historic value of common people
By CAROLYNN BRIGHT - IR
Staff Writer - 03/31/04
Photo by Jon Ebelt IR Staff - The Librarian of Congress James
Billington, left, addresses about 100 students during a ceremony at
the Myrna Loy Center honoring those involved in the Montana Heritage
Project. Also pictured are Arnie Olsen, middle, of the Montana
Historical Society and Liz Claiborne, who helped start the project.
of Congress James Billington has spent more than a decade absorbing the
words of presidents and appreciating the wisdom of poets.
But he says
it's the stories of ordinary men and women that make the country's
historic record, of which he is the custodian, complete.
"History is not just made by public figures," Billington told an audience
of high school students attending the Montana Heritage Project Youth
Heritage Festival at the Myrna Loy Center Tuesday. "It is the whole
texture of society that makes it great and gives it hope."
The students gathered in Helena this week to present the results of
several months' worth of labor under the tutelage of historians and other
educators to research aspects of the history of their communities.
The products of their efforts — sponsored through the Montana Heritage
Project by Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg — will become part of the
collections of both the Montana Historical Society and the Library of
students from communities from Bigfork to Roundup participated in the
program this year, tackling issues ranging from the impacts of the
Milwaukee Railroad in Harlowton to "What it Means to Be a Montanan" in
Students at Broadwater High School used quilts and quilting to investigate
the broader history of their community, and created a play based on their
A contingent of students from White Sulphur Springs researched the Meagher
County Poor Farm that operated from 1896 into the 1950s, conducting
interviews with former residents and reviewing historical documents.
"As scholars of Montana's past and your community's character right now,
you are linked with the people you have studied," Billington said. "In
those linkages live the real secrets of community."
Musician Phillip Aaberg — who was the focus of Chester students' research
into how a place shapes people — said Tuesday that he hopes the time the
students spent acquainting themselves with their communities as part of
the project translates to an investment in their hometowns.
The 2002 Grammy nominee said it took several years of living in busy San
Francisco for him to acknowledge the advantages of living in Chester, and
to make the decision to return to his rural roots.
"My hope is that some of (the students) will come back, realize what it is
they had," Aaberg said.
Seventeen-year-old Morgan Cawdrey, a junior at Bigfork High School, said
his participation in the Montana Youth Heritage Project gave him an
opportunity to showcase his talents as he worked with his classmates to
investigate the issue of war and peace and how it affected his community.
While Cawdrey hopes his efforts will help pave the way for a future that
might take him away from his community, he said he was touched by the
stories of the veterans interviewed as part of the project, and the
reactions of the men and women who attended a student-organized assembly
honoring the veterans.
"It was neat to see the veterans show up to the assembly," he said. "It
was a good experience."
The Montana Heritage Project was established in 1995.
Article appeared in the Helena Independent Record on March 31,
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