The Public Humanist

The Public Humanist contributor: Kate Navarra Thibodeau

Kate Navarra Thibodeau graduated from the University of Rochester in upstate New York with a bachelor?s degree in Anthropology in 2001. She earned her Master’s degree in American History from the Public History Program in the History Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Thibodeau feels it is important not only to collect and preserve stories and documents, but share them with the public. She is the author of two books, Holyoke: The Skinner Family and Wistariahurst, and Destination: Holyoke, which she wrote while she was Curator at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, MA. Thibodeau spent four summers in Alaska as a member of an archaeological and excavation team for the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, and is often found reading up on recent archaeological finds.

The Life and Times of [Your Name Here]

I have not always been interested in biographies. As a curator and historian, I look at biographies as pieces of the puzzle: the more biographies I read on a certain topic, the more I understand about that topic. A biography can be a collection of stories: a story of one person’s life; the stories include the life and times of people around the biographer; multiple perspectives on a topic are also included.


Learning with Primary Source Documents

Teachers walk into their classrooms ready to educate, to lead their students in the right direction; to give them the skills to be good learners and better people. How can using primary source documents possibly enhance those efforts? When there are primary sources used in the classrooms, students not only learn history, but learn how to do history. In fact, they can often do better history than then learn it.


William Skinner & Holyoke’s Water Power

The City of Holyoke is famous for fine paper manufacturing, but its planners hoped it would be a textile boomtown. As Charlie Lotspeich has pointed out in the previous post, Holyoke’s diversified industrial base flourished due to the technological innovation of water power. William Skinner’s move to Holyoke in 1874 was fortuitous for both Skinner and Holyoke.


Transparency in Holyoke: Educating the Masses to Preserve the Past

The city of Holyoke has a complex and fascinating history of immigration and migration. Once considered the Paper Capital of the World, and home to premier cotton and silk mills, the history of Holyoke offers a microcosm of American industrial development. Founded in 1873 as one of the nation’s first planned industrial cities, Holyoke attracted successive waves of Irish, French Canadian, German, Polish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants who worked in the mills, established small businesses, raised their families, and created communities defined largely by ethnic and religious affiliation.


Holyoke’s Memory Book: Training Oral Historians

When people talk about their lives, people lie sometimes, forget a little, exaggerate, become confused, get things wrong, yet they are revealing truths…the guiding principle for [life histories] would be that all autobiographical memory is true: it is up to the interpreter to discover in which sense, and for what purpose.” (Personal Narratives Group,eds., Interpreting Women’s Lives: Feminist Theory and Personal Narratives, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1989, pp. 261, 197.) Wistariahurst’s past successes with oral history projects abound. In 2000, the Mass Humanities funded an oral history collection project to document the lives of the Skinner Family servants. More recently, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts awarded Wistariahurst Museum $25,000 for the completion of a project involving inter-generational and multi-ethnic oral histories with Loomis Communities and the Greater Holyoke Boys and Girls Club, entitled Bridging Generations:


Educating Our Educators: Where Can We Find Humanities Resources?

The United States Department of Education website for Massachusetts claims that "every day we learn what works so students can make greater progress" learning reading and mathematics. They offer statistics on the number of schools making adequate yearly progress, schools in need of improvement and schools that are in the middle of restructuring, all compared to schools in the greater United States.


Records & Public Property: Trash or Treasure?

Some recent posts, specifically Picture This: Participatory History on the Web, have caused a shiver to run up and down my spine, but only in regards to how it will affect the collection and keeping of soft, or online, records. While the historian in me regards the availability of historical images, videos, etc, online as a positive contribution to society (as well as the reciprocal contribution of the public’s knowledge to the identification of historical photos), I am grasping at straws as how to best herd the digital information so it is available in a singular way.


Engaging Non-traditional Audiences with History Exhibitions

As I travel back from a wonderful and successful annual meeting of the National Council on Public History, I think back to what I have learned about historical exhibitions in the past six years. There are certain expectations we in thepublic history and museum field of public history have when it comes to ouraudiences. We expect to see hoards of children outside the Boston Children’s Museum venturing out to enjoy a day with their families.


Keeping it Relevant: A Look into the New Historic House

Wistariahurst Museum has been many things over 130 years:it was once a home; a facility; a natural history museum; a youth center; a reception hall; and finally, an interpreted historic house.But we want to be more than just a historic house, don’twe? Visitation to historic houses has decreased over the past few years, so dowe want to keep the beautiful house open to the public for docent-led housetours? How else can we interpret Wistariahurst?