Providing Local History during a Pandemic: D&H Canal Historical Society
As the world around us rapidly changes to deal with the coronavirus, many museums and historical societies have halted their standard practices for public safety. Though the physical doors of these institutions may have closed, social media has provided an alternative way for historians to spread public history during this time of social distancing. The D&H Canal Historical Society stands as an excellent example of this clever use of technology, with their current digital platforms providing rich narratives of local history.
The D&H Canal Historical Society is located in High Falls, New York. The society is primarily concerned with matters involving the D&H (Delaware and Hudson) Canal Company, which was first formed in the early 19th century by the Wurt brothers. The company created the D&H Canal as a means to transport coal throughout the region, and would go on to develop other technological innovations such as railroads and aqueducts. To display this history, the D&H Canal Historical Society uses a canal museum and a trail named the Five Lock Walk. Through these establishments, the society is able to work towards their mission of highlighting and preserving the history of the D&H Canal.
With the advent of COVID-19, the canal museum has been closed until further notice. Despite this inconvenience, the society has still been able to effectively deliver local history in rather impressive ways. They have taken to both Facebook and Youtube to reach their audience, with regular postings on each platform. On Facebook, the society delivers updates about their plans while also providing historical content. The historical posts can be broken down into two main categories: “It was on this day…” posts where notable dates involving the canal are connected to present day, and “Ask a historian” posts which serve as a Q&A between members of the society and the audience. Infrequent live streams also occur on this platform, allowing viewers to directly engage with experts in the field. On Youtube, the society provides a series titled “Virtual Museum”. A new video is listed every Friday at 3 pm, and each tells a short piece of the canal’s history.
As the Five Locks Walk is an outdoors nature trail, the society has not closed the pathway. However, they have observed a sharp increase in visitors as a result of this time in quarantine, which has led to them issuing a Facebook post April 7th to urge hikers to follow proper social distancing guidelines. The society cleverly wrote, “Keep safe! Stay a mule’s length apart please,” and placed a sign advising the same phrase in front of the trail.
D&H Canal Historical Society is a prime example of public history done right during a pandemic. After closing their doors and promoting proper safety guidelines, the society has transformed their practices and adapted to an online environment. The consistency of their new platforms and their routine updates further their success in this aspect, as they have truly dedicated themselves to providing interesting information to their audience. The society thus achieves the central goal of public history being accessibility to all people, regardless of one’s background in the field. Additionally, they promote active communication between themselves and their audience, as the Q&A style posts allow direct engagement from the viewers.
For anyone interested in viewing the D&H Canal Historical Society’s online works, here are the links: