Written by Justine Rothbart
You all know about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. Countless books have been written about these iconic figures. Stories about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree or Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin have been told thousands of times. But what about the lesser known people? What about their stories? I am studying Cultural Heritage Information Management so I am able to tell their stories.
The summer after I graduated from the University of Mary Washington (Fredericksburg, VA) with a B.A. in Historic Preservation, I had the opportunity to work on a project digitizing oral histories at Prince William Forest Park. You ask, where is Prince William Forest Park? Exactly. Many people have not heard of it. I have driven countless times to Fredericksburg on I-95 without ever setting a foot in this park until the summer of 2011. Prince William Forest Park is located just off of I-95 in Triangle, VA right near the Marine Corps Base at Quantico.
My project that summer was to digitize forty cassette tapes which contained oral history interviews about the history of the park. I began the summer not knowing a thing about the history of the park. But by the end, I became to feel as if I knew the people being interviewed and felt as if it was my responsibility to have their voice heard.
By listening to their stories, I learned about the families who once lived here, the Civilian Conservation Corps building cabins, the Office of Strategic Services taking over the park during WWII, and the children who spent their summers at camp in this park. Everyone had a story. This story might have been seeing Sasquatch in the park or it could have been singing summer camp songs around the campfire. Whatever the stories were, they were important to that person.
How can studying Cultural Heritage Information Management help get these stories heard? In our program we learn how to preserve and provide access to collections in a library, archives, or museum setting. At Prince William Forest Park, I migrated the oral history interviews from a cassette tape to a digital file. The purpose is to both preserve the information and provide access. With the oral histories in digital format, you no longer have to visit the park to hear their stories. It is now possible for everyone to hear the stories of Prince William Forest Park before and after visiting.
Here are four videos I created using photos from the collection and the digitized oral histories:
I hope this post makes you interested in learning about the lesser known stories. And hey, the next time you’re driving down I-95 complaining about the traffic, think about taking a detour to Prince William Forest Park. Maybe you’ll be able to create some stories of your own.
Click here to visit the Prince William Forest Park website.
Click here to listen to more oral histories.