Award-winning content: PVMA website recognized for ‘innovative achievements’ in preserving history

  • Memorial Hall Museum Curator Suzanne Flynt holds copies of pictures of Edward and Orra Hitchcock. Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s website, which outlines important people involved in discoveries and research, including the Hitchcocks, was awarded the 2018 Award of Merit. RECORDER FILE/Paul Franz

  • A screengrab from the now award-winning website by Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, “Impressions of a Lost World.” Contributed photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/1/2018 8:57:06 PM

DEERFIELD — If you know a little bit of the history surrounding fossils and dinosaurs in the Connecticut River Valley, you might have the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association to thank.

PVMA has just won a national award for its “Impressions of a Lost World,” a web-based educational effort about local dinosaur history and how it was uncovered in the Pioneer Valley.

This 2018 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History is a Leadership in History Award that publicly recognizes “superior and innovative achievements in the collection, preservation, and interpretation of state and local history,” according to the association.

While the award does not involve money, it helps PVMA gain recognition that can lead to additional funding for more programs and projects for the nonprofit.

The dinosaur history project took place through a series of large and small community events, a traveling “Jurassic Roadshow,” an interactive website and museum displays.

The events have helped bring knowledge to people who may not have otherwise been able to learn about fossils in the Connecticut River Valley.

The first Jurassic Roadshow took place in August 2010 at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. Experienced paleontologists from the region came to speak, and visitors brought fossils from home to see if experts could identify them. This event was such a success that Jurassic Roadshow officially took to the road in following years.

Since then, “Impressions From a Lost World” has held over 50 events throughout western Massachusetts.

Website

One of PVMA’s greatest achievements is its “Impressions of a Lost World” interactive website, which was launched in June 2017 and designed by Juliet Jacobson.

“Juliet’s design is really cool,” Doyle said. “The way everything is linked and integrated ... it’s very cohesive in a nice way. It fits so well with this kind of subject matter.”

Overall, the site explores the mid-19th century discovery of three-toed footprints found in the Connecticut River Valley which were later understood to be dinosaur tracks. It outlines important people involved in discoveries and research, including Edward Hitchcock — one of the most prominent scientists in the 19th century — and his wife, Orra Hitchcock, who created countless botanical watercolors, landscape drawings and geological and paleontological drawings for her husband’s use.

It also includes pictures and scans of important artifacts and documents, slideshows, videos, activities, pictures of “then and now” scenes around the region and more.

Additionally, the site includes an interactive multi-layer map that includes local places to visit, areas where fossils have been found and historical sites.

“I think the website is written so that a lot of different people can use it,” Doyle said, commenting on the amount of helpful links and relatively easy language.

The site not only highlights local history, but the different ways of thinking that led researchers to come to conclusions, poetry, photography and the important participation of some who were not seen as important at the time — like women.

Neumann and Doyle believe the site could be used to help homeschoolers better understand local history, too.

Behind the scenes: Sarah Doyle

Doyle was the project coordinator, content editor and writing director for the project. Her interest in history intertwining with science began in 1989 when she was living in Cambridge and taking some history classes.

“I just kind of fell into it,” she said.

She was completing research for a paper and happened to come across the information that there were dinosaur tracks in the Connecticut River Valley.

“I just was fascinated by it,” she said. She had lived in western Massachusetts in the 1970s but did not previously know about the rich ancient history heavily distributed throughout the region.

Life got busy, and Doyle set aside the research for a while before moving back to western Massachusetts in 2004. Then, the opportunity arose for her to begin researching local dinosaur tracks.

“I like dinosaurs, but I’m not a dinosaur fanatic and I’m not a paleontologist,” she clarified. “What I really love about it, is that it’s a history in thinking and how people figured out the world around them.”

Doyle is a strong believer in integrating history into science and wants to encourage educators to do so. In September, PVMA will give a presentation for K-12 teachers at UMass.

A goal for the project in the future is to reach more science and history teachers, says Doyle. She believes in the importance of educating students and teachers about the region’s rich ancient history and how it often straddles science and history.

In the project going forward, Doyle says that the Jurassic Roadshow will continue. Overall, she hopes for the program to get people across the country involved and excited about this fascinating history.

She also expressed her gratitude for those who volunteered for Jurassic Roadshow.

“We’ve got some very knowledgeable people around here who have been so generous with their time — donating fossils and just showing them to people and talking about them,” she said. “Amateurs are really important. I would like to give a little credit to them because they’ve done so much.”

As for the award, Doyle says she is excited.

“It’s gratifying,” she said. “It was a team effort.”

Behind the scenes: Timothy Neumann

PVMA Executive Director Timothy Neumann was the project director of “Impressions for a Lost World” but gives Doyle much of the credit.

The two began chatting in 2007 and the project took off the next year. Neumann says it all began with a “small grant” from the Mass. Cultural Council that ended its funding mid-last year.

He estimates that PVMA received nearly $1 million in grants that were spread throughout a decade.

PVMA previously received awards for its “Raid on Deerfield: the Many Stories of 1704” website and its Teacher’s Center, and Neumann believes these past awards have helped the museum build credibility.

Neumann says one of the main missions of the project is to tell the stories of lesser-known people who had an integral part in shaping and studying local history.

As far as the award goes, Neumann is thrilled to have everyone’s collaborative and individual work recognized in such an honorable way.

“(The project) is my baby — our baby,” Neumann said as he motioned to Doyle. “The award is validation by (our) peers.”

Reach Christie Wisniewski at: cwisniewski@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.




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