History: Made by You
By Amy Drake
One of the greatest challenges facing museums today is how to highlight the relevance of history while broadening and diversifying our audiences. How do we show our visitors that history is a continuum and connect the past to present realities and social issues today? How do we incorporate our visitors’ voices into the museum and make their stories heard?
Enter History: Made by You, the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s (SOHS) community-focused traveling exhibition program. Beginning in February 2011, we have worked with various communities throughout Jackson County to create relevant and engaging small exhibitions that are displayed in prominent civic locations, bringing the museum to the public.
The current project focuses on Hispanic history in Jackson County. With the Bracero Program, or Mexican Farm Labor Program, operating from 1942 through 1964, Mexican farm laborers began traveling to Southern Oregon to work on the orchards and in the forests of the Rogue Valley. Since then, Hispanics have continued settling in the Rogue Valley and make up approximately 11% of the population today. Their history, however, is largely neglected in the local historical societies and public memory locations throughout Jackson County.
Each project begins with a community forum. Through History: Made by You, SOHS is reaching out to the Hispanic community and contacting organizations, such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of the Rogue Valley, to help coordinate the forum. Attendees discuss changes in their community and the Rogue Valley, analyze current events and delve deeper into issues that are public concerns but not commonly addressed. The forum culminates with participants choosing an exhibition topic for the project.
After the forum, a volunteer group forms to research, develop, find locations, and install the exhibit. This is when the role of SOHS staff shifts from expert to team facilitator as the volunteers actively choose the direction and focus of the exhibit, merely guided by the museum professional.
The most recent History: Made by You highlighted the bicycling community of Jackson County. Pedaling History: The Roll of Bicycles in Jackson County investigated how bicycling has impacted the Rogue Valley, from the introduction of the high wheel in the 1880s to how people use their bicycles today. Through a partnership with Southern Oregon University’s Bike Program, this project encouraged local bicyclists to interpret and exhibit their history.
Check out the History: Made by You site for all our past projects and to find out how you can participate.
Amy Drake is the Curator of Special Projects and program director for History: Made by You at the Southern Oregon Historical Society.