New app tells hidden history of Pocumtuck people at Historic Deerfield 

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-16-2023 7:16 PM

DEERFIELD — With the launch of its new mobile app, Historic Deerfield is inviting the public to learn about indigenous history through a walking tour placing the museum’s main street in its original context.

Now available on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store at no charge, the Historic Deerfield app guides people along the museum’s main stretch with audio narration and images describing the Pocumtuck history of Deerfield and the region.

The main goal of the app, Historic Deerfield Public Historian Barbara Matthews said, is to introduce people to an essential part of Deerfield’s history that’s often been obscured by Colonial settlers at each of the 16 stops.

“Sometimes the built environment, the houses or the streetscape, prevent people from being able to access that presence or history … if you’re just going from building to building, you’re missing something very important,” Matthews said. “We think it’s an opportunity for people to learn about those histories they might not see or be aware of.”

The museum worked with several collaborators on the project, including University of Pennsylvania associate professor of anthropology Margaret Bruchac, who is also the school’s coordinator of the Native American and Indigenous Studies initiative. Historic Deerfield also worked with Dartmouth College professor Colin Calloway, Amherst College historian Lisa Brooks, University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Alice Nash and local historian Peter Thomas.

Bruchac, who was the lead scholar on the project and the narrator of the app, said in a statement that the app recognizes Deerfield is the ancestral homeland of the Pocumtuck people and emphasizes that, despite the visible dominance of the presence of the English, this area’s history is deeply impacted by those who were here first.

“When we consider the history of this place, it is important to acknowledge that the town we now call Deerfield is situated within the ancestral homeland of the Indigenous Pocumtuck people,” Bruchac said.

“Despite the imposing presence of 18th- and 19th-century English architecture and monuments, this is still an Indigenous landscape. We can still hear the stories, we can still see the evidence of Native homelands, and we can better understand the legacies of the past in Native memories today, if we take time to stop and listen.”

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Matthews said Historic Deerfield’s main street is “right on top of an ancient Pocumtuck path” and the museum itself is “right in the heart of the Pocumtuck homelands.” At each stop along the tour, Bruchac’s narration shares Pocumtuck life, culture and history and Matthews is hopeful this app will drive interest in Indigenous history.

“This is one small piece we’re able to share with visitors in hope they want to learn more and have a deeper understanding and appreciation for indigenous history and perspectives,” Matthews said.

The development of the app is the first time Historic Deerfield has ventured into the world of mobile phones and Matthews said it’s an opportunity to open another avenue for people to explore history. While the app is designed as a self-guided tour, its information can be accessed from anywhere, meaning those who can’t make the trip out to Deerfield are still welcome to learn about the Pocumtuck people.

“It’s making other options available for people who want to interact with museums or a place in a different way,” Matthews said. “Historic Deerfield is excited to be involved in that.”

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