Learning Ahead: Independence Day

American History & Holiday: The Revolutionary War & Independence Day

Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield

The call for revolution in the late 18th-century echoed throughout Massachusetts as the early American colonists sought independence from the British. Massachusetts history is deeply rooted in the history of the American Revolutionary War, from acts of rebellion to the many battles fought on this soil.  Every 4th of July, communities commemorate the patriots of the North American colonies that spoke out against a government that they felt did not truly represent them and their interests. Lasting close to a decade (1775-1783), the American Revolution shaped our country’s early identity as a nation.  The places, spaces, and communities that made up the Massachusetts colony played a major role in the early American cause for Independence.

While visitors to Eastern Massachusetts can walk the Freedom Trail, learn about the Boston Tea Party, or tour the home of Paul Revere, folks in Western Massachusetts can explore the history of the American Revolution by witnessing historical reenactments of major battles, visit memorials to the cause’s courageous soldiers, and commemorate the war for American Independence through community celebrations such as fireworks, parades, annual events, and local resources. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Ahead: Women’s History Month

Local Women & Local History:
Understanding New England Women’s Lives from the Past

Western Massachusetts Changemakers

Juanita Nelson (1923-2015) was an American social activist who made her home in Deerfield, MA.

Western Massachusetts is home to so many women changemakers who have dedicated their lives to enacting social change through the arts, critical inquiry, and learning. Still today, there are many women poets, writers, activists, artists, teachers, educators, and scientists that reside in Western Massachusetts and continue to work towards positive social change that fosters female empowerment, diversity and making women’s voices even louder in our globalized society and economy. Here, only a few women from history will be explored, however note the incredible number of talented women today in Western Massachusetts that continue to demonstrate the importance of women’s rights. March is Women’s History Month, a national observation that honors and pays tributes to those women who dedicated their lives to social justice, the environment, education, and  positive change for society. Their fortitude and perseverance as pioneers is honored during the month of March. Read the rest of this entry »

Maple Syrup: Native American Traditions & New England History

New England Traditions: Maple Sugaring & Local History

Before the arrival of European settlers, Native Americans were already tapping sugar maples and processing maple sugar in the early 1600’s. Early Native Americans would move their whole families to a location in the woods where there were plenty of sugar maples to tap. They would set up a sugar camp and create V-shaped slashes in the tree as a method to collect the sap. Since they did not yet have metal pots for boiling, the collected sap was placed in a wooden vessel and hot rocks were added to help boil away the water to create a syrupy consistency.

The Native Americans in New England used maple syrup to make grain sugar, cake sugar, and wax sugar. Grain sugar is similar to what we now refer to as brown sugar. Cake sugar was in block form, shaped by pouring the syrup into molds and allowing it to harden. This made it easier to store. Finally, wax sugar is what we know as sugar on snow. It’s the pouring of maple syrup heated to high temperatures on the snow to create a taffy-like consistency to enjoy.  Read the rest of this entry »

Living History Museums During Sugar Season

Living History Museums During Sugar Season

In Western Massachusetts, living history museums celebrate local history and early American living through maple sugaring demonstrations that recall the techniques, foods, and traditions connected to the sugaring season. Families can experience what maple sugaring was like in the days of old New England at living history events where museum interpreters dressed in period clothing demonstrate life and skills from Colonial New England, including: tree tapping, sumac spile making, sap boiling over a fire, open hearth cooking, and other early American skills.  Read the rest of this entry »

Explore History & Culture through Food

Explore History & Culture through Food

One way to get some inspiration for your next winter culinary adventure is to visit living history museums such as Historic Deerfield and Old Sturbridge Village.  Both institutions offer hearth cooking classes.  Additionally, a stroll through Old Sturbridge Village during the winter time offers you a peek into New Englanders’ daily living routines and food preparations from the 19th century.  Visitors can see firsthand what types of recipes 19th century Americans were preparing during the cold months of the year.

Sample dishes that were prepared during the winter season include chicken pie, broiled sweet potatoes, stewed beets, soup, hot cakes, Indian Pudding, and breads.  Be sure to remember hot chocolate and coffee too! 19th century New Englanders roasted and brewed coffee at home. It was a season for lots of baking, hearty soups/stews and meats.

Don’t forget to revisit Lydia Maria Child’s The American Frugal Housewife. Her section on vegetables explains how vegetables should be stored during different seasons.  To read an excerpt, download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts.

In addition to learning about history through the lens of food, food can also be a great catalyst for learning about other cultures. Read the rest of this entry »

Presidents’ Day as a Reflection on the Four Freedoms and Democracy

The Four Freedoms

Presidents’ Day celebrates the life and work of George Washington. It comes every year on the third Monday of February. Although Washington’s birthday is on February 22nd, the holiday is celebrated on the third Monday to allow us to enjoy a three day weekend.

Presidents’ Day is also a chance to explore the tenets of democracy and civil freedoms. As mentioned in the November/December Seasons edition of Learning Ahead, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, as outlined in his 1941 State of the Union address, emphasize the importance of the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Remember that you can visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge to see Rockwell’s four paintings based on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech from 1941.

Throughout the January/February Seasons edition of Learning Ahead, the power of voice has been a strong and present theme. Democracy, as FDR emphasizes in his four freedoms speech, rests on the freedom of speech, the ability to voice your thoughts and speak your mind. At the heart of the freedom of speech and expression is the freedom to use words, story, narrative and voice to share ideas. Some of the greatest literature has been used as a vehicle to voice an ethical philosophy or to act on behalf of social justice. The shared dialogue between author and reader through the written word also depends on the freedom to read. Literature and the power of voice is a shared exchange in which ideas are spoken or written to be heard and read.

[Image credit: Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755–1828), George Washington, 1796–1803. Oil on canvas. The Clark, 1955.16]


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

Local Presidential History: Calvin Coolidge

Local Presidential History

“The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum collects, preserves and makes available for research materials documenting the public and private life of Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933). Manuscripts, artifacts and exhibits cover his political career from Northampton to Boston to the White House and his post-presidential years as a Northampton resident.”

Ever cross the bridge over the Connecticut River that connects Hadley to Northampton? That’s the Calvin Coolidge Bridge named after President Calvin Coolidge who attended Amherst College and later moved to Northampton.  The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum at the Forbes Library is also named for the U.S.’s 30th President.   This museum houses a collection of materials related to Calvin Coolidge’s life and are available to historians and researchers interested in the public and private life of Calvin Coolidge.

The Coolidge Collection was established in 1920 when Calvin Coolidge was Governor of Massachusetts. Coolidge began giving documents and memorabilia to the Forbes Library. This collection also includes two portraits, one of Coolidge and one of his wife Grace created by painter Howard Chandler Christy. The museum is available during the library’s open hours and by appointment.  Read the rest of this entry »

Winter Festivals: Living Seasonally through History, Culture & Art

Winter Festivals: Living Seasonally through History, Culture & Art

In 19th century New England, the winter season was a time for gathering and socializing with family, friends, and neighbors. As the fields lay dormant in anticipation off the agricultural season, rural New Englanders used the cold season as a time for meeting friends, having conversations, and visiting with one another. Before the telephone or telegraph, visiting a friend’s home was a way to share news, gossip, and stories.

Besides visiting a friend’s home, other common gathering places were the general store, taverns, and town meetings. Home visits, encounters with neighbors and local businesses allowed New Englanders to strengthen their community ties and reconnect during a time of year that was generally quiet.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Winter Social Calls

Think about this:

What are the tools used in sculpting ice? What are the challenges ice sculptors face that other sculptors of different media don’t?

How would families and neighbors gather in the winter before the invention of automobiles and highways? How did the inability to travel far distances impact communities and relationships?

How do winter festivals gather communities together? What types of activities do they host in order to foster connection and togetherness during the colder months?


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

The Power of Voice: Celebrating African American History

Celebrating African American History through Poetry

“Your silence will not protect you.” – Audre Lorde

February is National African American History Month in the United States. It is a time to honor the work, achievements and contributions of African Americans. It is also a time to remember the struggle for civil rights and the importance of equality, civic action, social justice and solidarity.

In our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts we discussed the power of voice and words as illustrated by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Continuing this exploration of the inspirational power of words, let’s take a closer look at two poems by African Americans that illustrate the power of voice and words: Langston Hughes and Audre Lorde.  Read the rest of this entry »

African American History in Western Massachusetts

Harriet Tubman & The Underground Railroad

In addition to your literary explorations of African Americans’ creativity and contributions to U.S. literature, explore African American History Month in Western Massachusetts through the different cultural organizations and institutions that educate the public on the history of African Americans in our region.

One of the most significant pieces of New England history is the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes, stops, and places throughout 14 northern states that were established to help escaped slaves to freedom.

Read the rest of this entry »

Local Learning Resources on The Underground Railroad

Sojourner Truth: Connecting Local Places with National History

The David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History & Underground Railroad in Florence, MA, features The Ross Homestead which is on both the National  Register of Historic Places and the National Park Services Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The center offers walking tours of Florence including the African-American history trail, Sojourner Truth’s house, and other abolitionist sites. Additionally, there is a memorial statue of Sojourner Truth in Florence, MA, to honor her life and work. A former slave, abolitionist and social activist, Truth lived in Florence from 1843-1856. The Sojourner Truth Memorial organization offers a free map on their website of a self-guided walking tour of Sojourner’s house and historic sites. Read more in our post, Sojourner Truth Memorial: American and Western MA History. Read the rest of this entry »

Ice Harvesting: Local History, Literature & Culture

Local Living History & Ice Harvesting

Filling the Ice House (1934) Harry Gottlieb. Oil on canvas, 40 3/8 x 60 3/8 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.19

Historically, living without refrigerators in New England required strategies for prolonged food storage and preservation. In the November/December Seasons edition of Learning Ahead, we looked at different forms of food preservation such as curing, salting, and canning. Early New Englanders didn’t have the luxury of refrigerators, but they did harvest ice from frozen lakes and ponds in order to keep food stored without spoiling. The frozen chunks of ice harvested were kept insulated by materials such as sawdust in a dark, cool place so that the ice would last beyond the winter months.  Read the rest of this entry »

Museum Explorations of Christmas

Museum Explorations of Christmas

Local museums are an experiential way to explore the history of New England holiday traditions and how our present customs were influenced by the cultural practices of the past. Whether you’re interested in learning about food traditions from the past, historic decorations or customary festivities, museum exhibitions and demonstrations provide us with tangible examples in their exploration of history and culture. Specifically, living history museums and events are engaging ways to witness firsthand how holidays were celebrated in early New England. Hands-on activities and demonstrations create unique experiences for visitors to learn about different holiday festivities. It’s also a great opportunity to see how the season was celebrated in a non-commercial way; many decorations and gifts were handmade!

Download our Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to discover winter holiday traditions being celebrated across the region.  Read the rest of this entry »

Exploring Military History through Music

Exploring Military History through Music

The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps in the armed forces is a part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). It is stationed at Fort Myer, VA. This unique military unit performs in uniforms based on those worn by the musicians of General George Washington’s Continental Army.  Uniforms from this time included black tricorn hats, white wigs, waistcoats, colonial coveralls, and distinct red regimental coats.

The corps features two historical music ensembles.  Watch this video and listen to The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps play historical music:

This interesting regiment recalls New England’s historic past through its music. As mentioned earlier, our state and region were a central part of the United States’ early formation. Massachusetts was one of the original colonies and many of the patriots that participated in the Revolutionary War were from Massachusetts. The music that the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps plays is the same music that once inspired the patriots serving in the Revolutionary War. As you participate in Veterans Day ceremonies, take a moment to listen to this early music and remember those who served this nation.

Learn more about this interesting regiment at www.fifeanddrum.army.mil.

[Photo Credit: Sienna Wildfield]


Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Nov/Dec), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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Literary Lens: Walt Whitman and the Civil War

Literary Lens: Walt Whitman and the Civil War

During the American Civil War, poet Walt Whitman spent time visiting hospitalized soldiers wounded on the battlefield.  He traveled with soldiers from one hospital to another and visited wounded soldiers daily.  As the war continued, Whitman resolved to stay in the Union and serve the wounded as they recovered from their injuries.  It was a critical moment in his life and greatly affected his poetry later.

Lifelong learners and self-directed teens are invited to read Whitman’s The Wound-Dresser along with Bart Wolffe’s reading of the same in this video file:

Read the rest of this entry »

Historical Re-Enactments Bring History to Life

Historical Re-Enactments Bring History to Life

Reenactment at Historic Deerfield.

Living history programs and events in Western Massachusetts happen all year round and include local historical re-enactors portraying the life of New Englanders centuries ago at encampments and school programs.  They often showcase the skills and activities of people during war time periods such as the American Revolutionary War or the Civil War.  Participating historians help to preserve the heritage of our region’s past and the study of American history.  In addition to encampments, some units engage in battle reenactments which are rehearsed recreations of actual battles.  Read the rest of this entry »

Preserving the Harvest: Local Traditions, History & Culture

Preserving the Harvest: Local Traditions, History & Culture

Pumpkin Harvest in Sunderland, MA. (Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield)

It’s that time of year when the fall harvest begins to wane and a golden light fills the landscape, shining on the incredible bounty that is about to enter our homes and be served on our tables.

Nothing marks New England more than its seasonality.  A sudden chill in the air and the warming spices of pumpkin pie and hot apple cider take over our hearths and palate as we prepare to embrace the beginning of winter – only just around the corner now!

Traditionally, the harvest season was seen as a way to prepare for the oncoming colder months when the land hibernates and the growing season becomes dormant.  This is the season of food – a time to gather, prepare, preserve and share in many ways.  Whether it’s the gathering of the harvests or the gathering of family and friends to eat together, this season is about self-reliance, community, fortitude, and the preservation of cultural heritage through the culinary arts. It’s a beautiful season, one to relish and enjoy in the spirit of friendship, sharing of abundance, and preserving and processing our crops and animal food sources.


Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Nov/Dec), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

 

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History of Salted Cod and Contemporary Meat Purveyors

History of Salted Cod and Contemporary Meat Purveyors

In New England, a common cured meat was dried and salted cod.

Isn’t it amazing how cultures have so much in common through the universal need of food?  Like the prosciutto in Italy, the cod in New England was traditionally dried and salted.  When the cod was ready to be used, the fish was placed in cold water to be rehydrated with the water being changed every few days.  Read the rest of this entry »

Rediscovering the Past: Local History & Hauntings

Local Hauntings

Hauntings at the Deerfield Inn? Some claim to have seen a ghost of Cora Carlisle, the Inn’s owner from the 1930’s. Others say to have witnessed a ghost known as Hershel in Room 148.

Hauntings and history go together because ghosts are often traditionally seen as apparitions that once lived and therefore represent a past not entirely forgotten because it crosses realms and lingers in the present and future.

Many historic tales of hauntings are passed down through oral histories of places.  Through word of mouth, legends and ghost stories are passed down from generation to generation and become a part of a town or city’s character. Curious to explore some of Western Massachusetts’ haunted places? Head out and visit some of these intriguing places:

Deerfield Inn at Historic in Deerfield
Some claim to have seen a ghost of Cora Carlisle, the Inn’s owner from the 1930’s. Others say to have witnessed a ghost known as Hershel in Room 148.

Theodores’ Tavern in Springfield
Investigators from the SciFi Channel’s Ghost Hunters came to Theodores’ Tavern to see whether the historic building was haunted or not. Many say they have heard whispering, balls rolling, footsteps and apparitions!

Smith College’s Sessions House in Northampton
There’s a Revolutionary War legend that Lucy Hunt died of a broken heart after being separated from the man she loved, General Burgoyne. The Sessions House was the 18th century home of Lucy’s family. The two lovers used to secretly escape to a hidden staircase in the house to spend time together.  It is said that Lucy Hunt still haunts that staircase today!

Read the rest of this entry »

Ancestors Come Alive in Local Cemeteries and Tours

Cemetery Tours

An experiential way to learn about local history while satisfying an intrigue for ghost stories is to participate in a guided cemetery tour. With some local cemeteries pushing their 400th birthday, Western Massachusetts’ burying grounds are community-based resources filled with primary source artifacts that support an interest in history.

Through facilitated tours, often hosted by local historical societies, self-directed teens and lifelong learners can explore local graveyards together in order to deepen their understanding of community history.

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Featured Events: Graveyards & Cemetery Tours

Graveyard Tours Support an Interest in Local History and Cultural Studies

Graveyards are filled with stone markers that chronicle a community’s history. Everything from the names of buried people to the style of the stone can tell visitors something about the time period to which a headstone dates back. Photographing and sketching gravestones is a creative way to explore local cemeteries, alongside a self-guided or facilitated tour. Here are three featured guided tours for this haunted season: Read the rest of this entry »

Featured Events: Haunted Historic Buildings & Tours

Haunted Building and Tours Support Curiosity, and Learning!

Hunt for ghosts at Ventfort Hall in Lenox, MA.

Towns across Western Massachusetts have tales of haunted historic buildings, ghost sightings, and supernatural suspicions that lead people to wonder whether a place is haunted or not.  Haunted tales are sometimes rooted in actual events or historical accounts from people of the past, and can add to the mystery and curiosity of a place. In the Berkshires this haunted season, three events support learning about local history through the lens of hauntings and paranormal tours: Read the rest of this entry »

From 19th Century Brooms to Colonial Doorways

From 19th Century Brooms to Colonial Doorways

Broom corn drying

This year at Hatfield’s Fall Festival (Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016), you can learn about two livelihoods: How local people grew broom corn and made brooms to sell in the early to mid-1800s, and how local carpenters (or joiners) likely carved their fancy Connecticut Valley doorways in the mid-1700s. The Hatfield Historical Society, which sponsors and puts on the event, hopes to inspire others to join these artisans in learning about industries from our past by recreating them today.  Read the rest of this entry »

One-Room Schoolhouse: Connecting to Place through Literature & History

One-Room Schoolhouse: Connecting to Place through Literature & History

In the 1800’s, the traditional academic year was quite different in New England. An element of seasonality was incorporated into how the school term was determined. In rural areas, children who helped out on the family farm attended school during the winter and stayed home to assist with the harvest during the summer and fall. In a one-room schoolhouse, grade levels were often mixed and one teacher was responsible for all of the students’ learning. A man or woman, the school teacher assigned tasks to each student depending on the pupil’s age, grade, and level of advancement.

19th century poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, wrote a poem that describes well a typical country schoolhouse in New England. A Quaker, abolitionist, and native of Haverhill, MA, Whittier is part of a group of poets also known as the schoolroom poets. Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. were considered the first American poets to bring forth an authentic American voice and rival the British poets. They were referred to as the Schoolroom Poets, Fireside Poets, or Household Poets given their popularity and widely read works. One of Whittier’s poems, “In School-days,” read here in this video by Tom O’Bedlam, describes the memory of an old man as he recalls a fellow student and the life lesson she taught him.

When listening to (or reading) this poem, notice the description of the schoolhouse: the warped floors, the schoolmaster’s worn desk, and the battered seats of the students – all characteristics that point to a typical 19th century schoolhouse in New England.  Read the rest of this entry »

Community-Based Education Resources: One-Room Schoolhouses

Community-Based Education Resources: One-Room Schoolhouses in Western MA

Here in Western Massachusetts there are many preserved historic school houses people can visit to learn more about schooling and education before the 20th century.

Print out and take John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “In School-Days,” with you to read as you explore these six historic schoolhouses in Western Massachusetts:  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning through the Lens of One-Room Schoolhouses: Featured Events

History of Education: A Lesson

Guided Tours for Learning about Architecture & Local History in Western MA

Guided Tours for Learning about Architecture and Local History

Take a tour of the historic Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield during the annual Housatonic Heritage Walks on Sept 24. Hear the story and history behind this historic theatre and movie house from the guilded age.

Buildings are designed with both form and function in mind, therefore, architecture can teach us about artistic, as well as practical trends. Changes in architectural styles of homes can reflect changes in lifestyle. Similarly, some historic structures fall out of use due to changes in economics and industrial trends. Architectural learning can also support placemaking as individuals gain a greater understanding of how their communities have developed over time. Several upcoming events in September and October will provide opportunities for individuals and families to learn about history through the lens of architectural structures.  Read the rest of this entry »

History Through the Lens of “What If?”

AlternateHistoryHub Promotes Consideration of Context in Studies of Human History

Every event in our own lives directly influences the next – and similarly, everything that we do as a country, a culture, and as humans influences all that comes after. Every major historical event – from battles and assassinations to natural disasters and deadly diseases – has shaped the events that follow it, making our timeline of human history not just a series of events, but a gradual and (so far) endless chain reaction of events.

So what if some of the major events that are part of our human timeline had never happened, or had happened differently?

Read the rest of this entry »

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