By Janet Lyons, Consulting Project Coordinator, Maine Humanities Council
It’s all over except for the paperwork and the reflection. For two years Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War, the National Endowment for the Humanities grant funded program, engaged Maine communities in their Civil War history.
Collaborative project teams comprised of libraries, historical organizations, and educational institutions explored local Civil War history in multidisciplinary ways and investigated questions of that era’s motivations, loyalty, identity, and politics at the community level.
The community involvement was impressive. Local and national scholars presented at three symposia (2013 – Maine in the Civil War Sesquicentennial Symposium, 2014 – Civil War Legacies in Maine and 2015 – The Civil War in American Memory: Legacies in Our Time).
Communities in Belfast, Bethel, Gorham, Jay, Livermore, Mexico, Pittsfield, Portland, Presque Isle, Rumford, Scarborough, Westbrook, and Windham hosted book discussions, author talks, films, plays, and final celebrations; ultimately 3,712 people attended 102 events across the state. Scholars from University of Southern Maine, Bowdoin College, Maine Maritime Academy, Northern Maine Community College, University of Maine at Farmington and University of Maine at Augusta provided scholarly facilitation of book discussions, project development, and assisted with final performances.
In addition, the community teams created nine digital exhibits, displayed within Maine Memory Network’s Civil War gateway, in a section called “Communities and the War” site. At least 23 organizations were involved directly in creating the exhibits, and more than 130 individuals, approximately 60 of whom were students. Two hundred and five new individual primary sources items (photographs, letters, artifacts, documents) were added from 15 different collecting organizations.
Collaborative bonds have been formed and strengthened between libraries, historical societies, schools, and other community organizations. Conversations about history and race and the enduring legacy of the Civil War have been started–and must continue. Sadly, the recent shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the ensuing media coverage of heritage, is a tragic reminder of that. The dialogue inspired by Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War is needed now in our communities more than ever.
After two years immersed in the Civil War it’s hard to believe that we’ve come to the end of this project. While Larissa (Vigue Picard, MHS Director of Education) and I won’t miss the innumerable hours on the road, we will miss the people we’ve traveled to meet. Presque Isle, Pittsfield, Belfast, Livermore/Jay, Rumford, Bethel, Westbrook/Portland, Gorham, Windham and Scarborough are special places. They are towns with volunteers who go above and beyond when they sink their teeth into a project; sometimes, they had less material to work with than they thought, but they persevered. People have shared articles, resources, meals, warm smiles, and amazing conversations with us.
Thank you to all who participated in this journey. It’s been more fulfilling than I ever imagined that it could be.