Community, Memory, Stories
“When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have never learned one another’s stories? If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover they fear one another.”
–Wendell Berry, “The Work of Local Culture” in What Are People For?
In my last two newsletters, I have been reflecting on why Maureen Amyot, the WPL library director, and I selected the name “Westborough Center for History and Culture” for the library’s local history department (August 20) and outlined some of the activities that happens in it (September 3). But a title and a list of programs does not get to the heart of why such a department is necessary. Wendell Berry can help us with this question.
Three words pop out when I read Berry’s quotation above: community, memory, stories. Together, these words could form a tagline for what the Westborough Center is all about and why it is important. Let’s find out why.
Westborough has always had a strong community even though the town and its area have experienced momentous changes over the years. Economically, it was a place for hunting and foraging by indigenous people and then became a farming community starting with an influx of Europeans mainly from the British Isles. In the nineteenth century, our town became an industrial center, which brought even more Europeans from more diverse countries to our area to work in the factories and lay down railroad tracks. Today, multinational corporations located in and around the town draw people from all over the world, most notably from South Asia. All of these changes have shaped our history and our community.
With so much change, how have we remained such a strong community through each iteration? One might think that such constant change—both economically and demographically—would create disorientation and keep people from ever truly getting to know one another. And to be sure, these various changes did involve struggle for the people who for a time were perceived as “outsiders.” But a strong element of Westborough culture is its history. Our town historical records are basically complete, which means that throughout this time the people of Westborough have always seen them as being important and necessary to save and preserve. That’s not necessarily the case in other Massachusetts towns. We have an active historical society that goes back to 1889. And the celebration of the town’s 300th anniversary in 2017 involved hundreds of events throughout the year and drew thousands of people to its parade.
We often think of history in terms of preserving an unchanging past, but really, a true love of history entails an acknowledgment and embrace of change, because without change we have no history. So history brings us to the second important word in Berry’s quotation: memory. Historical records hold the memory of what we once were as a community and offer us the chance to gain better clarity into what we are today. When we remember the people who lived in our town, what they did, and how they lived, we really never leave them behind, no matter how much change takes place. And if we remember them, then we are likely to be remembered as well. Memory, or history, is the glue that keeps a community together and makes it strong.
And now we arrive at the third word: stories. We experience memory and keep it alive by telling and listening to stories, and then by retelling and passing along those stories again. The Westborough Center has lots of tools for learning about, telling, and sharing stories about Westborough, our community, and its past. The historical records in the Westborough Center’s archive hold infinite stories just waiting to be unsealed and discovered by researchers. Programs sponsored by the Westborough Center often create records that capture how we live today, so that the people of tomorrow can tell stories about us. And the Westborough Center itself tells stories, through exhibits, sponsored lectures, and this newsletter.
The history of our town belongs to all of us, because we are all a part of its history. We all have memories of living here and have stories to tell each other about doing so. And the more stories we tell about ourselves, to paraphrase Wendell Berry, the more we learn from each other, the more we trust each other, the more we help each other, the less we fear of one another, and the stronger our community becomes. And that is why the Westborough Center for History and Culture is so important.
–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian
I am always looking for new ways to talk about and better understand Westborough. Do you have a story that you want to discover and/or tell to the people of Westborough? Stop by or drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Essays, 1969-1990 by Wendell Berry (e-book – includes “The Work of Local Culture”).
- Essays, 1993-2017 by Wendell Berry (e-book)
- Museums Involving Communities: Authentic Connections by Margaret Kadoyama
- Interpreting Immigration at Museums and Historic Sites by Dina A. Bailey
- Great Crossings: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in the Age of Jackson by Christina Snyder
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“Changing Pictures of Childhood,” the current exhibit at the Westborough Public Library, will be taken down for a new exhibit at the end of this month (September). The exhibit has received a lot of attention lately in the local press, so if you want to see and experience the full exhibit, you need to do so within the next couple weeks.
The exhibit will continue to be available indefinitely online, and a truncated version will be available in the Westborough Center once the major exhibit is taken down.
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National Voter Registration Day
The Westborough Center is a strong supporter of civic engagement. With this year being an off-election year, you may be surprised that nonetheless this year’s National Voter Registration Day is coming up on Tuesday, September 28.
Even though Westborough is not going to the polls this fall, voter registration also gives you the chance to participate in Town Meetings, where important decisions about our town are made. You can register to vote or check your registration status at the Town Clerk’s Office or do both online at the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Voter Resources page.
You can learn more about National Voter Registration Day through this link.
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Did you enjoy reading this Westborough Local History Pastimes newsletter? Then subscribe by e-mail and have the newsletter and other notices from the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library delivered directly to your e-mail inbox: https://www.westboroughcenter.org/subscribe-to-updates/.