Local History Research in and by the Community

Over the past year, members of the Ambrose University history program have been working on a local history research project: “Placing Memory in High River’s Built Environment.” The project explores the connections between physical places and the sense of community identity and collective memory in the town of High River. It’s been a great opportunity for our Ambrose history students to get hands-on experience with real world research, as they have traveled to High River to interview members of the community. Now, back at Ambrose, they’re working together to interpret the interview transcripts, looking for historical themes and key places in High River.

Ambrose history students interviewing a local volunteer at the Museum of the Highwood, High River.
Ambrose history students interviewing a local volunteer in High River.

One of the exciting parts of the project has been working with our partners. The Museum of the Highwood has supported us with background information, archival photos, and other research resources. The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation has funded our project to the tune of almost $12000. And the High River Library has given us meeting space and promotion in the community. Once we’re done the project, we’ll deposit the digital audio files of our oral history interviews with the Museum of the Highwood, to replenish their supply of oral history material that was lost in the flood of 2013.

An important component of the “Placing Memory” project is our community-based participatory research methodology. What that means is that at every step of the project, members of the High River community are involved. Largely, this happens through a project steering committee, which meets once a month. In the beginning stages, the steering committee helped identify and recruit community members to be interviewed about their memories of life in High River, and their connection to important places in the town. To that end, the steering committee worked to identify key sites of memory–places which they judged to be historically important gathering places. Once an initial group of interviews had been done by Ambrose University history students and volunteer interviewers from High River, the steering committee has been helping us interpret the interviews, confirming insights we’re finding about collective memory and community identity in High River.

The old High River post office, on the corner of 3rd Ave. SW and Macleod Trail.
The old High River post office, on the corner of 3rd Ave. SW and Macleod Trail. Photo courtesy of the Museum of the Highwood.

As the “Placing Memory” project continues, Ambrose history students will continue to interact with the project steering committee about the results of their findings. Meanwhile, more volunteers from High River have been trained to conduct oral history interviews and are now hearing more stories from more members of the community. This process of interviewing and interpreting will continue for another six months or so. Later on, the Museum of the Highwood plans to develop an exhibition based on the “Placing Memory” project, while the Ambrose history department will create an online exhibition, featuring material from the interviews and other research we’ve done in High River over the past year.

All in all, we see projects like “Placing Memory in High River’s Built Environment” as win-win enterprises. They provide the Ambrose history program with an ideal teaching laboratory, and the opportunity to involve undergraduates in real-world research. Faculty members also gain opportunities for research and writing. Just as importantly, however, they enable the Ambrose history program to serve other groups (museums, historical sites, communities) and enrich the history of our province.

 

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