May 22nd was a gorgeous day for gathering together educators and heritage professionals from museums, historical societies, and schools to kick off preparations for the commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial in Maine.
Presenters and participants hit Peaks Island's shore on an early boat and walked to the waterfront location of the Fifth Maine Regiment Museum, a 19th century building on the National Register of Historic Places.
After Fifth Maine Museum Director Kim MacIsaac welcomed everyone and provided an overview of the upcoming Sesquicentennial events, I spoke about how the Civil War provides us with an entry point to teach or interpret about an endless array of topics (left).
The photo at right shows King Middle School students examining materials in a recent Civil War program that I piloted with them. A fascinating artifact in the foreground (identified as a walking cane carved by a slave) and a simple container of molasses were among many items engaging seventh graders in an inquiry-based exercise.
This weekend's workshop participants also tried out the Classroom Gallery exercise. Peeling them away from all of the artifacts was not an easy task!
Next, Daniel Minter and Rachel Talbot Ross (below) spoke about Portland's Freedom Trail. They highlighted a number of African American and white abolitionists that supported the Underground Railroad in Portland and other parts of Maine. Daniel is the artist who designed each of the plaques on the Trail's monuments. Daniel offered his perspective that the Freedom Trail is "not African American history. It's all of our history. History shouldn't be segregated either." He later shared his striking, hand-carved stamps with us, explaining how he designs an image to tell a story with continuing resonance to the present.
We next listened to Brian Collins (topmost right) of Pejepscot Historical Society, whose Joshua Chamberlain House restoration talk could have been billed as a historical detective story. Beautiful photographs of the Chamberlain House interior, taken by a local reporter a century ago, have revealed important clues for how to restore the house to its turn-of-the-century state.
Jamie Kingman-Rice helped eliminate mystery by highlighting the wealth of Civil War resources curated in the Maine Historical Society's library, as well as those made available through Maine Memory Network, Maine History Online, and the Society's collections database. The Fifth Maine's website also centralizes these, as well as other, useful links. During the course of the day, we all generated a number of questions, each of which would serve as a springboard for further research. I'm hoping we all keep Maine Historical Society busy in the four years to come!
We breezed into the 20th century with King Middle School teacher Caitlin LeClair as our guide. She shared her recent experience with a Civil Rights era Expeditionary Learning curriculum that her seventh graders recently completed. The students' own accounts of their learning process were favorites, of course. They're available for others to view on King's website. Caitlin demonstrated how she found the history of slavery and Reconstruction-era discrimination (and the resistance to both) as essential grounding for student understanding of the 20th century Civil Rights Movement. Caitlin echoed Rachel Talbot Ross' earlier call to avoid casting African American history as a history of victimization. It is a proud history indeed.
Kim MacIsaac brought the wonderful day to a close and, among other things, encouraged us to take advantage of the Civil War Reenactment Weekend June 12-13, 2010 at Washburn-Norlands Living History Center. It's likely to be the largest gathering of hoop skirts in Maine for quite some time. You wouldn't want to miss it!
Sincere thanks to Maine Humanities Council for their grant support and to the Maine Archives and Mueums Association and Maine Historical Society for their sponsorship.