From Storied Past to Storytelling Future: University of Findlay and Hancock Historical Museum Creating Davis Learning Institute
The University of Findlay and Hancock Historical Museum are collaborating to provide enhanced digital storytelling experiences at the newly named Davis Learning Institute on the museum’s campus.
The effort, which is now in the planning and fundraising stages, will transform the relocated Davis House, built in 1843, into a site for collecting, sharing and archiving community narratives. Organizers intend for the Institute to serve a vital historical preservation purpose and to become a motivator for societal improvement, not only through its storytelling facilitation, but also through its status as an incubator for collective idea generating and impact.
“Very few historic preservation projects look at the social benefits that are possible,” said museum Director Sarah Sisser. “One thing we hope to do is capitalize on a sense of place, which can then support stability and social change.”
The Institute will also provide space for museum programs such as its recently launched Great Decisions discussion group, for after-school workshops that will focus on written and oral communication sharing methods, and for other nonprofits and individuals wishing to host workshops. It will also serve as UF’s off-campus home for its Center for Digital Storytelling and Participatory Media, which is co-directed by Megan Adams, Ph.D., and Harley Ferris, Ph.D. Christine Denecker, Ph.D., is serving as a liaison between the University and museum on the Davis Learning Institute project.
The museum and UF already have a history of storytelling collaboration via the Ohio Farm Stories project that collected digital narratives to help preserve the rich history of the region’s agricultural heritage. The two entities also are working together on the Findlay Floods project, which is gathering flood-related stories.
It is hoped that the Davis Learning Institute will reach beyond historical preservation to effect agency for community improvement. For instance, the region’s heroin epidemic could be spotlighted, Sisser said, which would illustrate the problem’s scope and assist with mitigation ideas.
The Davis Learning Institute will continue to be owned by the museum. The University will contribute technical skills, equipment and staff.
Operational assistance will be provided by established narrative collection groups such as The Story Center, a California-based organization that will advise on the ethical and moral aspects of collecting and sharing; AppalShop based in Whitesburg, Kentucky, which gathers stories from marginalized Appalachian residents; and from Hollow, an ongoing online documentary project that Megan Adams, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication, helped create.
Meanwhile, the project is in need of brick and mortar funds for transforming the historic house into a multiuse facility. The interior of the house was demolished last spring to ready spaces for a commercial kitchen, meeting areas, conference rooms, offices, a recording and editing studio, and archival storage. New plumbing, a heating and cooling system, and electrical system will be installed. The museum hopes to raise $100,000 for these purposes.
“The goal is to have construction finished by September. We are essentially building a house from the ground up,” said Sisser, as well as a project that she said is unprecedented in terms of its cross-organizational collaboration. “With some of this, we’ll be learning as we go.”
Museum representatives are excited about the historic house’s impending transformation, particularly given its reputation as a regional hub for community gathering, impact and hospitality. As one of the oldest farmhouses in Hancock County, the museum considers it a community treasure.
William and Margaret Davis built the home and helped establish Ohio 224 as a connection between Findlay and Tiffin. Margaret Davis was a midwife who delivered more than 100 babies in her home while hosting innumerable weary travelers. The house continues to have deep ties to many local residents such as Madeleine Schneider, Donald Sink, retired Judge Allan Davis, and Ohio Representative Robert Sprague, R-Findlay.