County Historical Commissions (CHC) build connected communities by creating a strong sense of place through shared heritage. This section of our partnerships web series focuses on community partnerships, specifically how CHC activities create relationships, unify communities, and promote preservation. We will also give examples of CHCs who are active participants in community building efforts.
Effective community partners serve the public by providing activities that educate and engage. A CHC is a natural community partner––its activities connect the public to the CHC’s mission. These efforts bring community members together and help citizens personally identify with local history and with one another. Establishing these connections through common heritage leads to an increased interest in preservation.
Here are some recommendations to improve community partnerships.
Engagement leads to understanding
Engage with your community to create shared understanding of your history and the importance of preservation. Shared understanding implies that the CHC knows what is important to the people it serves. Understanding community needs and values helps identify areas of focus for the CHC. These priorities should be considered when initiating CHC projects.
Consider the following ways to engage with your community.
--Attend events. While attending community gatherings, CHC appointees can build relationships with a population that is more diverse than the traditional audiences who attend history-driven events.
--Establish identity. By introducing yourself as a CHC appointee, you identify the CHC as a resource for information about county heritage. Knowing the CHC exists and serves the community builds support for the CHC and preservation.
--Answer questions. Engaging with community members on an individual basis is a great way to educate those who may not have an opportunity to hear a presentation offered to formal groups or gatherings.
--Involve stakeholders. Consider ways to involve community stakeholders in CHC activities. If a local business or organization is participating in community events, then they might be interested in becoming involved with CHC efforts and may provide a more diverse array of resources to the CHC.
--Cultivate support. The above efforts attract attention from area decision makers and leaders. Establishing the CHC as a community partner and public servant will draw support when seeking funding, sponsorships, and political backing for preservation work.
Click here for examples of community engagement that further understanding of both the CHC and the surrounding area. Photo above: Webb CHC information booth at local farmer's market.
Service demonstrates a preservation ethic
Proactively connecting citizens to their history is an invaluable service to the community. The CHC knows county history, where to find documentation, and where to find subject matter experts. Providing these services connects citizens to area history, as well as, the CHC. By sharing this information, the CHC creates lasting relationships and future preservation advocates. Your efforts reflect well on the CHC and validate the CHC’s existence.
Making these connections may also lead to important discoveries about your county or unforeseen preservation opportunities. An individual seeking assistance may have information about a person, place, or story that fills in gaps or enhances the CHC’s knowledge of county history. Another may own documentation or historic property that can be used to benefit the community.
Don’t miss these opportunities to interact with citizens and individuals who are interested in your county. Initiating and maintaining a service-oriented approach for your CHC nurtures a healthy preservation ethic within the community.
Click here for examples of CHCs that reflect a service-oriented approach.
Education connects history to preservation
CHC educational efforts should shed light on the unique history of your county and its role in the history of our state and the nation. To this end, CHCs must go beyond historical subject markers that highlight people and places. Educating the community with presentations and outreach events increases awareness of historic resources, clarifies details about local history, and encourages meaningful interaction. Educate to increase interest in area history and convey the importance of preservation for future generations.
Additionally, diversify the ways in which the CHC educates the community about local history. Rather than hosting more formal presentations, consider developing walking or driving tours, articles for publication, and social media pages. The CHC will reach more people by expanding educational efforts and pursuing creative ways to highlight what distinguishes your county from the others.
Furthermore, CHC educational efforts should encourage an appreciation of, and a renewed interest in, preservation. Remember to include preservation in every history lesson—explain how we can preserve the places that tell the stories of Texas counties. Take time to explain how your CHC is contributing to county preservation efforts and how individuals and organizations can support this work. Just a few well-placed comments can lead to an increase in CHC appointees and volunteers for CHC projects.
Click here for examples of CHCs using educational outreach efforts to highlight unique aspects of each respective county. Photo above: Hillcrest Cemetery Walk in Van Zandt County.
Stewardship requires inclusion
As a community partner, the CHC has a responsibility to be inclusive in the stories it tells, buildings it saves, and cemeteries it protects. CHCs tend to promote the stories that are comfortable––familiar, non-controversial, and attractive. For this reason, the same story is told a variety of ways rather than branching out to tell new stories. Thus, segments of the population are not represented by the written histories, markers, and landmarks initiated by the CHC
Stewardship follows ownership––people are more likely to care for places to which they are connected. If individuals are not connected to these cultural and historic resources, they are less likely to support, or participate in, efforts that protect these stories and places.
If citizens see their heritage reflected in CHC efforts, they are more likely to support and participate in CHC projects. More importantly, if CHC work reflects only a portion of the county's heritage, it will be viewed as an organization that discriminates, which is particularly egregious given that the CHC’s statutory mission is to steward all county cultural and historic resources.
An authentic community acknowledges all aspects of its heritage; serving the community requires the CHC to make intentional and concerted efforts to explore its county history. CHC appointees should look for historical gaps whether geographical, chronological, or cultural in nature to demonstrate a proactive approach to document significant underrepresented subjects or untold stories. Use this information to diversify CHC presentation topics, history museum exhibits, hands-on activities, etc.
An inclusive approach to stewardship––interpreting the history of all communities and events relevant to your county––instills a sense of place about which communities will share and care.
Click here for examples of ways to provide more diverse services and projects to the community.
Celebrations stimulate community pride
Showcase what is unique and meaningful to your communities by commemorating anniversaries and accomplishments related to your county’s heritage. These historic dates and events tell the story of a place, which helps individuals connect the existing landscape to its historic fabric.
Celebrating significant community milestones promotes the county’s history to citizens and tourists, while stimulating community pride in what we have weathered and overcome.
By partnering with community organizations to host these celebrations, CHCs can leverage resources, donations, and opportunities to improve the way a community understands and views its history. When participating in these celebrations, educate and engage citizens by celebrating the history that makes the area so special. Emphasize the value of making preservation part of the future when considering community planning and development.
Celebrate local history with community-driven events and activities that inspire pride in place and motivate people to preserve historic and cultural resources.
For examples of CHCs that promote community pride through celebration, click here. Photo above: Erath CHC honors Texas Treasures Business Award winners.
Click here to revisit partnerships with history-related organizations.
For more about planning events with partners, click here.