Mass. Memories Road Show Keeps History Alive
June 20, 2012
Colleen Locke, Office of Communications
Heather Cole likes a good story. And as project manager of UMass Boston’s Mass. Memories Road Show, she’s heard a lot of them.
Since 2004, Massachusetts residents have been bringing their photos, memories, and stories to various road show locations across the state in an effort to collect and preserve pieces of history from what Cole calls ordinary, everyday people.
“One hundred years from now, researchers are going to be looking for what life was like for Joe Schmo who just lives an ordinary life in Milton. We hope that these photos and the stories behind them will be able to provide that sort of information,” Cole said.
The Mass. Memories Road Show came out of the Massachusetts Studies Project, an initiative of the Institute for Learning and Teaching that is now part of the Joseph P. Healey Library's University Archives and Special Collections Department. The project was focused on K-12 workshops and curriculum development.
Cole said people involved in the project agreed there was a lack of local history resources focused on the late 20th and 21st centuries. And so the Mass. Memories Road Show–the double meaning of the title suggests Massachusetts and stories from the “masses”–was born.
“The idea was it would be a cross between ‘Antiques Roadshow’ and the Library of Congress’ American Memory project,” Cole said. “We would collect primary sources related to really anything. We would hold events in the local communities, invite people to look through their attics, photos, and scrapbooks, and bring the material to this public venue, and we would digitize the material right there,” Cole said.
As technology has changed, so has the structure of the road shows, which now feature a station for contributors to record a short video about their photos.
Each road show features a series of stations, all staffed by local volunteers and “roadies,” who have worked events in their own communities and continue to pitch in. At one station, contributors fill out paperwork about the photos (where and when they were taken, who is pictured and why the shots are important to them).
At other stations, one volunteer scans in the photographs, another takes a picture of the contributors with their photos, and another films the contributors’ stories. Participants can also speak to archivists about photo preservation and to a historian who specializes in dating photos.
Most of the submissions are family photos, but Cole says the road show will take any pictures people bring in.
“At every road show, we have someone show up with something that’s amazing, historically speaking. We had one woman show up in Natick whose relative was a freed slave. There’s always a story,” she said.
“Roadie” Mary McCarthy is the assistant director of a subsidized housing complex for seniors.
“I have found the road show a wonderful therapeutic vehicle for my residents because it is so validating of the lives they have lived, most in Boston originally,” she said.
Sue Scheible, a reporter for the Patriot Ledger, volunteers for the road show.
“I learned from personal experience how valuable the Mass. Memories Road Shows are to our local communities. There is nothing quite like them,” she said.
“His wife said he had all those stories stored up inside him and that she could see how happy he was to talk about those years,” Scheible said.
Thanks to the road show, Roberts was invited to accompany a class from UMass Boston’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to Thompson Island.
“Bud told the other OLLI students firsthand what it had been like in the 1940s, how it had shaped his character, and even led a short walk and drive around the island, pointing out where buildings and gardens had been and activities had taken place. All this was due to Mass. Memories,” Scheible said.
The Mass. Memories Road Show has visited two dozen communities since 2004. Cole would like the show to visit all 351 communities in Massachusetts eventually. The next stop is in Peabody on Oct. 20. The upcoming schedule is posted online.
The Mass. Memories Road Show is in the process of putting more than 4,000 photos collected since 2004 on its new website. By the end of the summer, the photos and videos will be searchable by name, location, topic, and date.