When people think of history, they usually do not associate it with youth. They say “history is in the past” or “history is boring”. This year it has been my mission to get more young people involved with the Harrison County WV Historical Society (HCWVHS). Since I started my service in September, youth involvement in the HCWVHS has increased through volunteering and unique programming.
Early on in my service, I had the privilege of working with two WVU students through the Community Service and Learning (C S & L) program, Donald Hatheway and Jordan Jasper.
These young men partnered with me to promote the historical society’s events and volunteered for our WV Writers event and Small Museum Exhibit workshop. Furthermore, they helped me round up more college-age people for my first major volunteer event with the HCWVHS. We sponsored a clean-up day at the Stealey-Goff-Vance House in October, and Donald brought a small army of WVU ROTC Silver Wings members to accomplish this task. Even though their semester of service was over in December, Donald and Jordan continue to volunteer for the HCWVHS. Our board of directors was so pleased with our fall semester C S & L students that we participated in the program for the spring semester.
During the spring, the HCWVHS and I presented two school activities to get young people engaged with local history. Michael Spatafore brought his fifth graders from Northview Elementary School for a tour of the Vance House in April. After we divided the students into two groups, my site supervisor, Carol Schweiker, took one group and discussed the house’s first owner, Jacob Stealey, and his role as a tanner in Clarksburg. I then led a conversation on what museum artifacts can tell us about the past, and then the students identified the uses of ten artifacts from our museum. The students had a great time figuring out what the artifacts were and playfully debated with their classmates about the uses of the items. They also asked a lot of great questions about our historic house and the collection.
In May, I presented a school activity using the letters and photographs of a WWII veteran, Richard Criswell, from the HCWVHS archives. Ms. Meese’s Liberty High School students divided into groups, and each group had a folder of primary source documents from Richard Criswell’s life. After exploring the report cards, letters, and newspaper clippings, the students recounted facts about Richard. The students really enjoyed the activity especially the twist ending about what eventually happened to him. Ms. Meese and the students also supplied excellent feedback on how to improve the activity. Over the summer, the HCWVHS is contacting several Harrison County social studies teachers to ask about incorporating both school activities sometime during the next school year.
Lastly, I recruited our youngest volunteer for the HCWVHS in June. The majority of my day-to-day volunteers were women of retirement age until Ms. Meese suggested that I bring one of her students on as a volunteer. I agreed to take her on, and I initially had a hard time coming up with duties that a teenager would find enjoyable. Accessioning photographs and postcards is not exactly the most exciting activity. However, after our first meeting, Shelley (*name has been changed) became excited about putting her art skills to work with our War Remembrances exhibit and tie-dying shirts for the HCWVHS Veterans’ Memorial 5K. She even wants to attend our August lecture on Civil War medicine to possibly get some extra credit for her social studies class. I believe Shelley now understands that doing history can be fun and it’s not just what you read about in a textbook.
Overall, the HCWVHS made significant strides toward more youth involvement during my service year. Our plans for youth-oriented history activities for 2015-2016 are even more ambitious. Our dedication to the next generation will continue the legacy of the Harrison County WV Historical Society and the preserve of history of the area.