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County History Center earns national award for exhibit

July 11, 2011

The Jefferson County History Center is the recipient of an Award of Merit from the American Assocation for State and Local History for its “Living on the Land” exhibit. Kenneth Burkett (left) will receive the award in September. He and curator Carole Briggs stand in front of a turn-of-the-century mining office, which is part of the exhibit. (Photo by Natalie Bruzda/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

BROOKVILLE — For the second time, the Jefferson County Historical Society is receiving national recognition.

The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) recently announced that the Jefferson County Historical Society is the recipient of an Award of Merit from the AASLH Leadership in History Awards for the exhibit, “Living on the Land.”

“It’s a real honor for a small organization to be able to win this national award,” said Kenneth Burkett, executive director of the Jefferson County History Center.

In 2008, JCHC was also recognized by the AASLH.

The history center won the award for the Native American Lifeways Exhibit in Western Pennsylvania.

“The fact that we’ve done it twice in that many years, it’s pretty important to us,” Burkett said.

Museum Curator Carole Briggs expressed similar sentiments.
“For a small museum to get national recognition, it’s exciting,” she said. “It’s good to be appreciated on the national level.”

The AASLH Leadership in History Awards is now in its 66th year.
It’s the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

This year, AASLH is conferring 59 national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, books and organizations. The winners represent the best in the field and provide leadership for the future of state and local history.

According to Burkett, in order to be eligible for the national award, the center had to win an award from the state for the same exhibit.
JCHC won a state award in 2010 through the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical and Museum Organizations. According to Briggs, winning the state award involved extensive work, including formal critiques and outside evaluations.

Burkett said the “Living on the Land” exhibit chronicles the history of Jefferson County from the time of the Native Americans to today. To put the exhibit together, the center received funding from the Institute of Library and Museum Services.

Briggs said that they maximized their dollar because they used local services.

Burkett believes that the history center plays an important role in the lives of Jefferson County residents.

“Local history is not taught in the schools, and the center provides an opportunity for people to walk in and become acquainted with local historical figures and how Jefferson County came to be as it today,” he said.

According to Briggs and Burkett, the idea for the exhibit developed from a collaboration of Jefferson County residents in 2004, during the county’s bicentennial. The book, “Jefferson County Pennsylvania: An Illustrated History,” was published, which formed the foundation for the exhibit and was used as a basis for the layout. Prior to this publication, a history of the county had not been compiled since 1917.

Briggs’ only condition for the book was that it was to parallel the exhibit’s design. She said that the “Living on the Land” exhibit is the “county’s history in a nutshell.”

Furthermore, she said that the award was important to the center because it helps in acknowledging the community, the businesses and individuals who have contributed to the center.

AASLH will present the Award of Merit to Burkett at a special banquet during the 2011 AASLH Annual Meeting in Richmond, Va., Friday Sept. 16.
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.
JCHC is already working toward future projects. The center received a $5,000 Preserve America grant to produce an exhibit called Journeys, which will chronicle African Americans and diversity, with the underground railroad as a focus.

From its headquarters in Nashville, AASLH provides leadership, service and support for its members who preserve and interpret state and local history in order to make the past more meaningful in American society.
For more information about the Leadership in History Awards, contact AASLH at 615-320-3203, or go to www.aaslh.org.

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