10 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Jacobite Risings to Princess History. Paprika to Venus Fly Traps.

During July and August, blueberries become ready for picking. There are many farms in Western MA where you can pick your own berries, or farm stands and markets to purchase local berries to enjoy at home. Read more about the season of berries in our Summer Season issue of Learning Ahead.

Vincent van Gogh to Miriam Makeba. Knitting Circles to Shaker History. Spices to Royalty. These are just a few of the community-based learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured community highlight this week:

Come celebrate Bryant Day with an afternoon of history and literature at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead on Saturday, July 21, 12-4pm! Learn all about 19th-century history with lectures, guided tours of the Homestead, and a special performance of Civil War-era ballroom dancing by the Small Planet Dancers. If you are a dancer or a dancing enthusiast, you won’t want to miss this wonderful opportunity to experience traditional 19th-century dances. There will also be a wide variety of food and craft vendors. For more information and a complete list of activities, please visit Bryant Day. William Cullen Bryant Homestead. 207 Bryant Road, Cummington, MA ($)


In the late 17th and 18th centuries, the Scottish Highlanders mounted a series of wars and rebellions against British rule, known as the Jacobite Risings. After the final revolution was put down in 1746, the British government enacted a series of laws designed to appease the Scottish by undermining their communities and traditions. It was forbidden to wear tartans and kilts, all weapons had to be surrendered, and clan chiefs were replaced by landlords and tax collectors. Collectively, these policies and their after-effects are known as the Highland Clearances. In response to these repressive laws and practices, the Highland Games became a way to affirm and celebrate Scottish Highland culture. The modern Highland Games originated during the Victorian era and have now spread all over the English speaking world.

Saturday, July 21, 9am-9pm
Celebrate all things Scottish at the 25th Annual Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival! There will be live music, animals, games, historical reenactments, demonstrations, activities, and more! Historic Highlanders, a Scottish cultural and educational organization will be at the festival recreating everyday life of Highland society from 1314-1746. There will also be traditional music and competitions, including bagpipes and drum bands. Come hungry and discover traditional Scottish fare like haggis and bridies. The festival is a fun way for families to celebrate and learn about Scottish history and culture while enjoying all the festival has to offer. Takes place at Look Park. 300 North Main Street, Florence, MA ($)

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Vincent van Gogh is now considered one of the foundational figures in the history of modern art, producing more than 800 oil paintings, mostly done in the final two years of his life. During his lifetime, however, van Gogh was regarded as an outsider, a madman, and a failure. His earliest works are uninspired still lifes that show very little indication of the genius he possessed. It wasn’t until he moved to Paris in his early thirties and befriended the great Paul Gauguin that he began to develop his avant-garde impressionism, for which he is remembered today. The incredible creative output of his final four years came at a great cost. Utterly neglecting his health and frequently refusing to eat, van Gogh suffered from numerous nervous breakdowns, which ultimately claimed his life. ♦ Taking a lighter view of Van Gogh, let’s have a quick look through the lens of food:

Saturday, July 21, 12:30pm
Now, let’s take a more in-depth look at Van Gogh in an upcoming screening of the documentary  “Vincent Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing,” featuring interviews with the curatorial staff from the Van Gogh museum and shedding light onto the troubled and brilliant world of this incredible genius. Amherst Cinema. 28 Amity Street, Amherst, MA ($)

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“There’s a play so powerful that an old superstition says its name should never be uttered in a theater. A play that begins with witchcraft and ends with a bloody, severed head. A play filled with riddles, prophecies, nightmare visions, and lots of brutal murder. But is it really all that good? Brendan Pelsue explains why you should read (or revisit) ‘Macbeth.'” – Why should you read “Macbeth”? – Brendan Pelsue (TED-Ed)

Saturday, July 21, 7-10pm
It’s something of a cliche to say that Shakespeare’s work was ahead of its time. But then again, cliches are cliches for a reason! In terms of race and gender, particularly, Shakespeare’s writing seems shockingly contemporary. In Othello, for example, he presents one of the most powerful early modern analyses of racism and “the other,” although the play is certainly not immune to the rampant racism of 17th century England. As scholars have noted, the Protestant Reformation in England promoted the idea of a strictly ordered society and projected its own repressed neuroses onto the figure of “the other.” In the case of Othello, a North African or Middle Eastern captain in the service of the Venetian navy, his outsider status is consistently emphasized and reinforced by being called ‘a moor.’ The term, which is racially and religiously ambiguous, could be used in Shakespeare’s day to refer to anyone from Africa, the Middle East, or even India. It also had religious connotations, suggesting any non-Christian. Thus, Othello finds himself in a precarious position simply by being an other. Iago, the play’s truly evil villain, exploits Othello’s painful awareness of his outsider status, in order to push him to the brink. This can also be seen as a commentary by Shakespeare on the work of his contemporaries, who generally used racially othered characters to represent treachery and dishonesty. Come see Othello this Saturday, performed by the Hampshire Shakespeare Company. The Arthur F. Kinney Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies. 650 East Pleasant Street, Amherst, MA ($)

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Sunday, July 22, 8:30am-12pm
As Nobel-prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney once wrote, in his collection of bog poems: “I lay waiting / on the gravel bottom, / my brain darkening, / a jar of spawn / fermenting underground / dreams of Baltic amber. / Bruised berries under my nails, / the vital hoard reducing / in the crock of the pelvis.” There is something about bogs that always stirs the imagination. Dark water, never knowing whether what you see is solid ground or merely a shifting spot of moss drifting over the murky depths. What secrets and mysteries lay hidden beneath centuries of mud? If you are enchanted by bogs, you won’t want to miss this journey to the Hawley Bog, with naturalist Ted Watt. Learn all about how 30 foot thick mats of moss float over a deep glacial depression and find out about some of the strange and fascinating plant species that live in the bog, including orchids and other carnivorous plants. Hawley, MA ($$)

“SciShow describes the fascinating science of Darwin’s little darlings: meat-eating plants. Learn about their many different types, how they catch and eat their prey, and how scientists think they evolved.” – SciShow: Darwin’s Darlings: Meat-Eating Plants

All summer long and through the fall, find out about nature-based learning opportunities happening around western Massachusetts here on Hilltown Families. These are terrific ways to let your kids (and yourselves!) learn and connect with your local environment. Children who come to understand and value nature often carry that perspective into adulthood. Give the children in your life a strong, early connection to the world around them through nature-based learning activities in your community! Be sure to subscribe to our weekly eNewsletter to stay up-to-date!

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Interest: HISTORY

Monday, July 23, 11am-12:30pm
Travel back in time to the 19th century and experience what daily life would have been like for a child in a Shaker community. Visitors will learn about the kinds of work and play that Shaker children experienced, including gardening and baking. This is a great way to learn about how self-sufficient communities were in the 19th century and how young people played a vital role in the village economy. This event is appropriate for children ages 3-12. Hancock Shaker Village. 1843 West Housatonic Street, Pittsfield, MA ($)

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Interest: ROYALTY

“Forget about Disney princesses like Ariel or Jasmine. Here are some badass princesses around the world that either fought in wars or saved their country.” – Beyond Science 2

Tuesday, July 24, 1-3pm
In many stories, the princess plays the role of the ‘damsel in distress,’ who needs to be rescued by the brave prince. In reality, however, history is full of princesses who were more than capable of taking care of themselves. Rani Lakshmi Bai, a princess from 19th century India, grew up learning archery, horse riding, and sword fighting. When the British seized her lands following the death of her husband, Lakshmi Bai raised an army, including many women warriors, and went to war against the mighty British empire. Legend has it that Lakshmi Bai even rode into battle with her infant son strapped to her back! Watch the video above and take this perspective with you to the Princess Songs and Tea party, this Tuesday at the Whitney Center for the Arts. 42 Wendell Ave, Pittsfield, MA ($)

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“People who live near the equator use more spices per recipe than people who live far from the equator. But that isn’t for the reason you think. Spices and other plant ingredients have special powers that make them a truly magical superfood!” – It’s Okay To Be Smart

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Wednesday, July 25, 7-8:30pm
Miriam Makeba, known as Mama Africa, is one of the greatest figures in modern African music and the South African Anti-Apartheid movement. She was one of the first African musicians to become internationally popular and performed with many of the greatest performers of her day, including Harry Belafonte and Nina Simone. While Makeba’s role in popularizing afropop and ‘world music’ was pivotal, she remained committed to the struggle of South Africans against apartheid. As an outspoken critic of the regime’s racist policies, Makeba was exiled in 1960 but continued to work to dismantle racial segregation in her country. Makeba spoke at the United Nations against apartheid and, after settling in the United States, also become a key member of the Civil Rights movement. After marrying Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael, Makeba was then targeted by the United States government and finally, she and Carmichael moved to Guinea in 1968. Makeba only returned to her homeland in 1990 when apartheid was finally dismantled. The documentary “Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba” tells the story of this amazing woman and her lifelong struggle for justice through music. Amherst Cinema. 28 Amity Street, Amherst, MA ($)

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Knitting circles have been an important part of traditional community life for millennia. In modern history, knitting circles have often been associated with politically subversive activities. In the early days of the United States, for example, the Daughters of Liberty organized a boycott of all British goods, especially including textiles, as a way to reduce the young nation’s dependence on foreign goods. The Daughters of Liberty promoted knitting and weaving, as a way to demonstrate the kinds of political actions available to women. Since women were often excluded from political action, knitting circles became a vital space to work together, discuss important issues of the day, strategize and organize, all under the guise of so-called ‘women’s work.’ Nowadays, of course, it’s not only women who are discovering a passion for knitting! Read more about the history of knitting activism in this article published by PBS News Hour, “Stitch by stitch, a brief history of knitting and activism.

Wednesday, July 25, 7-9pm
Come make new friends, meet members of the community, and work on your knitting together at the Library Knitting Group in Shutesbury. Local knitting enthusiasts will be there to answer questions and offer help on your knitting project. M. N. Spear Memorial Library. 10 Cooleyville Road, Shutesbury, MA (FREE)

Knitting also has a spot within the creative placemaking movement as Magda Sayeg shares here in her TED Talk, How yarn bombing grew into a worldwide movement:

An age-old skill, knitting provides us with some of our most treasured warm clothes. Learning the art of knitting can not only help to provide warmth, but can lead to explorations of local history, local agriculture, and complex math – and families can even engage in service-based learning by donating hand-knitted goods to help support people in need! Read more in our post, Knitting Supports Explorations of History, Agriculture & Mathematics.

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Tuesday, July 24, 6-7pm
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series has delighted readers for almost a century! Wilder’s fond recollections of her childhood on the frontiers of the American Midwest are touching, nostalgic, and filled with historical details of what everyday life was like for the pioneer settlers. The books, originally written for elementary school aged children, are an absolute delight for readers of all ages. Now fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder will have the chance to meet the author herself, in a special performance by historical interpreter Rosalie Silliman! Ask questions and learn all about the facts and fictions of Wilder’s extraordinary life. Lilly Library. 19 Meadow Street, Florence, MA (FREE)

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Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Ashfield, Bernardston, Chester, Chesterfield, Conway, Erving, Heath, Holyoke, Montgomery, Pelham, Rowe, Russell, Shutesbury, South Hadley, and Springfield Cultural Councils, local agencies that are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

[Photo credit (cc) Bennilover]

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