finding the answer! And how amazing the work of a historian sometimes is -- while documents are great, never forget the importance of family gossip.

And on Monday I also learned that for the exhibit on Lethbridge 1906-1913 we were going to be able to borrow a 9 foot long painting from the University of Lethbridge that shows Lethbridge in the early 1900s. I can't wait to see this picture on the wall! You'll have to check it out when the exhibit opens April 30.

I also got to present a new school program this week as we had our first class through for the Fakes & Forgeries exhibit. When you're doing a program for the first time you have it all perfectly planned (and, yes, for those of you who know me it was planned in my head but not necessarily on paper) but you're not sure how the students (grades 4 and 5) will interact with the material. The discussions were great -- how to tell fakes, how to use information on the internet effectively, why people make fakes, etc. But I also realized that I'm not as sharp as 10 and 11 year olds at telling fake items. The teacher and I were looking at the battery box trying to see how you could tell it was a fake when a student walked up, glanced at the box and said "it has the wrong mascot." Parts of what keeps it all fresh is that no matter how much you study or prepare, students can always humble you (and inspire you).

On Thursday I learned that two very generous Lethbridge residents are going to loan us a 3 foot tall gas chandelier to be the showcase items for the interactive parlour we're putting into the Lethbridge 1906-1913 exhibit. And on Thursday Brad and I discussed how we're going to create "building blocks" of Lethbridge buildings and allow visitors to the exhibit to design the Lethbridge they would have wanted.

And then on Friday I was out of the museum at a class. The class was great (on the correct ways to fill out health and safety forms) but it's also fun to see what other city employees are doing and learn about their jobs. A large part of what keeps it fresh is thinking about how everything ties together and also being very happy that I get to work in a place with so few hazards (the others in the class worked for the fire department).

As you can see, never a dull moment. And now it's Friday and I'm off work for two days. But I can't wait to see what's going to be waiting for my in my inbox on Monday.

2 comments:

  1. I think it might be more appropriate to discuss the place of oral history and oral tradition in the execution of research for family history and local history. Discussing 'family gossip' as a source of legitimate historical research seems rather unprofessional for a historical professional in a heritage institution.

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  2. When I wrote the blog, I did mean “family gossip” ironically and recognize that irony does not always translate well in written form and may not have come across as such.

    I also recognize that for many people the concept of “gossip” has negative connotations but that doesn't mean it cannot sometimes be useful. Gossip is not the same as rumour. Gossip, defined as “light, familiar talk or writing,” has an important place within social organizations. It has for thousands of years been a way of connecting and bonding and there has been significant research done into the positive role gossip plays in socialization. Gossip is also much less formal and organized than true oral history which is defined as “historical information, usually tape-recorded or videotaped, obtained in interviews with persons having firsthand knowledge.”

    In the matter to which I referred in my blog, the researcher had contacted archives and historical resources across Canada to no avail. No amount of collected documentary evidence or collected oral history was able to find the answer. But reaching out and asking “do you know so and so and what can you tell me about this family” in a light, informal, familiar way did work. A facebook post to my cousin asking for whatever news she had on a certain family who used to live in a certain town and then her call to another relative who checked with a few other people resulted in a name of a man who had the answer.

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