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Brattleboro Words Trail Gains National Recognition

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The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) bestowed a 2022 ‘Award of Excellence’ upon the Trail as part of its Leadership in History Awards, regarded as the most prestigious national recognition for achievement in the preservation of state and local history.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) also featured a four-page, full-color spread on the Brattleboro Words Trail in the Fall 2022 issue of ‘Humanities’ magazine, its flagship publication, distributed nationally and internationally. “Storied History: A Bookish Town in Vermont Highlights its Varied Literary Past” was written by Vermont writer Sarah Stewart Taylor, who spent a few days in Brattleboro and surroundings this summer experiencing the Trail’s more than 100 audio stories pegged to places and people important in the area’s rich and unique history of words. The piece is available online at: https://www.neh.gov/article/building-literary-trail-brattleboro-vermont

“The basic idea of a literary trail is not innovative, but the use of a free app combined with physical maps and a website is a model for the creative use of technology by history organizations,” said Bethany L. Hawkins, Chief of Operations for AASLH. “The use of many community members to create ‘a symphony of local voices’ for the trail is particularly innovative and raises this project to the level of a national award.”

This year, AASLH conferred 53 such national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, and publications representing the best in the field and providing leadership for the future of state and local history. According to Hawkins, the Brattleboro Words Trail was this year’s sole recipient in the state of Vermont. The award was received by Vermont Historical Society’s Amanda Kay Gustin on behalf of the Brattleboro Words Trail team (see photo below) in September at AASLH’s award ceremony in Buffalo, New York.

About Brattleboro Words Project

The Trail is a product of the Brattleboro Words Project, an NEH-backed community initiative that involves local citizens, students, scholars and artists in place-based research and storytelling.  And the Trail keeps growing; Working in collaboration with its founding partners – The Brattleboro Literary Festival, Brooks Memorial Library, the Brattleboro Historical Society and Write Action –the Project invites and supports citizens to create new stories to continue expanding the diverse voices and  perspectives the Trail reflects.

The Vermont Folklife Center acts as the Trail’s fiscal sponsor (replacing original sponsor, shuttered Marlboro College) where an Advisory Team comprised of Lissa Weinmann (Director), William Edelglass, Shanta Lee, Starr LaTronica, Sally Seymour and Rolf Parker Houghton oversee continuing work. Student work is coordinated by Joe Rivers, a teacher at Brattleboro Area Middle School and a board member of the Brattleboro Historical Society who has pioneered the use of audio storytelling as a teaching tool. Dave Snyder of Guilford Sound provides post-production mastering and support. 

The Brattleboro Words Trail is headquartered at 118 Elliot in Brattleboro where its large ceramic map murals are on public display. Mural artist Cynthia Parker Houghton adds a place marker on them for each new story added. The murals were first exhibited at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center in October 2020. The expanded murals will move to a permanent Trail exhibit at the new Brattleboro Amtrak station when it opens in Fall 2023. 

The Brattleboro Words Project launched in 2017 when it received a four-year ‘Creating Humanities Communities’ matching grant from the NEH, and has been supported over time by scores of volunteers, individual donors, the Windham Foundation, Thomas Thompson Trust, the Vermont Community Foundation, the Vermont Humanities Council and many others. It received Vermont Historical Society’s Richard O. Hathaway Award for best state history project of 2021. The Project’s book Print Town: Brattleboro’s Legacy of Words won the Indie Next Generation Award for Best Overall Design-Nonfiction in 2021.

American Association for State and Local History Awards Program

The AASLH awards program was initiated in 1945 to establish and encourage standards of excellence in the collection, preservation, and interpretation of state and local history throughout the United States. AASLH, a national nonprofit association, provides leadership and resources to help the history community thrive and make the past more meaningful for all people. AASLH serves the tens of thousands of history organizations, professionals, and volunteers around the country who help people of all ages develop critical thinking skills and understand how learning history helps society make progress toward justice. For more information about AASLH visit www.aaslh.org.

For more information about the Brattleboro Words Trail’s ongoing work in the community, please contact [email protected] or visit its website at: http://brattleborowords.org/.  The free mobile Brattleboro Words Trail app can be found on Google Play and Apple or by visiting the Trail app website at https://brattleboro.stqry.app/en/.

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