Community Video: The Shamokin Fire History Museum Experience

Carl Milofsky and Brianna Derr (Bucknell University)

In community video academics engage members of a community using ethnographic research methods and then develop projects jointly that address a community need and also express meaningful aspects of the local community’s culture using the medium of video.  A partnership has been developed between Bucknell University and the low-income coal region towns of Mt. Carmel and Shamokin thirty-five miles from campus.

In this talk we report on the film students in SOCI 206, Video Ethnography, created in partnership with the volunteer fire fighters of Shamokin focusing on the Shamokin Fire History Museum. Through local network contacts we learned that the Fire History Museum is a facility close to the hearts of volunteers who make up the six volunteer fire companies in this low-income town of 7200 people. The museum represents the life work of John Smith who had been the fire dispatcher and who convinced the town to convert a public restroom into a museum building where he could carry on the work of assembling photos, paraphernalia, and detailed accounts of fires in Shamokin dating back to the 1890s. But once Smith died, no one has known how to understand or access the materials in the museum. The student film concentrates on John Smith as an individual and the symbolic importance of the museum and its contents. We hope it will serve as the jumping off point for organization of an archival project in which the contents of the museum could be organized and made available to the public.