Grant-funded project giving residents skills to research local history, record own stories

  • The “Wall of Curiosities” is the beginning of a list of questions residents are interested in answering about the history of Greenfield. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

  • The 25 historic postcards hanging at The LAVA Center were a jumping-off point for the ECHO Greenfield project, which aims to offer residents a digital platform for creatively expressing the history of Greenfield. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

  • Contributed Image Contributed Image

Staff Writer
Published: 7/14/2021 3:43:29 PM

GREENFIELD — With the help of the community, The LAVA Center is launching a digital collection of essays, stories, poems, artwork, photography and short videos, all aimed at creatively documenting the history of Greenfield.

ECHO Greenfield (Exploring and Creating Histories Ourselves), which is made possible in part by a $5,000 Mass Humanities grant, aims to engage the community in learning how to research local history and how to creatively record their own stories.

“We were particularly interested in the histories that we’re not already all familiar with,” said Jan Maher, a retired educator and member of the project team. “Especially the people whose stories are lost because when they were here — in the past or now — they didn’t think of themselves as having historical import, or the people around them did not consider them important.”

Maher explained that the concept for ECHO Greenfield began when Vanessa Query, another LAVA Center team member, asked if she could buy a set of 25 historical postcards to be displayed somewhere in the Main Street studio.

“That was where they sat for a bit, and then (Mass Humanities) came out with a request for proposals for visual capacity grants they were making,” Maher said. “We started to brainstorm, and thought, well, the postcards would provide a bit of a springboard to a local history project that could be digitized. It would allow us to develop a website that would initially be focused on resources and how to do local history.”

The project includes 10 interactive training sessions that will provide interested community members an opportunity to learn about ECHO Greenfield, as well how they can begin to develop their own questions about the history of Greenfield and, eventually, how they can begin to find answers to those questions.

“With any luck, that will sort of pick up by mid-August, and we’ll be a group of people researching and looking at different questions we’re all answering together that can be put on this website,” said Project Director Lindy Whiton.

Recently, the team has had guest speaker Carol Aleman, who did her own historical research into the history of the Black population in Greenfield, having married into a Black family in the 1970s. Maher said Aleman shared artifacts from her former husband’s family, including report cards, his high school diploma and objects he brought home from his service in the military.

“It was interesting, because she passed them all around, so we read them one at a time … and we started to get a real sense of this person who lived here,” Whiton said. “It demonstrated what we’re trying to do, in a really nice way.”

Prior to Aleman, Joe Graveline and David Brule of the Nolumbeka Project spoke to a project they’re working on about the history of King Philip’s War between Native Americans and colonists.

“The project they’re working on is not attempting to meld those (voices) into one official, one-size-fits-all history, but is insisting on having all of those separate voices fully recorded from their own standpoint,” Maher said. “Because that’s ... getting closer to the truth than any other version could possibly be.”

Maher said one community the project has yet to hear from, but is interested in hearing from, is teachers.

“We’d like to get some ideas for teaching history to the kids,” she said.

As the trainings progress and material is organized for the website — similarly to how the postcards have already been added — the final “products” of people’s research will be digitized to be shared online.

Maher said the website would not only be a place for examples of documenting local history; it will be a repository of resources for people who are interested in doing their own research.

“Our historical truths are complicated, and that’s what’s wonderful about them,” she said. “The more we know about the individual tributaries that flow into that common river, the richer our experience of ourselves and our community is.”

Maher said that ultimately, she hopes ECHO Greenfield inspires people’s curiosity about Greenfield, whether it’s about the name of the street they live on or who lived in their house before them, or “just capturing the story of someone in their family who has an amazing story to tell.”

“Or perhaps,” she said, “it’s just telling their own story because they have something important to share.”

Upcoming ECHO Greenfield training sessions, which are all held at The LAVA Center at 324 Main St., include:

■July 17, 1 to 2:30 p.m. — Spaces and Places That Hold (and Forget) History

■July 21, 6 to 7:30 p.m. — Documents: Primary and Secondary Sources

■July 24, 1 to 2:30 p.m. — People as Primary and Secondary Sources

■July 28, 6 to 7:30 p.m. — Hands-on Activity: Telling Stories Visually

■July 31, 1 to 2:30 p.m. — Interactive Exploration: Telling Stories with Words

For more information about ECHO Greenfield, visit To get involved, contact Whiton at

Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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