On August 23rd, more than 120 members of the public participated in the 2014 DC Community Heritage Project, a collaborative event arranged by the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., and staffed by community experts, the folks from the D.C. Public Library’s Special Collections, and the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. The event’s goal? To introduce home owners, renters, long-time Washingtonians and new transplants alike to the myriad resources researchers can tap into in order to discover the stories of the District’s buildings.
The two identical workshops, held on Saturday 10-1pm and 1-4pm, began at the D.C. Public Library’s Special Collections, where participants spent 25 minutes learning about each of the different types of resources available for house history workshop: maps, photos, city directories, and the Building Permits database. The Humanities Council also presents on the DC Digital Museum, a substantial collection of documentary films, oral histories, and other materials of cultural and historic significance to the District of Columbia.
HSW Collections Manager Anne McDonough then shepherded participants to the Carnegie Library, where she and Research Services Librarian Laura Barry walked them through using city directories, to trace who lived in their home through the years, and real estate atlases, to see how their and neighboring lots developed over time.
The Humanities Council handles registration and, through a funds from a Historic Preservation Fund Grant, provides lunch for participants. Currently, both DCPL and HSW staff the workshop as a public service; neither repository receives funding towards the program. There is a clear demand for House History workshops (those held with the Humanities Council are nearly always oversubscribed); while the program should always be offered at least once a year with no registration fee, additional programs could be explored as a possible revenue generator for the Historical Society.
While there were a few HSW members among the participants, for the majority the Historical Society was a new entity. The workshop offered a chance for the general public to get to know the resources available here, both for house history research and beyond.