Oberlin Heritage Center Blog

Posts Tagged ‘community’

Living Through History

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

My name is Michelle Myers, and I am a summer intern at the Oberlin Heritage Center through the Leadership Lorain County Internship Program. This is my second summer here. I was born and raised in Elyria, and I am currently working on my bachelor’s degree in psychology at Swarthmore College. This is why I have come to the Heritage Center for my second summer: because I love learning about and talking to people.

History, as I have come to learn it, is not facts. History is stories. History is the light in someone’s eyes when they recall an event that made headlines. History is a grandfather telling his grandchildren about the war at a family event. The past is what connects us all together. It is all of our stories interwoven in a conversation where people recall the good old days, the not so good days, and feel less alone. History is not the history of individuals, but of a common humanity who has been through and seen it all. History is what makes us live forever.

This is why I love giving tours of the three buildings at the Oberlin Heritage Center. I love when a visitor recognizes an item in one of the historical houses and says, “My grandmother has one of those in her house.” Someone else says, “I used to use one of those when I was a kid.” Then a conversation starts. People talk to each other. A human connection is made. Meaning is made out of washboards and rug beaters.

When a woman and I talk about the hardships a mother with her child could have faced trying to find freedom from slavery, and the visitor is nodding her head, her eyes deeply concerned, I feel as if something beyond our words is being fulfilled. She understands what it means to work hard, to face destitution. Both women understand. It is all three of us in this conversation. We live through each other’s thoughts and words. This is what history looks like.

But history is also the amazement and hilarity that ensues when first graders realize what a chamber pot is. They get on their hands and knees on the wooden, creaky floors; look under the rope-wrung bed; see the white, shiny bowl; and cry “People would poop in that?!” Maybe they imagine a life, long before televisions and video games, without bathrooms. They have something to go home and tell their parents about. They gave me something to remember. They fill these buildings with laughter and excitement. They keep these buildings and the Oberlin Heritage Center alive. Thank you to all of you, past and present, who keep this place alive.

Winter Term 2012: Finding Community Through History

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Until my time spent at the Heritage Center, my interest in museum work and cultural heritage management was underwritten by my fascination with the objects involved—Classical archaeology was only as interesting as its statuary and American history was only as interesting as the objects which told its stories. My concept and appreciation of museum work gained another crucial dimension during my month with the Heritage Center: the importance of community. In many ways the Oberlin Heritage Center is a professional institution, but in seemingly as many other ways it is a community club of sorts, relying heavily not only on the monetary support of its members but also their expertise and experience.

Towards the end of January, Prue Richard, the Collections Assistant, invited me to attend a collections committee meeting, which would be held at—to my surprise—Kendal (a local retirement community). On the way to the meeting I remember asking Prue if these meetings were public or private, if the committee was composed of board members or paying members, and who would be attending. The answers to these questions were not at all what I had expected. The committee was composed of an incredible diversity of volunteer talents, each of which was hugely valuable to the Heritage Center. The use of community talent and expertise seems essential to the continued prosperity of the Center.

I also enjoyed and learned quite a bit in my more day-to-day tasks at the Center. Interested in both research and collections management, I was able to spread my time somewhat evenly between these two interests. In terms of research, I was given the task of updating biographies on the previous tenants of Monroe house to go with the new furnishings plan. I focused primarily on the Monroe Children—Emma, Mary, Charles, and William. As far as collections management goes, I was able to help Prue develop a new salvage plan which would be used to evacuate the most important objects in the event of a fire or other major crisis. In performing these two tasks I became very familiar with the museum database program Past Perfect as well as a number of genealogical research databases. I also spent a good deal of time in the College archives poring over old financial and legal documents.

The tasks I was given by the Heritage Center staff were undoubtedly personally valuable—and hopefully valuable to the Center as well; but, the aspect of my time here that I may have enjoyed most was being my friends’ personal Oberlin historian. Dozens of times other Oberlin students would approach me with questions about the age of their home or the previous tenants, and given my access to all the information stored at the Heritage Center, I was more than capable of answering these questions. From finding the building history of my house on East College to finding that my friend’s apartment was previously a Masonic Temple, these small bits of historical knowledge have really brought Oberlin to life for me—breaking out the four year cycles I tend to see Oberlin as being stuck in, and revealing a community with a rich, important history that needs to be told and remembered.

Greg Brown
OC Class of 2012