Workshop to gather stories about how we came to be here

Washougal School Board member Donna Sinclair helped spearhead local oral history project

Later this month, a Clark County Stories Project, spearheaded by Washougal School Board member and Washington State University Vancouver history professor Donna Sinclair, in conjunction with Sue Peabody, another WSU Vancouver professor and trustee of the Clark County Historical Museum (CCHM), Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries and CCHM, will begin to explore the issue of “place” and modern-day migration in Clark County.

The oral history workshop, titled, “How We Came to this Place,” will explore the growing gulf of understanding between recent arrivals and those who have deeper historical roots to Clark County. Peabody and Sinclair first recognized this issue when they were looking at local history statistics involving the county’s recent population boom. In the last three decades, Clark County has more than doubled, growing from 221,654 residents to nearly 500,000 residents. More than half of the people currently living in Clark County were born in another state, and about 10 percent were born in another country.

The WSU Vancouver professors found themselves wondering, “How did all these people come to Clark County?” and “How is Clark County changing in response to this growth?”

“The theme – how we came to this place – is both literal and metaphorical,” Sinclair says. “We are looking at stories of migration: how residents and their ancestors arrived here. But we are also interested in exploring together the historical question: how is ‘this place’ the result of historical forces, both local and global?”

In partnering with the Clark County Historical Museum and the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, the Clark County Stories project aims to inspire and train community members to collect the oral histories (interviews) of residents who have witnessed the changes of the last 30 to 50 years.

“Each of us has a story about how we came here. Each of us can see the rapid development and changes in our communities,” Peabody says. “These workshops and facilitated conversations are designed to help us explore our connections to Clark County and our shared recent history. It’s a great way to meet your neighbors and share what’s on your mind.”

Sinclair will lead a community oral history workshop to help people learn how to collect and preserve community stories from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Fort Vancouver Regional Library headquarters, in Library Hall, 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd.,Vancouver. Pre-registration is required. To register, email ClarkCountyStories@gmail.com.

Three community conversations also are planned for later this year to facilitate conversations in different Clark County neighborhoods. The first, “How We Came to North Clark County,” will be held from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, March 3, at Battle Ground Community Library, 1207 S.E. Eighth Way, Battle Ground. The second, “Migration Stories,” will be held from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, May 26, at the Vancouver Community Library, 901 “C” St., Vancouver. The third, “Sharing Our Stories,” will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 11, at WSU Vancouver, 14204 N.E. Salmon Creek Ave., Vancouver.

Brad Richardson, executive director of CCHM, notes that the older history of Clark County has been well documented. For centuries, Native American peoples – including the ancestors of the Chinook and Cowlitz peoples – managed the lands and waters of our region. Since the mid-19th century, Clark County was transformed by European and American immigration associated with its early industries: fur-trade, timber and farming. The WWII shipyards attracted many new families – notably African American residents – and these stories have been well told, displayed and archived in previous histories, exhibits and the Clark County Historical Society Journal.

The county’s recent decades are less well told and understood. The top three non-English languages in the Vancouver Public Schools are Russian, Spanish and Chuukese (from Micronesia). The county has a large, visible LGBTQ presence, from elected officials and CEOs to its annual Saturday in the Park Festival, with thousands of participants. The county is also the home of the Washington School for the Deaf and the Washington State School for the Blind, both founded in 1886. These histories are under-documented and passing quickly. “Clark County Stories: How We Came to this Place” seeks to identify some of these key stories to incorporate into the museum’s archives and a future exhibit.

The full calendar of Clark County Stories events in 2018 are funded by a Humanities Washington “Washington Stories” grant and Peabody’s College of Arts and Sciences Meyer Distinguished Professor fellowship. For more information, visit www.cchmuseum.org/category/upcoming-events.

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