Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Historical Museum Collections Grant Narrative

This is the Historical Museum Collections Grant Narrative: Oral History Project that I submitted With The Curran Homestead's application for one of two grants offered by the Maine State Archives on December 1:
Central to this oral history project will be interviewing, recording, and preserving the story of Bob Robinson of Split Rock Forge of Stockton Spring. Since there are fewer practicing blacksmiths with the passage of time, Mr. Robinson’s knowledge of not only his experience as a blacksmith but of others who once plied their trade in Penobscot, Hancock, and other surrounding counties is invaluable; it will be central to the subject matter of this project. It is also recognized that Mr. Robinson’s experiences and knowledge is not exclusively that of a rural community of Maine but rather inclusive of many other American communities and beyond, and his narratives incorporate knowledge of blacksmithing as it has been practiced not only in Maine but in other places in his experience and his knowledge of the trade’s history.
An additional aim of this project is to make living connections with the contents of the farm itself, so a focus of the interviewing process will be the blacksmithing tools and accoutrements in the museum’s collection. The story of them will be revealed and preserved. It will be determined what each tool in the collection is and its purpose as well as its provenance when known, and Mr. Robinson’s integral role in acquiring these through donation makes him among the most qualified to provide such information.
The final and third facet of the proposed oral histories will focus on specific blacksmithing projects. Mr. Robinson will be interviewed during the process of preparing and lighting a forge, bringing metal to the desired temperature for bending and shaping it, and the step-by-step completion of a project. As many historians will attest, prior research and the use of photographs and other sources of information are invaluable as mnemonic devices for both interviewers and interviewees when seeking out particular information in an oral history project. Since the interviews, recording, and transcription will be carried out by Robert Schmick, it will be necessary for him to seek out such resources prior to the interviewing.
Such an oral history resource will assist in scholarly research as well as the future and continued use of the tools in the collection for the purposes of blacksmithing. It is recognized that such a collection will ultimately serve as a reference resource for those seeking to imitate and possibly apply the use of these tools and equipment, skills, and know-how to their own contemporary lives beyond the museum site. Oral histories associated particularly with blacksmithing will be preliminary to the goal of creating a more comprehensive collection of oral histories that serve Maine heritage through their focus on the material culture of the area’s rural past by The Curran Homestead. The museum’s own collection would be of central importance to this primary source information gathering, but beyond that many with first-hand knowledge of similar objects, their uses, and their personal experiences have come to be known by the museum on a continued and frequent informal basis as these individuals have sought connection with The Curran Homestead because of this. Realizing that these narratives of historical significance are destined to be lost soon, the creation of an oral history archive has been proposed; it is anticipated that this proposed grant proposal will be the seed from which a more extensive collecting project of oral histories will develop.
While the emphasis of The Curran Homestead has always been on preserving a particular time in history, the bridge between the nineteenth and twentieth century, there is also an explicit intention on the part of the museum to provide knowledge that may be used in the public’s present lives. This oral history resource would further serve that mission, for it will provide a lasting connection with a specific living individual in his voice using tools from the past. To insure further dissemination of these oral histories, space will be provided on the museum’s website to upload them as they are created to provide greater accessibility. The most labor intensive part of this project, and a standard practice of this type of information resource gathering, will be the transcription of the recorded oral histories so that a print record of them will exist for research as well as for the hearing impaired.
The museum seeks funding for a digital recorder with USB connectivity and a USB cable for uploading. We also require a portable external hard drive for storage of each of the anticipated large digital audio files and their transcribed print form. A laptop computer capable of processing and uploading large digital audio files from digital recorders as well as serve in the process of uploading digital audio files to the museum’s website is necessitated. A free download of digital audio editing software, Audacity, is available for PC users, and this will be utilized for this oral history project. An in-kind match for the anticipated 200 hours of volunteer time at 15 dollars per hour to realize the research/preparation, interview/recording, and transcription of an anticipated 25 hours of oral history is sought.

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