Find the Skipjack



My mother’s family is from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, a peninsula situated between Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean that is environmentally, historically, and culturally distinct and diverse. As a child and young adult, before my museum career resulted in moves away from the Mid-Atlantic, I would spend significant time on the shore, and increasingly I came to realize the depth of my love for this amazing place.

Reflective of my love for this place, our home is filled with photographs, paintings, books, and other “artifacts” depicting or from the Eastern Shore. Now, as my daughters, ages 3 and 6, get older, they are beginning to ask more and more questions about what they see in our home every day, but which is representative of a place they have only visited on occasion.

In fact, on a recent Saturday evening while listening to sea shanties, we played “Find the Skipjack.” For those unaware, a skipjack is a type of sailboat, unique to the Chesapeake, used to harvest oysters. In many ways, and particularly as the oyster catch declined, the skipjack became an icon of the Chesapeake. Indicative of this status, it is the official state boat of Maryland, was featured on a U.S. postal stamp, and, as you might expect, our home is literally full of skipjacks in various forms.

So, as my children regaled themselves trying to outdo each other in their personal quests for skipjacks, I began to think anew about Crossroads: Exploring Vibrant Connections Between People and Place, the theme for the 2012 AASLH Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City and the terrific article written by David Donath in the latest issue of History News. I began to think about how we honor and remember places in which we no longer or infrequently reside or visit. I began to think about how we cherish places we can’t visit or long to see–either because of distance or loss–and how place intersects with memory.

I also began to think about how this approach to place, and its relationship to memory, impacts our awareness of authenticity. Finally, I pondered the relevancy of this new understanding to my work in a place very different from the Eastern Shore, and how the behaviors of my children—who in many ways were travelling through their own “gateway” to a place thousands of miles away, but clearly important to them—could, or should, impact my work as a museum professional with a profound interest in place and stories.

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I encourage you to re-read David’s article, “Explorations in Place and Time—A Personal Journey” and think anew about place, stories, memory, and authenticity. I am proud to share, however, that since our rousing game of “Find the Skipjack,” my daughters have demonstrated an expanding interest in boats, oysters, and the Chesapeake. This interest includes asking to see other photographs not routinely on display in our home, looking through Daddy’s books, and simply asking questions about the Shore and the Chesapeake.

Accordingly, what does a child’s perspective on place teach us and what are your “gateways”? Where do they take you and why is it important? Please share your thoughts/comments below or feel free to email them to me.

I look forward to seeing you all in Salt Lake City and if not, I hope you will join us in the online conference. And if you cannot join us, I hope David’s article helps you consider how your work helps others “Find the Skipjacks” in their lives.

Scott Muir Stroh III
Executive Director,
Milwaukee County Historical Society and
Program Chair, 2012 AASLH Annual Meeting

Additional Links/Resources:

Register for the 2012 Annual Meeting

Spotlight on Salt Lake City (from 2012 Host Committee)

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