Undergraduate Work

  • Museum guest poses with work of art

    Museum guest poses with work of art.

     

    First Impressions: Attracting Museum Visitors Through Effective Web Design and Usability

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art – Spring 2018

    For many people visiting museums in the contemporary world, the first point of contact with a museum and its collections is not within the walls of the museum complex itself, but through the museum’s online presence. An individual’s decision on whether or not a museum is worth visiting is informed not only through word of mouth and reputation, but through Google (or any other search engine of choice). Review sites such Yelp and social media presence via platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are relevant to this discussion. Even more significantly, however, is the museum’s portrayal of itself on the official website. 

    In Spring 2018, I was a Museum Studies intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art, focusing on the museum’s online presence and improving outreach to audiences. Because cmoa.org website is likely the first platform on which museum goers are going to experience the Carnegie Museum of Art, it is crucial that the website constructs an image of the Carnegie Museum of Art that is both accurate and enticing. While this may seem like an obvious and overly simple goal, it is difficult to sustain a consist pubic image in a very active programming environment.  Because events and exhibitions come and go on a day-to-day basis, online representation must also reflect and synchronize with the series of events.

    Achieving accuracy and synchronicity with programming is related to another difficult goal—the intuitive usability of the website for visitors. Usability must anticipate the impulses and cognitive patterns of online visitors. This means that a good website must reflect the associations that most people—literally the majority—form in their mind, anticipating their online “desire paths.” This is difficult because a wide variety of people will have personal preferences for which website layouts are the most intuitive.   

    In my job I helped the museum website’s usability to potential guests—hopefully transforming them into actual guests.  I had to assure that the dates posted for upcoming events were correct.  Meanwhile I had to make sure that past events did not linger on the website crowding out the upcoming events.

    I learned that it is important for a museum’s website to appear as though it is cared for. In the minds of online users, this appearance and usability reflects the amount of care that is put into the museums actual collections and programming.  For many audiences the online presence and real-life presentations of museums are one and the same.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    What is Significant in a Mass of Visual Impressions?

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Spring 2018

    "Wallace Richards, one of the lead photographers of the project said about his role that 'photographers can see what is significant in a mass of visual impressions'"
    -Witness to the Fifties: Pittsburgh Photographic Library

    “I don't even like history!”  I said in frustration, to one of my friends, with one week left to finish planning an exhibition on historical photographs. Of course, this remark came jokingly from a place of stress. And yet, it was still half true. I didn't really “like” history.

    The subject of history was always something I never found the time to connect with, even as an Anthropology student. Yet there I was, choosing and developing the “big idea” on an exhibition of 1950s-era photographs which highlighted a key era of local history. During my time interning with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, I quickly came to realize my naiveté and discovered the wider need for historical narratives in many different communities, including my own.

    The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh houses an impressive collection of historical photographs. One such collection, the Pittsburgh Photograph Library (PPL), became the center of my work during my time with the Digital Strategy Department and the REcollection Studio. The REcollection Studio, a DIY Lab for digitizing photographs and videos, has set out on the daunting task of digitizing the PPL materials and all 11,000 or so photographs taken of Pittsburgh during 1950s.

    For my internship, I was to help with this task of digitizing and editing photographs. But I also worked on an individual project creating a small exhibition centered on a selection of PPL photographs, as part of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's “Gallery @ Main.”

    As I stated earlier, historical work had not been my focus up until this point, despite my studies in Anthropology, Art History, and Museum Studies. When choosing the "Big Idea" for the exhibition, I wanted to consider what sort of statement Pittsburgh was in “need” of hearing. I also was curious what the photographic collection itself “wanted” to tell me.

    The “Big Idea” of an exhibition is essentially the main theme organizing what sorts of content will be displayed. For me, the creation of the big idea was the most challenging aspect of creating an exhibition from the ground up. To arrive at this I had flipped through big and worn-out “photo albums” which house printed versions of the photographs as in a scrapbook. I landed on a striking photograph of a young boy in the Hill District wearing on his face a toy mask made out of an advertisement.

    Throughout the collection I noticed many photographs that included billboards, televisions, protest signs, and other signage media of that sort. I realized it would be interesting to make a connection between these photos, since the 1950s were an iconic moment of advertisement and media boom in the US. At the same time, the PPL is full of examples of tension and destruction during this period especially in neighborhoods such as the Hill District were in people, such as the boy in the mask, were being forced out of their homes to make way for “urban development.” Looking at this photo of the child wearing a mask, it finally clicked: Signs. A “sign” could very literally be sign held up by a striking worker in front of a steel mill. But the word sign could also be figurative in the way that a photographic of a strike sign also “signals” the shifting attitudes and struggles of the moment in time.

    I chose a selection of 15 photographs, which I felt captured the idea but were also a good example of the diversity and scope which the Pittsburgh Photographic Library covered. After creating the theme and choosing the photos I created the wall text, scanned and edited the photo negatives, advertised for the show, and printed and installed all the media on the walls of the Oakland branch of the Carnegie Library. Signs was on exhibit from March 5th to March 31st in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburghs “Gallery @ Main”. After the exhibition went up I also took on the task of giving four guided tours during which I shared the history of the PPL with patrons of the library and creating a reading list of suggested books and a virtual tour of the show.

    Do I like history now? I believe much more than before that I have a greater understanding of the messages that lay in looking backwards at our past and how these messages are often tools for the future.

    Wallace Richards, one of the lead photographers of the project (the PPL) said about his role that "photographers can see what is significant in a mass of visual impressions." I believe that in my experience with the PPL and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, I was able to catch a glimpse at its significance and I look forward to the public being able to access the photographs once the REcollection Studios hard work is complete.

    Take the Virtual Tour of Signs here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

     

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  • Surveys ready for distribution in the We Are Nature: Living in the Athropocene exhibit

     

     

     

    A Brief Survey of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2018

    Thousands of visitors of different ages visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History every year. As the Museum Studies intern in their Marketing Department, it was my job to ask these visitors about their experience in the museum. My work was overseen by Kate Sallada, Marketing Researcher, and Kathleen Bodenlos, Director of Marketing and Public Relations.

    The best days to collect surveys are weekends because a much greater portion of the population is represented. Families are common on Saturdays and Sundays, especially in the Natural History museum where kids can engage with many of the exhibits.

    I collected surveys for the recently installed exhibit, We Are Nature: Living in the Athropocene, throughout my internship. The day that I was able to collect the highest volume of surveys was a very cold Sunday in February. I surveyed over 50 visitors over the course of 4 hours.

    When crafting a survey for the general public, it must be accessible to as many people as possible. Those visiting from other countries or unable to speak English fluently were able to understand the simple survey instructions, and could ask me questions about any sections that needed further verbal explanation.

    In addition to the surveys, the exhibit had several interactive stations where guests could leave their thoughts. One station asked visitors to make associations with a certain emotion, such as “Empowered’ or “Angry,” and visitors could write down their opinions about the exercise on a corresponding Sticky-Note.

    The exhibit also featured many dry-erase surfaces where visitors were prompted to write down words or phrases based on a question. These responses were often documented by a photographer before they were erased to make room for new feedback.

    After surveying general opinions about the exhibit, we also sought feedback on the marketing campaign we were developing. Many of those leaving the exhibit reported that they felt “empowered,” which was a feeling we wanted to reinforce in our marketing strategy. One plan was to change the main photograph on our signage from one of crushed cardboard boxes to a sunny image of a small child holding a sapling. This image was more representative of the visitor experience than that of our previous campaign, according to the reactions from the surveys.

    This experience has given me vital information about how to interact properly with the public in an art institution, and how to develop content that takes visitor preferences into account.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • These objects are from the Rosemary Trump Collection at the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center. Rosemary Trump was one of the most active women in organized labor in Pittsburgh. In addition to being the first woman president of the Service Employees International Union, she held positions within other unions and organizations. She was also a member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, which was an organization of trade union women associated with the AFL-CIO.

     

    The Great Unboxing: Uncovering Women in Pittsburgh’s Labor History

    Museum Studies Interns at the University Library System (University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center) – Spring 2018

    After hours of scouring boxes overflowing with records and materials about Pittsburgh’s labor unions, I was frustrated. I knew there were women who took part in these unions. Yet what does one do when there are no traces or mentions of women within the records?

    As a great city of industry during the 19th and 20th centuries, Pittsburgh had no shortage of different labor unions. However, this legacy did not necessarily mean that there was a high presence of women within those unions, or that they were represented very well in historical documents. 

    As an intern at the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives Service Center, I was assigned the task of researching women within the steel industry of Pittsburgh. This task involved figuring out which archival collections potentially held relevant material on women steelworkers, and then looking through these collections to find this information. 

    This task turned into something a bit more focused, as my focus narrowed from women in the steel industry to the topic of women in organized labor. 

    Finding information about women in organized labor in Pittsburgh was like searching for a needle in a haystack --but in a good way. There were some collections, such as those of local figures Steffi Domike and Rosemary Trump, that had a great deal of invaluable material. There were many more collections that potentially contained information on women and many of them were promising. However, in the process, there was no guarantee that I would find the information that I was seeking. To verify whether the material was there or not, I had to sort through all the collections with potential leads.

    The greatest challenge –as well as the greatest payoff– of my internship was sifting through company records and finding traces of women unionists. I was often happily surprised to find that many women did voice their opinions and become active in their unions. However, sometimes information such as this was disappointingly absent in certain unions, or it was hard to find archival material around the topic. 

    Despite these challenges, my internship research culminated in a LibGuide that will be included in the University of Pittsburgh’s Library System. This research is meant to act as a base on which future students will help to create an exhibition on women unionists in the Hillman Library. With the help of the Media Curator, Miriam Meislik, as well as other archivists at the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, I was able to start the first step of uncovering the history of women in organized labor in Pittsburgh. This great unboxing is far from complete, but I have gained invaluable experience from it.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Entry to Copy + Paste.

     

    Copy + Paste: Evaluating Visitor Participation in the Hall of Architecture

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art – Spring 2018

    Before I began my internship with the Heinz Architectural Center, I knew very little about the Hall of Architecture. I had walked through it a dozen times without realizing what a marvel the collection was. In my time spent as an intern working on Copy + Paste: Hall of Architecture, I gained an in-depth understanding of this gallery as well as an inside look at the efforts being made to enhance visitor participation and education.

    My main responsibility was to digitalize the daily surveys obtained by gallery ambassadors who also directed the HACLabs. After attending a few of the weekly meetings with the education department, I was given the opportunity to create my own surveys to replace the versions they had been using. This was particularly exciting to me because my background in the sciences had prepared me for designing new methods of data collection for data analysis.

    The surveys I designed were intended to give us a better understanding of what visitors were getting out of the HACLabs. For example, we wanted to know if participating in a plaster casting workshop would help patrons understand how casts in the Hall of Architecture were made-- or if it missed the mark entirely. The questions I crafted were meant to collect this information as well as that of the visitor’s experience. I also created a visitor survey for the Plaster Re-Cast app, in order to gauge visitors’ opinions about it and understand how it can be improved.

    The data evaluation is ongoing, but I am happy to have had a part in it. This experience has given me the opportunity to use skills I have gained from my college courses, while also providing me with a new understanding of the efforts that go into shaping visitor experience in a museum.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Amanda working with students during Afterschool.

     

    Mattress Factory Afterschool: Techniques of Two Teaching Artists

    Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Spring 2018

    In the Spring of 2018, I was a Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory in their Education Department. I helped with Afterschool, the museum’s art education program for third through fifth graders. During my internship, ten students were enrolled and many attended the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Among my various roles and responsibilities, I have observed two teaching artists and how they facilitate their curriculum. A local artist named Suzanne taught the first six-week session, and Jimmy, an Alaskan native, taught a twelve-week session. The respective learning themes for these sessions were nature/habitats, and memory. I have been able to watch students develop artistic and creative skills through the specific educational practices employed by the artists.

    As a Psychology Major at Pitt, I enjoyed observing the ways in which these two artists ran their respective curriculums, given the many connections to the discipline of developmental psychology. From a psychological perspective I attempted to observe and analyze the ways that each teacher connected to the students, challenged them, included others, and the balance of roles in joint activities. One basis for this is the Simple Interactions tool a project in the department of Applied Developmental Psychology at Pitt, which I had experience with as a research assistant. For my purposes in the intern role, it served me as a foundation or heuristic, rather than an in-depth psychology study.

    Turning to the artist teachers, Suzanne’s eclectic personality influenced her teaching style. Though sometimes the classroom seemed like disordered chaos, the projects made by students were fun and unique, dynamic and amalgamated. Suzanne asked them to make “cool trash”, for bird nests and different habitats. The class made trips to the National Aviary, and to various exhibits in the museum for project inspiration. Her practice was playful, and her spontaneity ensured that the students enjoyed what they were learning.

    Jimmy’s methodologies could not have been any more different from Suzanne’s. He preferred structure, and made students relate activities to the overarching theme of the session – memory. At first he facilitated activities to gauge the students’ skills and to see what would need to be worked on early in the session. The projects built upon one another in very structured ways, and he was able to spark curiosity in the students. Overall, his approach to the program relied on planning and sequence, which was beneficial for the students’ development.

    The diverse approaches that these two artists conducted their classrooms impacted the experiences of the students. A rational artist will connect differently to students than one who operates more spontaneously. But in both cases, their methodologies have had significant impacts on the development of students.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  •  

    Building Lifelong Ties to the Mattress Factory

    Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Spring 2018

    Throughout my teenage years, I would often drive into Pittsburgh with friends to visit the Mattress Factory. I remember the first time I was there in 2011 and being immersed in the installations for the first time. A few years later, I decided to reach out to the Mattress Factory to volunteer. I was involved as a museum volunteer from my senior year of high school to freshman year of college. During the 2018 Spring semester, I had the opportunity to work with the Mattress Factory again, this time in the Development Department.

    Since January, I have been interning under the supervision of Caitlin Harpster and Nina Friedman. Along with preparing for the museum’s annual Urban Garden Party, and various day-to-day tasks helping the office move at a quicker pace, I have been working on boosting museum memberships among younger adults (ages 18 – 25). Many in that age group attend an academic institution that provides free admission; however, the Development department is interested in how to increase memberships for those still in school, working, or newly graduated.

    As part of the mission’s goal of creating a new young adult and young professionals’ membership, I have been doing research on other museums’ tactics to attract this age group. Many museums create events that allow for networking. I have also examined possible perks that can be attached to the membership. such as a free magazine subscription or free member tickets to certain events

    While the Development department has been my main focus during this internship, I have done other activities such as shadowing docent tours, observing staff meetings, archiving past development materials, and participating in events at the museum. A final project I helped with is collecting names of North Side residents to support the construction of an installation/public artwork titled Skyspace, by James Turrell. Turrell is a leading contemporary artist from the West Coast who the Mattress Factory has continuously supported, including several pieces in their permanent collection. To acquire another one of his pieces in Pittsburgh would give the city at a clear advantage and enhance the public profile of the Mattress Factory.

    The experiences and knowledge I have gained throughout my internship with the Mattress Factory has allowed me to grow professionally and deepen the long-time passion I have had for the museum.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • The work station in the Library and Archives includes with needle nose pliers, which help to remove the nails from the picture frames. The gloves protect from the dirt that has accrued over the years since the theater's closing. The deframed photographs are separated into two piles: those that are fused to the glass and those that are not.

     

    Identifying Movie Stars of Yesteryear: Historical Photos of Pittsburgh’s Nixon Theatre

    Museum Studies Intern at the Thomas & Katherine Detre Library & Archives at the Senator John Heinz History – Spring 2018

    When the Nixon Theatre, a “Gilded Age” theater in downtown Pittsburgh, closed in 1950, Katharine Hepburn requested some brackets from the building’s marble columns so that she could remember her fond times at the theater. The manager sent Hepburn the hooks she wanted, as indicated in a telegram that came to the Detre Library & Archive, at the Senator John Heinz History Center. It came with a collection of photographs of musical and comedy stars, c. 1900s-1950s. The photographs were contained in their original frames, which is why about half of the pictures have fused to the glass of the frames. Additionally, a collection of autographed photographs that used to hang in the front lobby of the Nixon, were donated to the Heinz History Center by the family of the last electrician who worked there.

    In my internship role, my job has been to not only remove the photographs from their frames, but to rehouse them into acid-free folders and boxes, as well as figure out who the celebrities in the photos are. At one time, these celebrities were well known to the public, and it was probably unimaginable that they would not be recognizable in the future. If today we had a Taylor Swift picture, it would not need a label to be identified. However, many of these pictures are not of people whose legacies hold up throughout time, like Katharine Hepburn’s. With a lack of identifying labels for celebrities in the photographs, the newspapers of Pittsburgh have been extremely helpful in identifying the years, productions, and people who graced the stage and screen of the Nixon Theatre.

    This project not only enabled me to learn the general aspects of archival processing, but it also has also made me privy to conversations about what purpose libraries and archives serve. The Senator John Heinz History Center and its Detre Library and Archives hold documents and photographs pertaining to the history of Western Pennsylvania and the lives of its residents. Because the Nixon Theatre was located in downtown Pittsburgh, the theater itself is a part of Western Pennsylvania history. Many of the actors and actresses in the pictures, however, were not from the area and only spent a few nights in Pittsburgh while performing. Due to this and the fact that the collection is mostly headshots, there were several debates among staff about how much research value the collection holds, and whether the material falls into the Library and Archives’ collecting scope (i.e. Western PA history and the lives of the residents). Sometimes, if a donation does not fall into the collecting scope, it will be referred to another repository with a mission that the documents are more aligned with.

    However, the Nixon Theatre Photographs were ultimately accepted into the collection. As I learned through my internship, while these celebrities from the past may not be memorable or recognizable to everyone, many of the photographs are one of a kind, and, therefore, hold quite a bit of artefactual value.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Nancy Mosser and I at the casting audition room in Mosser Casting studio

     

    Delving into the Pittsburgh Film Industry and History

    Museum Studies Intern at Senator John Heinz History Center - Spring 2018

    As a Museum Studies intern at Senator John Heinz History Center for Spring 2018, I have had the opportunity to work under curators Leslie Przybylek and Lauren Uhl, helping them document Pittsburgh’s significant ties to commercial film production. During my internship, I looked through newspaper articles about films I was interested in knowing more about. I also interviewed people in the industry and did research on the museum’s collection for an eventual exhibit on Pittsburgh’s role in film.

    I first researched Fences (2016), a film based on the play by Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson. The film follows the lives of the Maxon family in the 1950s Hill District neighborhood. One of the people that we interviewed was my cousin Greg Weimerskirch, an art director in the film industry locally. He showed us how he designs each environment for the camera. For Fences he had to recreate what the Hill District looked like in the 1950s, from the street signs to the kind of garbage truck used, to how the houses looked at that time. It was amazing to witness the level of detail that goes into being an art director and how Greg uses both digital and physical modeling to create an impression of setting in the film.

    Other films that I have examined closely in my internship were Striking Distance (1993), Sudden Death (1995), and Inspector Gadget (1999). I searched through newspapers to find articles on how each of the movies was received when it was in theatres, as well as production information pertaining to the who, when, where and how they were produced. I then searched for film crewmembers and technicians to contact who worked on these films.

    Some of my leads did not meet with success, but one lead for Sudden Death led me to interviewing Nancy Mosser, who runs the Mosser Casting studio in Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh. Nancy casts extras and actors for films, television, and commercials. This is unique because most casting agencies only cast either extras or actors, not both. She got her start by working as a Production Assistant for Channel 11 news and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. She then struck out on her own to become a casting director. Nancy told us about the ease of casting today, compared to when she started out, thanks to the increased use of technology.

    Overall, this internship has blended my passios of Pittsburgh history and film. I have more understanding about what it takes to envision and work on a film. This was revealed to me by using digital archival material, tracking down and interviewing contacts, and critically thinking about the interconnection between people and movies and objects.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Every photo is measured, scanned, and described into the spreadsheet to be archived which will be digitized online for outreach to veteran’s relatives and public research.

     

    Rediscovering the Past Through the Former North Side McKeever Post 623

    Author: Geoffrey Mansfield

    Museum Studies Intern at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Spring 2018

    The closing of the Mckeever Post 623 on Western Avenue, North Side of Pittsburgh unfortunately resonates with the fate of other VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) posts in the region. Only open one day a week, its closing was heartfelt to the members. Originally established on February 3, 1921, as the 623rd such post in the country, it served veterans who recently returned from the First World War. In January 2014, the increasingly dilapidated building was purchased, at the same time as a trove of artifacts on the property was discovered, including uniforms, flags and photos.

    The Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum was contacted to gather information of its contents. Curator Michael Kraus took a trip to the former post to discover the past stories of the veterans who once frequented the establishment. What he found was three 4-by-4 poster boards containing over two-hundred photos. The boards were originally mounted to the outside of Lawrence's Barber Shop on the North Side. The photos were of the former members, all approximately World War Two era. The subjects of the photographs ranged from men standing in front of the baber shop ,to the battlefields of France, and everything in between. These photos were then donated to the Museum in 2014 to be used to retell the stories of the forgotten. The Museum created a plan to digitize an online archive of these materials for outreach to the relatives and the public in honor for those who served our nation.

    During my Spring 2018 internship I accepted the challenge of this task as a semester project at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. The task proved to be extensive and time-consuming, though it brought me a sense of pride. Every one of the 245 photos had to be digitally scanned, front and back, and names of the soldiers written in cursive handwriting had to be deciphered.

    I created a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel that tracked every attribute of the photos with fifteen columns including any individual’s name, measurements, condition, and descriptions. During the process, I started to research the names written on the back, finding more about the individuals that I was documenting. Their stories slowly emerged, building a larger narrative of their overseas war campaigns.

    One example was the Murphy brothers: eight men had joined the armed forces and served in World War II during the call of duty. Unfortunately, Tom Murphy paid the ultimate sacrifice, as he was killed during the Battle of the Bulge. The attached gold star on the front of the photo confirmed this. Photos of four other Murphy brothers also emerged through the archival process, including Dan Murphy, a Hall of Valor Inductee at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum.

    This project granted me the opportunity to retell the forgotten stories of World War II veterans and the Northside Post 623 as a way of honoring their service. The assembly of this data, along with the scanning process through digitization, will allow for outreach helping relatives reconnect with their loved ones from the past. It also serves as a form of research for the public. The photos help historians represent forgotten stories by recovering a visual aspect to the documentation of veterans who served our country, and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us, those like Tom Murphy.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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