Oregon History Boot Camp: Meet the OHS Docents

February 19, 2019

By Kristen Pilgrim

OHS members Barbara Woodford and Tom Kelly chat with OHS docent Darren Layne in the new “Experience Oregon” exhibit in February 2019.

The Oregon Historical Society’s new permanent exhibit, Experience Oregon, opened on Thursday, February 14, 2019, and the first school tours arrived the very next day! In the first week since its opening, hundreds of students from kindergarten through college visited the exhibit, and thousands more will follow throughout the year. OHS is committed to engaging a wide range of audiences, and these volunteers have been working double-time to prepare to lead tours for students from all backgrounds with varied learning styles.

All fall and winter of 2018, 34 volunteers met twice a month with museum staff and guest speakers for four-hour sessions to learn exhibit content as well as teaching and learning strategies for conducting great tours. The training will continue throughout the 2019 school year as these volunteers develop the skills needed to be OHS docents — tour guides for visiting school groups. The docents-in-training have much to learn as Experience Oregon introduces visitors to the diverse peoples who live and have lived in Oregon since time immemorial to the present.

Kristen Pilgrim leads an OHS docent training in January 2019. Photo by Denise Musacchio.

Kristen Pilgrim, standing with a clipboard, leads one of the many docent trainings at the Oregon Historical Society. When the docents finish their training, they will be prepared to develop and lead their own group tours through “Experience Oregon.”

George Himes stands with a Chinookan-style canoe in in about 1915. OHS Research Library, org. lot 301, Prentiss lantern slide, digital no. bb017902

George Himes stands with a Chinookan-style canoe outside the Oregon Historical Society (then located in the Tourney Building at Taylor and 2nd streets) in about 1915. The canoe and paddles have been in OHS’ collection for over one hundred years and are now on display in its new exhibit, “Experience Oregon.” Credit: OHS Research Library, org. lot 301, Prentiss lantern slide, digital no. bb017902.

In a recent training, our volunteers learned about a few of the wonderful artifacts on display in the exhibit, including a Chinookan-style canoe and its four matching paddles. Many Indigenous people have fashioned sea-worthy canoes from old-growth cedars, a tradition they are passing on to their children today. The docents learned about the people who made the canoe, how it was crafted, and how to facilitate students’ exploration of the canoe. Docents practice how to deliver tours to young visitors, from those who may be just learning to read to high school and college students with increasingly extensive history backgrounds.

OHS docents at Experience Oregon entrance. Photo by Denise Musacchio

Thirty-four volunteers worked throughout the fall and winter of 2018 to prepare to lead tours in OHS’ new exhibit, “Experience Oregon.” These dedicated volunteers have been working double-time to prepare to become OHS docents. Here they pose with OHS Curator of Education, Kristen Pilgrim, at the exhibit’s entry stairway after a training in December 2018.

Tours at OHS focus on interactivity and fun. Students are encouraged to ask questions; to hear different perspectives; to touch a canoe, paddle, and other objects; and to explore digital material through engaging interactive prompts, such as our “memory blanket” activity at the end of the exhibit. Each docent will also develop a tour highlighting a theme of their choosing, such as how Oregonians have affected their environment and conversely, how the environment has shaped Oregonians. 

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