Memory Lane Online

Even during a pandemic lockdown, there are places to go where people can go to share memories about St. Martin. It’s like being on a shady front porch or a cafe terrace with friends, looking at old photos and talking about days gone by. Of course, these places are online and instead of a few friends, there are thousands.

On St. Martin, the most popular spots for this kind of sharing are Facebook groups. They have become a unique medium for sharing heritage. It is easy to see elements of oral tradition, storytelling, scrapbooking and journaling. It has a lot in common with the ways St. Martiners have shared and saved their culture for generations.

Communities sharing heritage on social media are also different from what came before. They can be very large. Some have thousands of members, who make dozens of posts and hundreds of comments every day. Strangers can interact with each other, united in a common interest. The conversations are also recorded. Members can go back and view old posts and even add their own memories to past discussions.

Over time, these groups have created a new kind of heritage collection. The topics and views come from ordinary people. Anyone can share the memories that they find meaningful. In a twist on the old way of documenting culture, people often post materials from books or articles and give their thoughts and critiques. No one needs credentials to share their story. No one needs to be consulted by an “expert.”

These groups are an amazing place to connect, share and interact. They are also a tremendous resource for preserving heritage. They are a chance to transform and enrich history by including the stories of far more people. We are only beginning to explore their potential.

These are resources as valuable as any book or archive. It is worth considering how to protect and preserve them. Facebook doesn’t offer the ability to back up or export the contents of a group. Users can delete the posts they made, and all their material disappears if they delete their account. A world of history is a the mercy of the users, group managers and Facebook itself.

Facebook groups often have a member who can name any person, house or tree in a photo. (Barbara Cannegieter Postcard Collection)

Facebook’s group feature wasn’t created to build archives. It is wonderful to follow and contribute in real time, but groups aren’t easy to organize or search. This material deserves to be more accessible to the public, to students and teachers and to local scholars. It should be on an equal footing with more traditional research resources.

We will surely learn to harness the potential of this amazing tool. In the meantime, why not join in the fun? The group We Are St. Maarten/St. Martin is very active, and every day amazing old memories and photos are posted. Discussions are fascinating and touching.

Do you have a favorite Facebook group for sharing St. Martin memories? Let us know by writing to info@lesfruitsdemer.com or The Daily Herald.

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