If Objects Could Speak
Huronia Museum Literacy Project
BILL SMITH AND NATALIE QUEALEY,
In this Reading the Museum project, learners conducted interviews with local residents using museum artifacts as a catalyst. The project has been a tremendous success, with both museum staff and adult learners gaining a great deal from working together.
The unique community partnerships Huronia Museum formed with Georgian College, the Midland Area Reading Council and Community Cable Six contributed to the success of the project by making it run smoothly and keeping the learners involved and interested in learning.
A total of eleven adult literacy students, ranging in age from 25 to 50 years and from a variety of backgrounds, volunteered for the program. They all had a common interest in history, personal or family heritage, and in learning more about the area they call home. None of the volunteers had ever been in the museum before nor were they familiar with, what they might find. From the outset they had not identified the museum as something belonging to them or reflecting a part of their history.
To our delight, ten students chose to remain in the project. Initial insecurities regarding their place in the museum were quickly replaced by a sense of belonging. Many students spent whole days in the museum doing research using a variety of resources including microfilm, vertical files and historic photographs to prepare questions for use in the interviews. Some students extended the scope of their research to include trips to the library and another local museum. Increasingly, the students took ownership of the museum. Membership cards and name tags were issued, reinforcing their sense of belonging.
Their enthusiasm was so great that our initial concept of pairing the students to work on an interview was replaced with each student working on an individual interview. A welcome outcome was that one student asked if he could do his interview in French, his first language. As a result the museum will have more multilingual interviews which will better reflect the multicultural audience Huronia Museum serves.
To our surprise 80% of the students returned for the nonmandatory task of putting a resource/activity kit together for distribution to the local elementary schools. They prepared short biographies of the people they had interviewed and worked on other activities to help make the oral histories more relevant to the school children. The commitment of the learners to the program testifies to the success of If Objects Could Speak.
All partners in the project have learned a great deal and the benefits of these partnerships will continue to accrue. Georgian College has become aware of what Huronia Museum has to offer in supporting education. Community Cable Six will continue working with Huronia Museum to record reminiscences of local residents using museum objects as the catalyst for the interviews that will be compiled and archived. Most of all, the students learned that the museum is more than an academic environment. It is a place that has relevance for the entire public.
Through innovative projects, such as If Objects Could Speak, Huronia Museum will continue to expand its programs to reach as many people in the community as possible.
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