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Putting the Wraps on a Great First Semester of HistoryConnects

06/18/2012

HistoryConnects is an outreach education initiative by the Virginia Historical Society utilizing Interactive Videoconferencing equipment to reach students across the state of Virginia and around the nation. HistoryConnects programs are interactive, primary source based historical explorations that reinforce both national and state standards of learning. The spring 2012 semester was our first where we were fully up and running, and we saw a lot of success, conducting more than 50 programs!

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Pocahontas and the Powhatan Indians program with students in New Albany, Indiana.

The Virginia Historical Society was one of four cultural institutions who were asked to participate in a nationwide Civil War education day on May 16, 2012 (the VHS presentation begins at 3 hours, 34 minutes). The other institutions that presented were the Mariner’s Museum in Norfolk, VA, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. More than 10,000 students tuned into our presentation of the contribution of Virginia during the Civil War! These students were from 33 of the 50 states (including Alaska). We also had an international audience for the first time, with students watching in England, Scotland, and the Dominican Republic.

HistoryConnects outreach programs are able to capture all of the aspects of traditional outreach, along with added benefits. Our audience is no longer limited to those with the opportunity to physically enter the building. We are able to share actual documents and primary sources with students, and with the high definition camera, details that would be practically impossible to see in a traditional setting become evident. Replica artifacts, like within traditional outreach, enhance the HistoryConnects programming.

Programs are initially designed with a basis on Virginia’s SOL for Virginia Studies, and also address the national social studies standards. All programs are then adaptable to a variety of age ranges. As the school year comes to an end, our focus shifts to try and connect with more of the adult audience. Last week Bill Obrochta was able to connect with Wiggins Place, a retirement community in Ohio, with the debut of the first in a new series of programming: HistoryConnects P.S.I: Primary Source Investigation. The P.S.I. series will offer more in-depth exploration and inquiry on primary sources from the manuscript collections of the VHS. The first program was called “John Robertson Maben and the Search for California Gold”.

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“My body is on The beautyfull Ohio – my mind is in Rockbridge with you and our Boy – and my dreams is on the road to California so I am pretty well devided – The [] has the heavyest – but you have the largest portions of me -“

This program examines a series of thirteen letters from the VHS manuscript collection. These letters see John Robertson Maben describe his travels along the road from Rockbridge County, VA to California to his wife, Sarah. The letters are especially vivid as Maben was witness to events both momentous and mundane. He wrote of the cholera epidemic of 1849, the great St. Louis fire that same year, and the excitement and brutality of the California gold fields.  The audience at Wiggins Place was very receptive and complimentary of the program. We are very excited to have a unique opportunity to share our treasures with a non-traditional audience, and hope to do many more HistoryConnects programs with adult audiences in the future.

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