Last Saturday, I had the good fortune to meet with the dedicated members of the Whitman County Genealogical Society, and it was a wonderful reminder of how we construct memories in our communities. The spectrum of knowledge is enormous — from the very specific knowledge of one’s ancestors, to the community events recorded in local newspapers (and now so many other places), to the broad, national and international forces that shape our local communities and personal lives. Our local institutions do their very best to record, organize, preserve and celebrate our history in a way that relates to a specific place, an all-too-rare effort in today’s world of “listicles” and “hot takes.”
We have many wonderful organizations on the Palouse invested in local history, including our public libraries. The Manuscripts, Archives & Special Collections unit of WSU Libraries does amazing work. The Whitman County Historical Society and Whitman County Genealogical Society have a variety of wonderful resources in both Pullman (at Gladish Community and Cultural Center) and Colfax (Perkins House). The Pullman Depot Heritage Center is already hosting fantastic history programs, just across the river from Neill Public Library.
Of course, history and experience crosses state lines and thus Idaho has many resources as well. The Latah County Historical Society has wonderful events and exhibitions at the McConnell Mansion and at the Moscow Chamber of Commerce. Historical societies in Potlatch and Nez Perce do great work, too.
And I haven’t even discussed the Roy Chatters Newspaper and Printing Museum in Palouse, or the Appaloosa Museum in Moscow. There are so many others that I haven’t mentioned — all kept alive by determined community members who understand the importance of understanding our shared past.
And of course, which stories are told also matters. After a local Pullman historian wrote a detailed history of Neill Public Library, he told me that it was actually quite difficult to find information on the spouses of early male WSU faculty and administrators — even though they did an incredible amount of work to build the Pullman community, perhaps even more than their better-known husbands. So when visiting our local institutions, look closely, and you might notice who and what has been left out of our historical narratives. You might even notice that certain groups and events are over-represented in our historical narratives.
The many community members contributing to these organizations every day occupy unique and oft-changing roles. Sometimes they are simply organizing information, while at other times they are actively constructing a historical narrative that will affect how the community views itself. It’s always inspiring to see. In many ways, these acts are expressions of hope and faith that future generations will find this knowledge valuable and worth paying attention to — though there are no guarantees this will actually be the case.
I strongly encourage everyone to check out all of these wonderful places and organizations. They all have websites and many have a presence on Facebook, too. We learn so much about our communities and ourselves, and usually have a lot of fun along the way.
Dan Owens is the adult services librarian at Neill Public Library in Pullman.