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This map of downtown Brattleboro by artist Cynthia Parker-Houghton shows the various points on the Words Trail.

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Vermont Historical Society to present statewide history award to Brattleboro Words Project

To learn more about internships, audio production, and volunteering to keep building the Words Trail, contact brattleborowords@gmail.com.

BRATTLEBORO—Stephen Perkins, executive director of the Vermont Historical Society (VHS), will present the annual Richard O. Hathaway Award for best historical project in the state to the five local institutions that created and led the National Endowment for the Humanities–funded, multi-year Brattleboro Words Project.

“The Brattleboro Words Project has created for our community and visitors from near and far three very accessible, informative ways to learn about our literary, printing, and publishing legacy,” Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell said in a news release.

Elwell said that “each initiative, a mobile app and website that continues to grow over time (the Brattleboro Words Trail), a traveling ceramic mural exhibit, and a published book (Print Town: Brattleboro’s Legacy of Words) combine to make local history more accessible to our families, schools, and our visiting tourists.”

On Dec. 2, Perkins will present the award to Words Project partners Starr LaTronica and Jeanne Walsh of Brooks Memorial Library; Sandy Rouse of the Brattleboro Literary Festival; Reg Martell and Bill Holiday of the Brattleboro Historical Society; Rolf Parker and Arlene Distler of Write Action; William Edelglass, Project co-founder and lead scholar (who represented Marlboro College, which administered the project before it closed); and Lissa Weinmann, project director.

Town Manager Peter Elwell, Vermont Folklife Center board member Andy Davis (the current project administrator), VHS board member and state Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Brattleboro, and other area leaders are expected to be on hand.

“Creatively conceived as an inclusive, town-wide effort, the Brattleboro Words Project built new relationships around history by linking amateur historians of all ages with professionals who guided them to produce skillful products and content that is accurate and well-researched,” Perkins said in a news release.

“Though we give the award based on the Project as completed to this point, we know that stories, events, and art will continue to be added to this meaningful and important initiative,” he said.

The Project “worked with a variety of scholars to assure rigorous research standards and in some cases corrected historical errors,” said John Carnahan, former head of the Brattleboro Historical Society.

He said that John Grayson, whose scholarship focuses on Frederick Douglass, discovered while working with the Project research team that a speech the formerly enslaved abolitionist and writer gave in Brattleboro “was different from the one originally advertised and appears to mark the first time Douglass spoke publicly about Lincoln’s assassination.”

“I can honestly say, for a project developed by a group of citizens, the Brattleboro Words Trail is the most impressive piece of public humanities work I’ve ever seen,” Mara Williams, former chief curator for the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center and early champion of the Project, said. “It is a remarkable achievement.”

“With so many different voices, different approaches, and so many subjects, this Project helps us understand the richness and complexity of the Brattleboro area,” Edelglass said. “It also challenges us to keep telling stories to strengthen our community, deepen our sense of the many experiences of this place, and build connections across differences.”

The Brattleboro Words Trail continues to assist community members and students to create new audio stories for the Trail, add historical markers, perform research, and present events.

Evolving Words Trail murals by local artist Cynthia Parker-Houghton are on view at Project headquarters at the 118 Elliot gallery, but will eventually be featured in a central location in town that will be announced soon.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #641 (Wednesday, December 1, 2021). This story appeared on page A3.

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