Embarking on virtual history: Oysterponds Historical Society offers lectures series via webinars

Time and place. When it comes to history, both are important.

History involves connecting different time periods, the past and the present. Now the Oysterponds Historical Society has found a way, through technology, to make place irrelevant for those interested in learning about that history.

The Oysterponds Historical Society, whose mission is to preserve and celebrate the history of East Marion and Orient, has found a way to expand its historical offerings through its Alone Together Virtual Lecture Series. Zoom webinars are set up for the speaker, who controls the video and audio, and “attendees,” who may ask questions about the various topics covered.

Since unveiling the lecture series March 27, the historical society has engaged, entertained and educated people well beyond the North Fork, said Sarah Sands, the society’s executive director.

The subjects are varied and transcend merely local interests. Lectures may be found on such varied topics as the 1938 hurricane, the life and times of Sam Gumpertz (who rode with Buffalo Bill), the diary of a whaling wife and the North Fork wine industry.

“They’ve offered some really great topics,” Amy Folk, the society’s manager of collections, said. “Some topics are regular topics for us. People always want to know about ice boating. They always want to know about bunker fishing and things like that, which are great regular topics for us, but we’ve offered some different topics.”

The 15 video conferences have garnered over 1,000 views from 389 people, according to Ms. Sands, who has been gratified by the feedback. She said about half of those people watched six or more of the lectures while 12 have watched them all. Viewers from as far away as Ireland and Argentina, as well as multiple states, have seen them, she said. “We’ve reached people so far and wide who have knowledge of Oysterponds and love it,” she said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has closed the society’s offices, its staff members have been working remotely. Not that long ago, this wouldn’t have been possible without the technology available nowadays.

“It’s opened up a whole new window of ways we can deliver our mission and deliver it to people who are far away instead of just all local,” Ms. Sands said. She added: “I think it’s been overwhelmingly positive and sort of helps relieve some of the stress and the worry about what the future holds. In fact, we are so positive about it that we decided that even when, if, this COVID thing ever ends, we’re going to continue to do the online lectures.”

The historical society, founded in 1944, maintains seven historic buildings and has 75,000 items in its collection, including papers, furniture, carriages and an antique ice boat, said Ms. Sands.

These lecture recordings could be seen as a valuable historical resource for future generations. Ms. Folk placed a caveat on that thought, however, noting that videos degrade over time and must be updated to constantly changing technology.

Ms. Folk said this is the first time the society has made use of such webinars. Reaching out with webinars and virtual exhibits, she said, is a way museums can stay in contact and continue to serve their communities.

“I have been on so many webinars, Zoom calls myself with all the museums,” she said, “putting our heads together across the country … trying to figure out how we can continue our mission, even though we have to stay at home, and trying to put together virtual exhibits and how to be in contact with our communities and continuing teaching history since we more of less have a captive audience.”

These sort of webinars, she said, “might break new ground … Maybe this may end up being a part of the new normal for us.”