Bright Professor of American History Cate Denial’s Museums, Monuments and Memory class will soon unveil their exhibit examining various social movements in 1968 and their counterparts in 2018.
The class spent three days studying museums in Washington, D.C. while preparing to build their own exhibit from scratch. On their last day, each student spent six hours in a museum of their choice, studying different aspects of the space. Junior Natasha Caudill visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“It’s literally everything about that museum, like what goes into the feeling, how the museum sort of flows, how the information is presented and how accessible the museum is,” she said.
Caudill said the class’ exhibit will include a podcast for visitors to listen to as they move through the displays. The podcast addresses accessibility issues for the blind or visually impaired.
Junior Josh Althoff studied traffic flow in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Althoff appreciated how the museum was divided into quadrants on the fouth floor, flowing into three different exhibits. He said this allowed museum-goers to choose their own adventure.
“That’s something we also have to think about because CFA is such a closed space … how do we arrange the displays in such a way that people have enough physical space and comfort to examine all the information we’ve put up without feeling claustrophobic,” Althoff said.
Senior James Woolley and Caudill have been working on public relations for the exhibit. They started a Knoxstarter campaign in April with the goal of raising $1,000. Within a week, they had raised $1,400. The money will go to buy supplies that can also be used in future exhibits.
“We’re doing a lot of community outreach, a lot of alumni outreach but then also of course campus outreach,” Caudill said.
The course involves an incredible amount of research. Woolley said that part of the work then becomes compressing that information into a few small panels. This ties into the idea of knowing one’s audience.
“It’s picking and choosing based on who we see coming to the exhibit, which is Galesburg residents and students at the College,” Woolley said.
Woolley hopes to incorporate local history into the class’ broader study of 1968. His field of inquiry is LGBTQ rights, specifically the first same-sex wedding in Galesburg. Other subjects include the Cold War, Vietnam, environmentalism, the Civil Rights Movement, the new Republican surge of 1968, the American Indian Movement and the Farmworkers Movement.
Museums, Monuments, and Memory investigates where these movements are alive today. The class has considered controversy around mascots, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and Black Lives Matter, among other topics. Althoff said that while it is easy to get discouraged when studying the history of social justice, it is important to remember what progress has been achieved.
“History is important at least to activism because while it shows that while not everything has been achieved and many things can still be achieved it’s also a demonstration of tangible gains that people have made and that progress happens,” Althoff said.
The course also examines the ethics of museum work and its intersection with social justice. Woolley said that class discussions include the idea of museums as a relic of colonialism and imperialism. Woolley concluded that responsible museum work must empower historically marginalized voices, conveying a range of experiences and acknowledging diversity that is not always reflected in public history.
“A lot of our lectures have had that focus of responsible museum production, especially making sure that we get those diverse voices not only from the people we’re looking at but from the scholars themselves,” Woolley said.
Caudill believes that public history of this nature is crucial given the current political climate. Althoff hopes the exhibit shows that many of the problems we consider central to our identities are not new problems. He said that everyone should learn their history.
“The only way to break out of repetition is to know that you’re repeating something and to actively try to stop there,” Althoff said.
The exhibit will be revealed on May 24 at 4 p.m.