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Database makes Maritime history accessible

Lanier Philips is pictured overlooking the wreck site of the USS Truxton at Chambers Cove just after receiving his honorary degree from Memorial in May 2008.

By Janet Harron

At their Meet Memorial event in late June, the Maritime History Archive served lime juice (traditionally given to sailors to prevent scurvy) with ice cubes shaped like the Titanic. Needless to say, the refreshments were a huge hit.

That’s just one example of how the archive strives to continually make their historical activities relevant, and accessible to the public.

The project Dead Reckoning: Rescue, Race and Cultural Awakening on the South Coast of Newfoundland is a digital exhibit highlighting the story of African American sailor Lanier Philips. It is scheduled to go live on the MHA website in September 2010.

Heather Wareham, the centre’s archivist, has received over 300 emails as a result of her correspondence with Wayde Rowsell, the mayor of St. Lawrence.

“Wayde passed on my contact info to all the survivors of the disaster, and to their children and grandchildren and through email we have gathered all kinds of information for the site. There is even a Facebook site for the grandchildren of the Pollux and Truxtun disaster and I have been using it to locate people and to obtain information for the site.”

The archive is the home to over 20,000 photographs. In order to organize and manage the collection, an easy-to-use database was created with brief descriptions and thumbnail scans of the original images.

Easy to set up and easy to use, the database is particularly useful to smaller archives that have limited budgets for software and training. Earlier this year, the Maritime History Archive donated copies of the database (and provided training) to the Grand Falls Heritage Society, the Botwood Heritage Society, and the Them Days Archives in Labrador. Ms. Wareham says that these activites were all done free of charge as part of the MHA’s outreach activities.

Ms. Wareham has also been corresponding with Lev Bratishenko, a researcher with the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal to help him identify material to include in an exhibit they are preparing on movement in Canada.

“One of the sections of the exhibit is on resettlement so he has been using our virtual exhibit on resettlement to help him identify documents, photographs and film that would be suitable,” she said.