"There's a lot of what we do not know."
That's what Dr. Mitch Kachun said about Collins in one of his two speeches at the Juneteenth celebration at Brandon Park on Saturday.
Kachun, a professor of history at Western Michigan University, has extensively researched local African-American author and teacher Julia Collins.
The professor expressed being gratified he could take part in helping to finally recognize Collins' work after 140 years.
He said his research was done so he could help better understand and appreciate her life.
Collins taught school in Williamsport in the middle 1800s and wrote her novel here. She also wrote several essays.
She was a trailblazer, a thinker and hurdler of the obstacles African-Americans faced during that era.
In 2006, Oxford University Press republished Collins' novel and essays.
Her life and writings provide a glimpse into the rarely documented experiences of 19th century African-American women, their families and their communities.
But in his brief remarks, the history professor, who has been to the Juneteenth event in 2005 and 2007, turned his attention toward a new generation of potential historians. Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of slaves in 1863.
"History isn't about memorizing dates," he said. "It is about people."
The historian tries to see the world as those in the past viewed it, something he believes helps develop empathy and open-mindedness.
By humanizing the people of the past, Kachun claimed one gains the historical perspective which forces thoughts about the actions of individuals of the past and how they have an impact today.
For example, Collins' experiences can be read at local bookstores and libraries today, and is forever memorialized by a state marker on the Susquehanna River Walk and Lumber Heritage Trail.
But Kachun reminded folks how "incomplete" and "uncertain" knowledge of the past has been.
He compared it to a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with details and pieces missing.
For instance, a vast majority of the 1890 Federal Census was destroyed and many valuable records are no longer available because of natural disasters, such as floods.
Still, there's hope for a new generation of those who seek to find the true accounts of lives and experiences from the past.
Many resources are available, such as the James V. Brown Library and Lycoming County Historical Society and Genealogical Society.
Newspapers, which chronicle the important events of the day, such as business news, elections, organizations, natural disasters, local happenings and sports, also are valuable historical resources, he said.
"You don't have to spend eight years in graduate school to be a historian," he said.