Interactive history display to travel through Moscow to tell stories of rural life



“The vibrancy of rural life is something I hold near and dear to my heart,” Kersting-Lark said.

SYDNEY BROWN, Evergreen reporter

Change in our culture has brought more people to cities, leaving many to think that small towns are dying. Moscow’s local historical society will host a Smithsonian exhibit starting this Friday that hopes to showcase the opposite.

“Crossroads: Change in Rural America” is one of several traveling exhibits that the Smithsonian Institution puts on for certain towns across the country. The Latah County Historical Society, led by WSU alumna Dulce Kersting-Lark, will bring in primary source photographs, poems, text panels and artifacts from the past century to provide context for the present-day state of small towns, said Kersting-Lark, the LCHS executive director.

“I don’t subscribe to the idea that if you don’t know history, you’re doomed to repeat it, but if you understand the past you can better understand today,” Kersting-Lark said.

According to the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service website, the exhibit includes five free-standing photographic exhibitions, a video monitor, an interactive touchscreen with videos and audio, and an outdoor banner. These items were collected to tell a story: despite the fear that rural life is dying, small towns have recently flourished because of their unique traits.

For Kersting-Lark, who said she considers herself a child of rural America, these themes ring especially true. She grew up in Iowa and saw firsthand the neglect some of these towns experienced. To her, the exposure people get to rural life is one-dimensional at best.

By 2010, less than one-fifth of Americans lived in nonurban areas, according to the government census website. Kersting-Lark said people commonly, and wrongly, assume that people are fleeing to the city for jobs in technology and more amenities.

But she’s under no illusion. Rural America faces its own set of problems, and she said many of these problems can be boiled down to a lack of funding for infrastructure and education. That’s why these exhibits matter, Kersting-Lark said.

The Smithsonian exhibit comes with quality content that can easily apply to everyday life in Latah County, Kersting-Lark said.

She said she usually struggles to curate exhibits that have such a national scope, so people should take this opportunity to learn about these small corners of the nation. Taxpayer dollars fund these sorts of public services, so it is meant for people to see.

“The vibrancy of rural life is something I hold near and dear to my heart,” Kersting-Lark said.

The historical display will have its opening reception from 5-7 p.m. on Friday at 411 S. Main St. in Moscow. Kersting-Lark said the reception will include refreshments and live music, and the event itself is free for all.