Marlboro Ale Archive Project

By Pat MacPherson, with Susan Creighton

Susan CreightonSusan Creighton gathers posters from all the years of the Ale.On a sunny June day in 2019, in Greenfield, MA, Rachel Diamondstone and Susan Creighton were at the same event and got chatting. Rachel—the current squire (administrative leader) of the Marlboro (VT) Morris Ale committee, a group that organizes an annual morris dance gathering that hosts several hundred participants from both the U.S. and England—approached Susan with a question.

“I know that you’re an archivist now, or about to become one, right? I’ve been wanting to talk to you about archiving the Marlboro Morris Ale. We’re coming up on our 50th anniversary in a few years, and I think we should do something. Are you interested in talking further?”

Sometimes life conspires to bring people together at the right time to make wonderful things happen. In 2017, I was working at CDSS as Education Director, making books and running oral history projects, and Susan was just about to make a big transition in her life, from working as a mathematics educator to becoming a graduate student again. While we were at lunch one day, Susan mentioned her dream of eventually using her Library Science degree to help people save their family histories and stories. There was an almost audible “ping” in the air for me as I asked, “Do you want to go into business together?” Without a second thought, Susan replied, “Yes!”

By 2019, Susan and I had created NARRATUS, our two-woman, independently-owned business, and the realization of our shared dream. And when Rachel reached out to Susan that summer day, we were just about to reach out to her!

Field Guide to the Marlboro Morris AleThe “Field Guide” provides information to all Ale attendees about the various participating teams.In looking for funding for the Marlboro Ale Archive project, NARRATUS contacted Katy German, the current Executive Director of CDSS. CDSS has been instrumental since its inception in supporting morris dance in North America, from the early days with May Gadd in New York City. Katy was interested in expanding CDSS’s support of ritual and display dance in new ways and gave us hope that a proposal from NARRATUS might secure funding. Katy requested we add a new dimension to the project: in order to benefit the entire morris community, she suggested the addition of an archiving “toolkit” as one of the project outcomes. This toolkit would take the form of a set of resources, available to all morris ale organizers, that provided guidance on how to archive their own events, based on lessons learned from working with the Marlboro Ale.

In short, we received funding from CDSS, and since early in 2020, NARRATUS has been enthusiastically working with Rachel and the Marlboro Ale committee.

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Much has changed over the years of the Marlboro Ale, but the Ale’s core remains: teams from many locations and in many traditions, touring Brattleboro and Windham County in Vermont, camping, feasting, drinking, and singing. The artifacts of the Ale over the years, as you might expect, include posters, t-shirts, buttons, flyers, booklets, rosters of the invited teams, and many, many photos, videos, and stories. These are delightful to receive as donations as Susan and I see the faces of many friends.

morris dancersMagazine spread. An exciting addition to the collection is the original May 1981 issue of Smithsonian Magazine featuring an article on the Marlboro Ale.While we are in Phase One of this multi-year project, NARRATUS is fine tuning first drafts of a set of resources and systems for collecting and processing archival donations from members of the Marlboro Morris Ale committee. In Phase Two, we will reach out to the broader community of Marlboro Morris Ale attendees to share their own donations to the archival collection. At the same time, we are testing remote interview techniques and are about to start interviewing a selection of people who were there at the beginning of the Ale in the 1970s, collecting their memories and stories.

We have three goals: 1) the establishment of the physical collection and master files that will reside at the Vermont Folklife Center as the repository of the collection; 2) the creation of a website that will include digitized versions of the donations; and, 3) the development of an ale archiving toolkit that will be made available through CDSS. The mission of the VFC aligns perfectly with the aims of CDSS in supporting the archive project. VFC is “a nationally-known folklife education organization that uses ethnography—study of cultural experience through interviewing, participation and observation—to strengthen the understanding of the cultural and social fabric of Vermont’s diverse communities... to assure a repository for our collective cultural memory; and to strengthen communities by building connections among the diverse peoples of Vermont.”

Needless to say, Susan and I are having great fun on this project, and are proud to be doing this work, on behalf of the Marlboro founders and participants, and on behalf of CDSS, as we help preserve the joy of community and dance.

Contact NARRATUS at narratus413@gmail.com.

     
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