As Katie has indicated, neither time nor wi fi access allowed for much blogging while in West Virginia, so I am catching up now that I am home. Here is my synopsis of our keynote speaker from Day 1:
West Viriginia native Adam Booth gave an outstanding keynote address Sunday morning to kick off the ALHFAM conference. Adam, the three time champion of the West Virginia Liars Club, didn’t tell any tall tales this time, but did tell a very compelling story about a witch that demonstrated how powerful good stories can in the interpretation at history museums.
He used the analogy of “industrial stories” – well-known yarns like Cinderella that vary little – and ” heirloom stories” which need more nurturing, care, and interpretation. His witch story illustrated at least two points about historical beliefs – that a witch can “blink” milk (make it go sour) and that silver could ward off her evil. Hearing this information in story format is much more interesting for site visitors than to just be told the two fact outright – plus, a story is much more memorable and will likely stay with the visitor much longer.
Adam stressed the importance of collecting those stories from those in your organiation, but even more importantly, those OUTSIDE your organization. Collecting stories from multiple sources provides a much more in-depth understanding of the heritage and culture you are attempting to interpret.
I am working on a project tin Havre de Grace, Maryland right now, where we are collecting oral histories from the community, so Adam’s talk hit home for me. He raised the bar with the suggestion of teaming with a storytelling guild in your community to host a storytelling festival. Not only will the interpretation at your site be enhanced, but you will also draw a new audience of people who follow the storytelling crowd. Has anyone tried this type of event? Would love to hear about it in the comments!
— Heidi Glatfelter