Maine History Online: Not Your Mother’s History Text

Music class, Maine School for the Deaf, Portland, 1925. One of the images in "Taking Care & Educating," a thematically-organized section in Maine History Online, and the featured Maine Memory exhibit in the current "This Week at MHS" e-newsletter.

Remember your middle school textbook on Maine history? No? That’s not surprising. Textbooks, and their content, have a way of sticking with us only about as long as we need them for that particular grade or semester. Not often written thematically and generally lacking in dynamic story-telling, textbooks are why many people grow up thinking history is just a bunch of isolated dates, events, and famous people.

The home page for the "Taking Care & Educating" section of Maine History Online.

Enter Maine History Online (MHO). Supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, this multi-layered portion of Maine Memory Network is Maine Historical Society’s answer to ye olde static history lessons. Using the power of the web, hundreds of illustrations and lively text weave together to tell the stories of Maine people and places over and across time.

Residents, Pownal State School, ca. 1937. Another image in one of the exhibits under the "Taking Care & Educating" section of MHO.

While the site offers essays and exhibits organized chronologically, one of the greatest advantages of MHO is the equal weight given to thematically-organized sections. Thus, while it’s always going to be important to know when an event took place, or who the important Mainers were during a given era, it’s just as important to look across eras to unifying themes.

The latest This Week at MHS featured Taking Care & Educating, but there are six other dynamic themes that organize our state across the centuries: Peopling Maine, Living off the Land & Sea, Leaders & Causes, Trade & Transport, Mainers Go to War, and Culture & Community. Each have multiple exhibits with compelling stories of Mainers serving as examples of that theme.

If you want to know more about how MHO was conceived, written, and constructed, it’s all here, including the authors of the introductory narratives to each major section. Meanwhile, start browsing some of the essays and exhibits. We bet you’ll find them a good bit more memorable than whatever that textbook was you read back in middle school.

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