We all make history everyday. While textbooks and museums may be filled with artifacts about monumental events, it’s the day to day life of ordinary people that create and shape culture, government, and knowledge, and thus the future. This is especially true in the extraordinary community of Provincetown, a tiny town with a big, big history. An expansive and incredible project by the University of Massachusetts at Boston seeks to take a snapshot of the history of the commonwealth, and Provincetown is getting its chance to make its voice heard this Saturday, September 28, when the Mass Memories Road Show comes to town.
Based at the University Archives & Special Collections at the Joseph P. Healey Library at the university, the Mass Memories Road Show is a project that will eventually travel to all 351 municipalities in the commonwealth, inviting community members to bring three photographs or documents that tell their story, either as they relate to the town or their own family story. The items are scanned or photographed and the images become part of the university’s archive and an important statewide collection of personal images that tell the story of the state of Massachusetts. This is your chance to tell your story.
“Every road show invites as broad a cross-section of the community as possible,” says Carolyn Goldstein, public history and community archives program manager at UMass Boston. “There is no theme. People can tell whatever story they like, any kind of story. It can be about their relationship to Provincetown or their own personal story.”
Here’s how it works. On the day, all are welcome to attend and no appointment is necessary, but you must be there in person to participate. Participants are asked to bring in three photographs or documents that are important to them. All are invited, whether they are residents or visitors, but the participants should have some connection to Provincetown. All participants will be asked to sign a registration form that gives non-exclusive permission to include the photos in the University’s digital collection. The photographs will only be scanned so no one needs to worry about parting with a sentimental photo or keepsake. All are asked to bring in the original print as they scan better. If the photo is originally a digital one, please bring in a CD or USB drive. Participants will then be asked to tell the story behind each photo. Participants are also invited to tell their story in five minutes on video, which will also be added to the archive. Participation in any aspect of the project is optional and community members are invited to just observe if they wish. In all, from beginning to end, the whole process should take 30 to 45-minutes. After being organized and processed the scans will be added to the digital archive at UMass Boston and be available online at www.openarchives.umb.edu.
To date the Mass Memories Road Show has digitized more than 4,000 photos and stories from all over the state. In 2009 the Road Show visited Truro (see related story), which resulted in a treasure trove of personal stories about that town. The whole concept was developed by the University as part of the Massachusetts Studies Project, which provides resources for teachers and students studying local history, culture, and environmental studies. The Mass Memories Road Show is a hybrid of the popular Antiques Roadshow on PBS and the Library of Congress’s American Memory Project, a digital archive of images expressing a common heritage. In order to succeed, the Mass Memories Road Show needs to partner with a local organization to sponsor the event. The Provincetown Public Library and Town Clerk Doug Johnstone contacted the project to come to Provincetown, and further worked with Chris Hottle, director of the Provincetown Council on Aging; Beth O’Rourke, executive director of PTV; John McDonagh, executive director of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum; and local historian Stephen Borkowski.
“It is so cool,” says Rebecca Levin, the public and member services coordinator at the Provincetown Library and local point person for the road show in Provincetown. “It’s really amazing. It’s a real community event.”
Levin attended the Mass Memories Road Show on March 16 this year in Lexington to get an idea as to what the event is like. Levin describes it as “magical.” Images from the entire town’s history were shown upon the wall in an ever-growing slideshow of Lexington’s past. Levin and Goldstein both expressed excitement in general for the upcoming event in Provincetown, but with an added sense of expectation considering the town’s reputation as a haven for artists, bohemians, and eccentrics, as well as its Portuguese, fishing, and gay and lesbian heritage.
“I was just sitting in my office looking out over the water and thinking about Provincetown, and what a day it will be,” says Goldstein, from the UMass Boston campus on Columbia Point that overlooks Boston Harbor.
In this rapidly changing technological world digital archives are making public access to historical artifacts and documents more available than ever before. However, with so much material being of “digital origin” these days, it can make collecting today’s source materials difficult, as many don’t think to save them (like e-mails) or as technology changes and digital photos are lost to changing formats. Provincetown is ahead of many communities, says Goldstein, as it has the online Provincetown History Preservation Project, which provides a digital archive of the town’s historical and art collections, as well as scans of important historic items in private collections.
Buzz has been growing around town about the project as community members decide which three photographs to bring (volunteers and staff at the event will be able to assist those that bring more than three to narrow their contributions down.) Even Levin, who has been thinking about the project for quite some time is still mulling over what she’ll bring.
“I’m still not totally sure,” says Levin. “I think it’s going to take another week for me to decide.”
The Mass Memories Road Show will be in Provincetown on Saturday, September 28 at the Veterans Memorial Community Center (formerly the elementary school,) 2 Mayflower St., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information contact Rebecca Levin at the Provincetown Public Library at 508.487.7094, ext. 214 or at [email protected] If you are in need of transportation to the event call the Council on Aging at 508.487.7080 by 12 p.m. on September 27.