Montgomery College’s Bioscience Education Center in Germantown plays host to the 2017 Montgomery County History Conference on Saturday. Civil War tales and and dusty book collections, this is not. This event celebrates the many bygone enclaves, narratives and treasures right in our own backyard.
Now in its 11th year, the conference began as a learning tool, explains Matt Logan, Montgomery History’s executive director and conference organizer. “Back in the day,” he said, “there was this need to help historic properties and societies bring up the standard of service for its docents.” That’s why the conference takes place in January; museum attendance at the county’s many museums and historical sites is generally down in the winter months.
Not only did the conference meet that stated goal 11 years ago, it also has exceeded it and continues to reinvent itself annually with more and more relevant content, dynamic speakers and little-known reveals about Montgomery County’s past that make you say, “I didn’t know that.”
Take radio station WHFS. “WHFS was a cutting-edge radio station and a dynamic presence in Montgomery County,” Logan said. At this year’s conference, a session will be devoted to the radio station’s history. Washington Post columnist John Kelly will moderate and panelists will include deejay Jonathan “Weasel” Gilbert himself.
Other agenda highlights include: “A History of the Early Jewish Community” moderated by Montgomery County Councilman Sidney Katz, “How to Protect Local Burial Grounds” and “The Election of 1962.
Past workshops, lectures and discussion panels covered such diverse topics as 20th century suburban development, artifact and archival collections “best practices,” African American schools, creating a living history persona, historic and prehistoric archaeology, women of Maryland, and the histories of the county’s many small towns, communities and institutions such as Sugarland, Garrett Park and the Bethesda Women’s Farm Market.
The conference, which is open to all, got a boost last year when Montgomery College joined forces with Montgomery History to sponsor the event. “The partnership has been great for us,” Logan said. “The Bioscience Education Center accommodates a lot of people and the school videotapes the main speakers, edits them, and posts on YouTube.” So even those who can’t attend in person can view and learn online.
The Montgomery College partnership also opened the demographic to include more students. Students receive a special reduced registration fee to the conference of just $20. Regular admission is $60. Included in this price are a box lunch and a wine reception at the conclusion of the conference.
Logan, who joined Montgomery History three years ago, has strong background in what he calls “community building,” primarily working for environmental organizations and other nonprofits. He co-founded Potomac Riverkeeper, led the Potomac Conservancy and holds a master’s degree in U.S. history.
Fellow organizer Amy Baker said that 150 to 200 people are expected this year. They come to the conference with various interests. “Some are historians and researchers, museum professionals, and genealogists. Some are just history buffs or individuals interested in a particular session,” she said.
Baker used the word “captivating” to describe this year’s lineup. “The morning general session,” she said, “will be about a local World War I hero as told by his descendants, who will be bringing his helmet and personal letters to tell his story. Following the general session, attendees have the opportunity to attend one of four breakout sessions, ranging in topics from Jewish Developers in Montgomery County to the Warren Historic Site to Latino Perspectives of Belonging in Montgomery County to History Gems, where five organizations each present an artifact.” The afternoon breakout sessions will include topics like preservation analysis of the last 20 years in the county, Oakley Cabin, How to Protect Your Local Historic Burial Grounds, and the Election of 1962 in the County.”
The final session—perhaps the most eclectic—features radio station WHFS 102.3. This session will likely answer the question, “Why are Stephen Stills and Neil Young featured on the History Conference promotions?” Panel participants include the team working on a documentary about the station, visit http://feastyourearsthefilm.com.
If one of the challenges historians face is making history engaging, the Montgomery County History Conference appears to have broken that code. This year’s conference resembles more of a festival, complete with local personalities and elected officials. Logan said, “The only complaint we get is: ‘You have so many great sessions, it’s too hard to pick.’” When asked when he himself finds more exciting about the conference, Logan concludes, “It’s just fun to shine a light on Montgomery County through history.”
The Montgomery County History Conference at the Montgomery College Bioscience Education Center is located at 20200 Observation Drive, Germantown. For the complete schedule, visit http://montgomeryhistory.org/historyconference. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.