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Arrowhead Workshop Gives Opportunities for Local History in Education
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
08:51AM / Wednesday, November 09, 2022
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The workshop included aspects of local history that could be incorporated into current curriculum.

Herman Melville's writing desk and the view that purportedly inspired a whale called Moby Dick. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A small group of educators explored ways to integrate local history into lesson plans at Arrowhead on Tuesday.

The "More Than Melville" workshop at author Herman Melville's home presented teachers with educational opportunities at local historical organizations, covering topics such as civics, artifact collections, and Native American history.

It was part of the countywide professional development day sponsored by Berkshire Educational Resources K12, which engaged more than 1,000 teachers in around 50 different daylong workshops.

The group of about 10 teachers was given presentations from the League of Women Voters, the Berkshire Museum, and had an in-depth look at a middle school civics project. The majority were from Pittsfield schools.

All agreed that they left with a renewed appreciation and awareness for Berkshire County's past.

"This workshop I think reminded us all of the local history that was here that we might have forgotten about," Herberg Middle School teacher Michelle Smith said.

Berkshire County Historical Society's Executive Director Lesley Herzberg — who is head of the county's professional learning network for history, civics, and social studies teachers — explained that there are many different learning opportunities for students in local history.

"My function is to make sure that the teachers have what they need in terms of professional development opportunities," she said.

"Ways so that they can teach better and use the resources around us to the best of their ability."  

Through talking with the middle and high school teachers, Herzberg learned that students are paying attention to nationwide topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQ-plus issues.  

She said both Melville and the Shakers of Hancock Shaker Village have lessons that can translate to the modern day.

Melville was reportedly ahead of his time in writing about racial equality, specifically within passages of "Moby-Dick," and the Shakers were passionate about equality for men and women and within all races.

As a former employee of the Shaker Village, Herzberg pointed out that there are learning opportunities that go far beyond visiting the baby animals — though it is a great experience.

"The Shakers are so much more than just a farm and so getting [students] back to the village in terms of the history and in terms of a civics project and how the Shakers function within a community," she said.

"It's really pretty fascinating."

The Berkshire Museum's Collections Experience Manager Jason Vivori largely spoke about the museum's mobile program, which was reactivated in the past couple of years and has been a part of the organization since the 1930s.

The organization has about a dozen mobile museum units that go to schools, libraries, and other venues to showcase a rotating selection of exhibits.

"The end result is it sounds like the group might be coming to the Berkshire Museum at some point so I can kind of give them an in-depth look at our collection and we can think about other ways that we can kind of utilize the collection for education purposes and really showing what we've got," Vivori reported.

The workshop ended with a tour of Arrowhead, which was Melville's home during his most productive years.

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