Tributes & Video Biographies
Sharing Life Stories, Connecting Generations, Preserving Legacies

2009 Association of Personal Historians Conference in Valley Forge


If you follow me on any of the social media platforms such as Twitter (@stefanitwyford) or Facebook, you’ll know that I spent the previous week at the 2009 Association of Personal Historians Conference in Valley Forge Pennsylvania.

Having never been to the Philadelphia area, I was particularly excited to be spending time at Valley Forge, the historic site of the American Revolution and birthplace of everything we now take for granted as being intrinsically American. I was not disappointed. For the most part, the weather was spectacular and I got in several hikes in the historic Valley Forge National Park where Continental Soldier barracks still exist and canons lay about the fields as if no afterthought was given to their disposal. I also spent a day in downtown Philadelphia and took one of those double-decker bus tours of the historic sights with my friend CJ Madigan. We had a great time and learned a lot about Philadelphia as well. Unfortunately we chose to tour on a Monday and most of the museums were closed so I guess that will just give me a reason to visit again.

This is the second APH conference I have attended, the first was two years ago in Nashville TN, whose local persona is still steeped in the Civil War (you could see an American war theme here although next year’s conference will be held in Victoria, British Columbia so that ends any comparisons.) When I went to Nashville I was new to the organization and spent my time meeting people, finding out what they were up to, and seeing where our work fit in among the other members. Since that time, I have gotten more involved within the organization, serving on their education committee, providing support in upcoming website changes as well as creating a social media presence for the organization. I’ve gotten to know several of the members well through emails, phone calls, and list serve postings, so I was excited to be going there and sharing some time with them as well as making new friends.

When you have a career in an area that is not too well known, in our case personal history or video biography, it is very exciting to find and meet with people who share your passion for storytelling. It provides an opportunity to share what you’re doing, learn from others, talk and even commiserate about specific issues you’ve faced and get advice on projects you may be looking to work on. There were close to 200 people at the conference and believe me, we’re not all doing the same thing. Many write books, more and more are going into video work, there are photo and film restoration experts, graphic designers that specialize in book layouts, printers that specialize in short run books and magazines, audio technicians, storytellers that specialize in hospice, storytellers that specialize in corporate histories and even an ‘celebrant’ who personalizes memorial services by sharing stories of the deceased’s life. You get the picture, we’re a unique and extremely talented group of people.

We had some terrific keynote speakers that still have me thinking. Maureen Taylor, known as the Photo Detective, shared details of the work she’s been doing researching photos and life stories for her upcoming book, “The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation.” This book has been in the works for nearly a decade and she shared with us the many hot and cold leads from one photo to another. With some interesting lessons on identifying hair styles, print backgrounds and clothing clues, I now am able to recognize the bonnet of a married women during the Revolutionary War without having to Google it!

Kurt Medina, of Medina Associates, talked to us about marketing to the Boomer Generation. Sharing his “77 Truths About the Age 50+ Consumer” he told us that age group was particularly looking for value and if they could find the implied value in a product or service, they would purchase. While I found his slide comparisons of ads that deftly targeted seniors needs and desires to those that were more about the advertiser useful in learning about marketing technique, when he completely dismissed social media I had to disagree. I approached him after and told him that yes, 70 year olds were probably not sitting on the internet Googleing how to find a personal historian. But women over 50 are the fastest growing demographic on Facebook and Boomers are increasingly shopping, socializing and learning on the internet. By so patently dismissing the current surge in social media, he was making a big mistake. I finally got him to agree that he may have been overstated his position but by then, most of the people had left the room and many who were registered for my social media workshop the very next day, decided that it wasn’t worth pursuing.

My workshop did end up having about 30 people attend and I thought that it went very well. There were basically two camps, those that were ready to embrace social media and wanted to know how, and those that were skeptical and wanted to be convinced. My position is that whether they chose to develop a social media campaign or not, they did need to recognize that social media is an evolution in communication and not a fad to be quickly dismissed. If they could get this, then they could choose from knowledge and develop a social media strategy that worked for them rather than avoid social media altogether out of fear. We had some interesting discussions and I didn’t get to cover all the things I had hoped we’d be able to do in the session but so far the feedback has been good. I’m looking forward to reading the written reviews from participants when they are sent to me.

There were many other fantastic sessions featuring everything from techniques for interviewing people to reviewing the nuts and bolts of video biographies. Several unique project concepts were introduced that allowed members to explore outside the traditional box on what might be possible when approaching a new project. We also had a “Print Show and Tell” as well as a “Video Share” where I screened part of a video that we’ve won three awards for this year. There were some amazing videos there. I was quite smitten with a first attempt at a video biography – watching as the elder woman gave a tour through her china cabinet talking about what pieces she particularly liked. It was very sweet. There were many emotion-provoking moments at the video share, which I think, is probably the point.

The keynote speaker that made the most impact on me was Lily Koppel, author of “The Red Leather Diary”. I was mesmerized by her speech and have almost finished reading her book and will visit this in my next blog post so stay tuned for that in the next week.

Next year’s 2010 Personal Historians Conference will take place in early November in majestic Victoria, British Columbia Canada and the Call for Proposals is open until January 14, 2010. Hope to see many of you there!

Stefani Twyford is a personal historian sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.

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