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Take a walk downstairs in the Ravalli County Museum to the dry cool vault, and take a look at shelves filled with videotapes.

Rows upon rows of shelves are filled with tapes, their white stickers denoting what piece of Bitterroot Valley history they hold.

Darby telephone operators. The evolution of the saddle. The Sioux world view. A Mother's Day concert. More than 400 tapes in all, recording different presentations, performances, speeches in the Bitterroot Valley.

"It's an amazing assortment," said Tamar Stanley, museum executive director, as she marveled at the different titles on the tapes. "It just boggles the mind. It's a lot of documentation."

For years, the Ravalli County Museum has had a rich tradition of lectures and presentations, which it documented for the future. But for the last couple of years, that wide offering of presentations has dried up.

However, Stanley hopes the new Humanities Montana Speakers Bureau Lecture Series that kicks off this week will jump-start the tradition yet again.

"We're really just continuing that legacy," Stanley said. "We're revitalizing it for the community."

The lecture series includes six different presentations between now and December. All lectures will be free to the public.

The lectures are thanks to a grant from Montana Humanities, a statewide nonprofit that helps other nonprofits build programming.

Montana Humanities has roughly 100 speakers for the museum to choose from. Because the museum is partnering with the Daly Mansion as well as other museums, Stanley was able to choose six presenters.

"A lot are Montana-driven, but some are just topics of interest," Stanley said.

Stanley said she tried to choose lecturers who would tie in nicely with future museum exhibits.

Historian Jo Anne Church will open the series on Thursday. Her presentation focuses on the Hudson River School, Washington Irving and their relationship to art and wilderness. Church begins her lecture at 6 p.m.

On Sept. 8, scholar E.B. Eiselein will discuss the history of cultural conflicts between settlers and Native American peoples in early Montana.

The lecture on Sept. 16, held at the Daly Mansion, will be on the splendor of the English country house, examining the way economics, culture, politics and technological advances impacted structure and interiors of English country houses. This lecture will be hosted in conjunction with the Daly Mansion.

On Sept. 24, the museum will host Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day.

On Oct. 13, storyteller Ellen Baumler will tell ghost stories of Montana's haunted past.

On Nov. 3, lecturer Sid Gustafson will discuss the nature of horse culture in the western U.S.

The series will wrap up on Dec. 8 with a lecture entitled "Celebrating Montana's Place Names" in which Brian Sovers explains how different towns and cities across the state got their names.

For more information on the series, visit

Reach reporter Whitney Bermes at 363-3300 or