A Historical Society’s Variety of Roles in the Community


A Historical Society’s Variety of Roles in the Community
By: Kathleen Black, HSBC Intern., 2014

Historical societies, such as the Historical Society of Baltimore County, play a unique role in both preserving and promoting local history.  As a public history institution, with its mission to interpret Baltimore County’s history for the edification of the community, the society must embrace all aspects of local history.  Unlike museums that primarily focus on education through objects, or historic preservation groups whose aim is directed to buildings and structures, or an archive focused solely on documentary history, the historical society’s mission requires it to engage all these diverse fields and more – architectural preservation, museum collections, research library and archives, genealogy, publishing, tours and events, as well as speakers series.

To fulfill its mission, the society continually produces lectures, exhibits, workshops, educational publications, and historical tours for its members and the Baltimore County community.  The society has also taken on the task of preserving more than 9,000 museum artifacts, 8,000 historic photographs, 4,000 library resources, 500 historic maps and atlases, and hundreds of archival collections  To strengthen its commitment to education, the society has provided internships to local area college students.  These students have contributed to producing a wide range of projects that bridge an array of fields such as library and archive research and management, writing, editing, publishing, and museum collections and management.

Rachel Martin, American Studies major at Towson University, has worked extensively this spring with the society’s historic photograph collection, strengthening research and library archives.  Martin has digitalized photographs and has performed data entry into the PastPerfect Museum software database.  With this information now recorded digitally, the society can easily access information to include in publications for the community.  Her work will also support the society’s effort to properly and efficiently store photographs of historic importance, as she has worked to compile the photographs in archival safe materials.

Brandon Rider, also an American Studies major at Towson University, has taken part in an extensive research project this spring on slavery and slave systems in the eastern portion of Baltimore County, spanning the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.  Combining the information found in the society’s library and archive collection, along with research at other institutions, Rider has utilized the well of information found within the society to produce work that will educate the community, while showcasing the information housed within the society’s archives at the same time.

Lina Mann, History and Anthropology major and Museum Studies minor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, plans to create short videos during her summer internship.  These videos will provide information that has rarely been accessible to the public.  The videos, which will be published on the society’s social media, will contain behind-the-scene looks into the collections areas, Almshouse grounds, Agricultural museum and exhibits, and Civil Defense fallout shelter.  With her work, HSBC is attempting to combine both research and publication in a way that is unique to historical societies.  Her videos will contain information not only on what objects are located within the society, but how they relate to the society’s mission and promote the value of the organization in the community.

Finally, Kathleen Black, English major and Museum Studies minor at Towson University, has worked hands-on with HSBC’s 9,000+ museum artifacts this spring.  Black updated artifact information such as location, description, condition, and photography.  To bridge museum collections, research, and publications, Black composed a blog for the society’s website.  Her work proves that with a little research, a seemingly benign historic object can be much more valuable placed in its historic context. She has also engaged in preparing and drafting grants for future projects for the society while fulfilling the requirements of a grant writing course she is enrolled in at Towson University simultaneously.

Meanwhile, the society’s core group of volunteers are constantly engaged in the following activities through their committee work: oral history programs, managing museum collections, researching and preparing bus tours, web & social media outreach and publicity, participation at various festivals and events, library committees and management, lecture and speaker series, journal and newsletter publications, and much more.

Through such activities, a historical society fulfills its mission two-fold.  First, it produces information for the Baltimore County community encompassing all aspects of the county’s history to engage individual local history interests, taking into account architectural preservation and history, museum collections, research library and archives, publishing and presentations.  Second, the Historical Society of Baltimore County has provided invaluable experience and education for its interns, who have been granted the opportunity to work hands-on with the society’s resources.  Interns, volunteers and society members alike engage the society with very different goals in mind, and because of the various roles the society plays, most can find some form of event, programming or work to fit their specific interests.