The Mashapaug’s Neighbors: Stories From Beyond The Pond tour and website are a continuation of a project of the Oral History and Community Memory class in Brown University’s Public Humanities Department.
Holly Ewald, artist and founder of the Urban Pond Procession, and Anne Valk, Associate Director at the public humanities center, and Brown University students are working to research and raise public awareness of the environmental, social, and economic history of Mashapaug Pond in Providence and the neighborhoods surrounding it. As members of the class, Oral History and Community Memory, students collect oral history interviews and historical materials to document uses of the Pond and the communities near it. These materials are made publicly accessible through a digital archive created by Brown’s Center for Digital Scholarship.
Creative projects using the Mashapaug Pond materials are being made available through exhibitions, tours, and digital platforms. In December, 2011, Reservoir of Memories: A Community Collection, displayed objects and stories in a temporary exhibition and a website. Reservoir of Memories was subsequently adapted into a traveling exhibit, displayed on a bus provided by the Environmental Justice League of RI and stationed at locations around the city.
This website documents the work of another group of students who created the cell phone audio tour, Mashapaug’s Neighbors, as the final project of the oral history class in 2013. The cell phone tour intends to bring attention to the ways that Mashapaug has been used in the past, the challenges it faces in the present, and the possibilities for renewal in the future. Mashapaug’s Neighbors: Stories from Beyond the Pond, invites listeners to use their own cell phones to hear stories about Mashapaug Pond and the people who care about it.
In Romeo and Juliet, the title character asks, “”What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
How can words fully express the essence of a place and the way it exists in memories, senses, history, relationships?
Members of Oral History and Community Memory have tried, distilling hours of interviews into short tour segments that convey the significance of Mashapaug. The project is motivated by the goal to take stories out of the archive and share them with the public, back at the place where they can inspire listeners to see the pond in new ways. Tour stops focus on people’s recollections about fishing, swimming, skating, and boating at the pond before toxic algae made the water unsafe and chemical contamination polluted the shores. Even nearby churches held picnics at Mashapaug and used its waters for immersion baptisms. Others remember the vibrant community “across the tracks,” torn down in the early 1960s to construct an industrial park that now houses many commercial enterprises, including Brown University’s library annex. Former workers at Gorham recall the company that helped make Providence world famous and once employed thousands, before uprooting and leaving a legacy of contamination. And new residents, coming from many parts of the world, describe the joys and struggles of living and going to school in the area today.
Please explore this website for more information about the class and the cell phone tour.
The class began by considering the fields of oral history, community art, and local history, engaging some of the theoretical, interpretive, ethical, and practical debates confronted by scholars and practitioners. Then, students gained hands-on instruction to conduct life history interviews, to build visual communication skills, and to produce material for the audio tour. We all conducted oral history interviews and listened to interviews about Mashapaug that were already in the archive. After immersing ourselves in the history and memories of Mashapaug, the class broke into teams to curate the tour.
Learn more about each team’s role in building this audio tour by clicking on the links below.