National Park/Woodstock High School/Local Filmmaker Collaboration Wins National Awards 2006

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Date: July 13, 2006

The American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) has announced that Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is the recipient of a 2006 Leadership in American History Award for the film Woodstock’s Civil War: A Speakchorus, produced in partnership with Woodstock Union High School (WUHS). The 22-minute film was directed and produced by local filmmaker Charles Rattigan. The AASLH award singled out the contributions of Rattigan, WUHS Theater Director Harriet Worrell, historian Howard Coffin, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Superintendent Rolf Diamant and park rangers Laura Cohen and Susanne McDonald. The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in their 61st year, are the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

Superintendent Diamant is also the recipient of the first National Park Service - Northeast Region Civic Engagement Award for his leadership role “connecting the park and the community in a shared exploration of nearly forgotten history.” Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park is the first National Park to offer a walking tour devoted to the Civil War home front. The ranger-led tour through the village center includes the Congregational Church, site of early anti-slavery activity, the Phoenix Block, recently identified as the nerve center for Vermont’s war effort, and River Street Cemetery, where black Civil War veterans from Woodstock’s free African American community are buried side by side with white veterans. Research has been guided by Howard Coffin with park rangers working side by side with student interns combing home front records, from the Woodstock Historical Society to the pension files of the National Archives.

This program inspired WUHS Theater Director Harriet Worrell to create an original performance entitled Woodstock's Civil War: A Speakchorus based on the themes of the tour. Supported by a National Park Service Civic Engagement Grant, Rattigan’s film chronicles the development of the speakchorus, a rapid-fire dramatic reading of material drawn largely from personal diaries and letters of the period. The film also captures the experiences of the ten student performers as they use theater and film to research and interpret local history and in many ways reconnect to their community. The film premiered at Woodstock’s Town Hall Theater on April 14, 2005, the 140th anniversary of Abraham’s Lincoln’s assassination.

Writing in support of the AASLH award, historian and geographer David Lowenthal noted, “When I first saw this film I was stunned by its combination of historical scholarship and local immediacy. It brilliantly commingles narration and reflection, Civil War and post-Civil War scenes and reminiscences, national and local insights. It conveys extraordinary racial and social empathy. Above all, it portrays with utter conviction how, in the course of role-playing their village history, the young people who star in this production come to deepen their awareness of place and their appreciation of how the past informs and exalts the present in their own home town.”


Last updated: May 23, 2018

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