UNE receives grant for museum course and exhibition with the Saco Museum on the great age of sail

December 31, 2010

The Maine Humanities Council has awarded the University of New England a $4,300 grant for a spring 2011 course entitled Voyages and the Great Age of Sail, a collaborative project between the UNE Department of History and the Saco Museum, Saco, Maine.

The course, which will be team-taught by Professor Elizabeth A. De Wolfe, Ph.D., chair of the UNE Department of History, and Saco Museum Education and Program Manager Camille Smalley, will result in an exhibition at the Saco Museum of the same name, opening May 7, 2011.

Saco Sea Captain
Tristram Jordan

The course will use the experiences of a Saco sea captain, Tristram Jordan, as a window into nineteenth-century maritime history. Students will study the letters of Captain Jordan and his wife, Catherine, as a way to understand Saco and Biddeford's role in this important period of New England history.

Jordan, at sea in the trans-Atlantic trade for months at a time, wrote long letters capturing both the excitement of the sea and of the time he could return to land and simply farm. Catherine, at home in Saco, wrote to her distant husband of her struggles raising their children, running a household, and managing the family farm and business interests.

The Jordans' story is filled with the excitement and the dangers of life at sea and the challenges for the family left behind at home. Captain Jordan's life, and that of his son Frederic, both come to tragic ends at sea. As students learn the Jordans' story, they will explore the local, regional and national issues that made this period so important in maritime history, connecting a local story to national, and indeed global, trends.

The Exhibit

The major project of this course is for students to design a museum exhibit to share the Jordans' story with the public. As a hands-on history course, students will decide each facet of the exhibition including which elements of the story to tell, what  background historical information to provide, and which artifacts to display.

Students will tackle design issues such as the lay out of the exhibit, the wall colors and look of the exhibit, and accessibility to diverse audiences.  Students in this class will learn both content of an important period in American history as well as learn how historians make important choices in the stories they tell, both in writing and visually.

Elizabeth De Wolfe and Camille Smalley

De Wolfe's most recent book is Domestic Broils: Shakers, Antebellum Marriage, and the Narratives of Mary and Joseph Dyer (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010). Her first study of the anti-Shaker activist Mary Marshall Dyer, Shaking the Faith: Women, Family and Mary Marshall Dyer's Anti-Shaker Campaign, 1815-1867, received the 2003 Outstanding Book Award from the Communal Studies Association.

Her 2007 book on Saco factory girl Berengera Caswell, The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories, received book awards from the New England Historical Association, the Northeast Popular Culture Association, the Independent Publishers Association, and ForeWord Magazine.

The Saco Museum's Smalley graduated from UNE in 2008 with a major in English and a minor in women's studies.  She went on to receive a master's degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine.

During her course work at UNE, Smalley participated in De Wolfe's first team-taught course with the Saco Museum in 2007-2008. As part of the course, Smalley and the other students in the class created an exhibition at the Saco Museum on the circumstances and historical context of the incidents of De Wolfe's book The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories.