June 19, 2012

The Vermont History Expo: 150+ history organizations and thousands of guests

Updated: August 10, 2012: A shorter version of this appears as a case study in the new Resources for organizations section.

The Vermont History Expo 2012 took place this last weekend in Tunbridge, Vermont, bringing together more than 150 historical societies and related organizations for a two-day event expected to draw 4,000 - 6,000 attendees.

Because of the interest shown in this event by several people in other states, I took pictures of every aspect of the event, including the print materials and signs.  In the 400+ photos below you'll also see pictures of nearly every booth and display.  (Tip: To view a larger image, click on "Link" on the right below each photo.)

Vermont History Expo 2012: Vermont in the Civil War

The history behind the Vermont History Expo

The Expo, which now takes place every two years, began in the year 2000 and is organized today by staff and a small group of volunteers, with the financial support of several sponsors.  During the two days I learned about the history of the Expo from Addie Minott, a long-time volunteer with her local historical society who, as a board member of the Vermont Historical Society, was one of the driving forces behind the first Expo, and from Tess Taylor, Director of Education and Public Programming at the Vermont Historical Society, and Mark Hudson, Executive Director of the Society.

The idea for the Expo came from an initiative by three counties in 1999 who all agreed to open on the same Saturday.  The next year the Expo was born as a state-wide event with 85 of the state's then 90 historical societies participating.   The Expo continued yearly until 2008, when it switched to every other year.  An annual theme was added in 2005.  These have included "Women in Vermont History," "Travel and Transportation," "Back to the Land," "Industry and Innovation," and this year's theme, "Vermont in the Civil War." 

One of the important results from that first Expo to the present day is that more communities have started or revitalized their local historical societies, such that today there are 197 societies in Vermont.

Connecting with organizations across Vermont

Mark Hudson expressed his interest in letting the state society's member organizations know about The History List as a no cost tool for publicizing their organizations, sites, and events.  (Dennis Fiori, President of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and Carol Knauff, Assistant Director of Development for Communications at the Society, came on board early on and have been very supportive, including participating in the beta and providing helpful feedback.)

Also during the Expo, conversations with . . .

  • Peter Gilbert, Executive Director of the Vermont Humanities Council, underscored the value of The History List as well as  other outreach efforts designed to connect people to our history.  One recent program from the Vermont Humanities Council is the "Civil War Book of Days: 150 Years Ago—This Week in the Civil War," a weekly e-mail newsletter with content drawn from letters, poetry, speeches, news reports, and more.
  • Kate Bradley, who  recently joined the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation in Plymouth Notch as the Director of Engagement and Special Collections, reminded me about the special events coming up this Fourth of July.  Coolidge was born on the the Fourth in 1872, and Kate is going to be adding those special events and the Foundation's slate of lectures to The History List.
  • Brooke Paige, who has for each of the last several years done a deep dive into some aspect of Vermont business and industry and mounted a major exhibit on that topic at the Expo, all at his expense.  This year's subject: The "common cracker" in Vermont.  See the photos above for several of his display this year.
  • Phebe Meyers, an intern with Vital Communities, who was in the "Vermont History Detectives" tent.  Pictures of the tent, the materials, and some of the "Vermont History Detectives" signs in booths, are in the pictures above.

Similar events in other states

Several people replied to a post in a LinkedIn group asking if anyone knew of other states or regions with something similar:

  • Jessica Rivas of the Heritage Square Museum in Los Angeles: "In Los Angeles, we do a much smaller scale event called L.A. Heritage Day for all museums, historical societies, etc. in the greater Los Angeles area. While the event continues to get larger and integrate more things each year we are a long way off from something on the scale of your event. I hope we get there soon this event sounds great!"
  • Kay Demlow: "In Oregon we have the Oregon Heritage Commission, supported by our SHPO, which is part of Parks and Recreation. They provide a regular list serve, which announces events, job openings, achievements and other news from any of the heritage constituents. These include city, county and other historical societies, local landmarks boards and commissions, preservationists, planners, and many more. Once a year they host the Oregon Heritage Conference, which brings us all together for three days of workshops, tours and speakers. It's in a different town every year, so we get to see success stories and hear about issues from other regions around the state. It's a great service to all of us!"
  • Brenda Baratto: "We have the annual Landmark Conference in South Carolina. It's put on by the Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies. Just had this year's in April in North Augusta. What a wonderful way to learn about the local communities, their history and their historical projects and to network and meet colleagues."
  • John Robinson: "In Pennsylvania we have the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations, which holds regular conferences. "Pennsylvania’s cultural community is rich and diverse. Museums, galleries, zoos, science centers, visitor centers, historic sites, monuments, parks, libraries, archives, and educational institutions contribute to a new economy of ideas in the Commonwealth. We invite you to join together with us to share best practices in advocacy, economic and community development, education, and cultural tourism."

    "In addition, under the Federation's umbrella is another group. "APACHS, the Alliance for Pennsylvania County Historical Societies, is a network of the Commonwealth’s sixty-seven official county historical societies. Despite a broad range of size and scope of services, county historical societies share common goals and face similar challenges. APACHS creates opportunities to learn from one another, build rapport among colleagues, and provide mutual support. Meetings are held at various locations throughout the year as well as at the statewide museum conference."

Added June 23:

  • Martha B. Katz-Hyman: "New Jersey has the New Jersey State History Fair each year in May at Washington Crossing State Park. I've been, and it's a great gathering of local and state historical societies, living history presentations, and demonstrations of all kinds."
  • Vince Murray: "The Arizona History Convention has been active for over fifty years."

If your are connected to any of these as an organizer, volunteer, or participant, or if you know of another similiar event, please add it to The History List and add a comment below so that others learn about it.

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