by Jolie Leung
Rachel Meloche recalls being infatuated with history since she was a child. Now the coordinator of the BC Heritage Fair’s Provincial Alumni Council, she urges young people to look beyond the textbook and get involved with heritage.
“If you want to know why things are the way they are in the moment, you have to understand historically how things happened.”
Rachel studied European history and English literature as an undergraduate, focusing on the Second World War, to better understand her family’s role in the war. Referring to how her studies connected to her life, she told me that “being able to study [WWII] was a way of “being closer to my grandfather, without talking to him about those things that were super painful.”
Her interest in history and heritage began in grade school, but this is not always the case with young people.
Even for somebody who had interviewed dozens of passionate students as a Regional Fair adjudicator,”getting people to care” is still the biggest challenge facing heritage and history awareness. Many tend to view history as far removed and irrelevant, whereas Rachel argues the opposite; one must understand history to truly understand current events.
“Many people’s only experience with history are the mandatory classes they had to take in high school. Allowing students to explore aspects of history they find engaging, rather than force-feeding knowledge, fosters youth interest.
“History isn’t always the big world events, it’s all of the little things,” Rachel notes.
Heritage Fairs means different things to different people. To Rachel, it is an opportunity for students to explore their own interests.
“I have seen projects about cryptozoology, about the development of the Spanish Flu, and about family histories. A Heritage Fair project is a great way for kids to get a first step into history. The experience of research and discovery is a far cry from the lecture hall, as students learn both about themselves and about their topic.”
As the new coordinator for the Provincial Alumni Council, Rachel addressed being ready for a fresh challenge. “I love working with people who are really excited about history.” She believes that the alumni have the potential to send powerful messages as youth ambassadors for history.
Rachel anticipates the alumni creation of a ‘package’ that would allow any alumnus in the province to present to the public about Heritage Fairs. “Teachers and parents and librarians and everybody involved want to know that this work is going to be valuable, and the alumni are the absolute best to speak to that.”
Rachel also urges anybody and everybody to reach out to their regional committees and get involved as a volunteer. Financial donations are also welcome and highly appreciated.
To end our interview, I turned a question she had posed to the alumni on her: What career would she take in history besides her current one?
“Archaeology is fascinating. Archaeologists need to have an understanding of history, so they know what they are looking at, but it’s part science and part history.”
Rachel cited an anecdote about mammoth bones that appear as a giant human frame when joined incorrectly. She also talked about the cycle of discovery: how we evaluate archaeological findings by comparing them with current knowledge, then add to the knowledge by recording said findings.
“I considered the role of young people as the next generation in history and heritage, and how our work extends into the future.”