“Peoples, Places, and the History of Words in Brattleboro, Vermont,” sets out a three-year plan to build community through collaborative activities including creating audio tours linked to key places in and around Brattleboro, exhibitions and a book on the rich and little-known printing and publishing history of the area.
“The Brattleboro area has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to its history of book publishing, printing, literature and the like, but few people who live here, much less outsiders, appreciate this history,” said Jerry Carbone, former director of Brooks Memorial Library and member of the Brattleboro Literary Festival Authors’ Committee. This Project will bring these facts to the fore in an entertaining and creative way that aims to involve the whole community over time.”
Four core institutions — Marlboro College, the Brattleboro Literary Festival, the Brattleboro Historical Society and Write Action — submitted the winning grant, which will support local people, including students of all ages, and any group that wants to be a research “pod” to explore specific places in Brattleboro and its surrounding rural communities. These institutions are currently joined in support of the project by Brooks Memorial Library, the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, the River Gallery School of Art, the Landmark Trust and The Commons newspaper, among several others, all of whom wrote letters of support for the Project.
” Working toward the Creating Humanities Communities grant inspired an ambitious vision among groups who hadn’t engaged in such mutually beneficial cooperation and planning together before,” Project Director Lissa Weinmann, co-owner of 118 Elliot, said. ” The NEH match is an important vote of confidence; it gives us a leg-up to raise the additional funds needed to ensure everyone can share the sense of pride and connection to Brattleboro this Project will certainly cultivate.”
“The Project really builds on this concept of place-based learning by linking physical places to their history,” said William Edelglass, Professor of Philosophy at Marlboro College, who spearheaded the submission of the grant with Weinmann. He said the college’s SPARK teacher training program will help facilitate classroom work in conjunction with the WSESU school district. “We will bring scholars to classrooms who will engage students in exploring the places from a variety of humanities lenses — philosophy, history, art, sociology and offering research, cartography and other skills — and raise questions about the meaning of the history of these places that will be addressed in handmade books, audio pods and other media.”
The research will be shared via audio recordings and plaques for walking, biking, and driving tours, as well as in handmade books, curricular materials for local schools, a special page on the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance’s website Brattleboro.com, an exhibition at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, lectures and other public events which will grow around the Brattleboro Literary Festival and other annual events.
These materials will bring to light the writings and history of less documented groups, including Abenakis, African Americans, and women, as well as homesteaders, spiritualists, and abolitionists, in addition to more prominent local authors such as Rudyard Kipling , Mary Wilkins Freeman , and Saul Bellow.
“Lit Fest attendees always have questions about the town and its history,” said Sandy Rouse, Executive Director, Brattleboro Literary Festival. “The Project helps create programming to address this visitor interest while building on the Lit Fest’s efforts to reach deeper into our community to celebrate the power of words, particularly working more with local schools to bring in the children and their families. We will show that books, writing and the rich history of all things literary in this town is something everyone shares and should be proud of.”
Last week, part of the Project won a “National Main Street Center” competition to match up to $2,500 on a crowdfunding platform to create a unique “Mobile Interactive Literary Exhibition Space,” dubbed “MILES,” a mobile, mini-museum, to be employed in various locations around town and at area schools over the years to feature Project-related themes in a fun and engaging manner. MILES will be built and featured at the Tiny House Festival Vermont in Downtown Brattleboro on September 3, 2017.
The Project’s first exhibit will use MILES to create an immersive experience featuring the nation’s first known African American poet, Lucy Terry Prince, a freed slave who lived in Guilford. Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, the Paul Murray Kendall Chair in Biography, University of Massachusetts and author of “Mr. and Mrs. Prince: How an Extraordinary 18th-Century Family Moved out of Slavery and into Legend,” will speak about her life and help with the exhibit.
“The Brattleboro Historical Society has been working with our students on over 100 podcasts about the history of our area,” said Joe Rivers, a Social Studies teacher at the Brattleboro Area Middle School and BHS board member whose students will help with the Lucy Terry exhibit. “The Project will help us build upon and share that work with a larger audience and instill an appreciation of how this valley’s past has shaped our understanding of community.”
“Write Action has been talking about creating a book about the printing and publishing history of Brattleboro for a long time,” said Arlene Distler. “This Project and collaboration is giving us the larger community context, support and momentum that will help us make this idea a reality.”