Connecting the Past and Present at Soldiers and Sailors

Working on the Graphotype dog tag machine.


Connecting the Past and Present at Soldiers and Sailors

Museum Studies Intern at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Fall 2017

At Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum almost everything is connected, which giving tours showed. Many days for me would start on the World War II Era Graphotype dog machine creating dog tags for different occasions like those tours or to honor veterans. The tours are the key piece that connects everything together with each one beginning with giving the students their custom dog tag that I made along with a certain role such as Squad Commander or Scout. After they have their roles and supplies they go out and have to find specific displays and describe them to get a feel for the museum right before they are taken on their tour. The tours also give us the opportunity to help the students connect with the stories of the past and hopefully gain more interest from them.

The tour is broken down into three different sections and the part I gave was in the hallway that contains mostly World War II displays with the end being display cases for the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts. I focused on World War II since that was the subject the students were learning. After going through the hallway, I ended the tour in the museum’s Hall of Valor that honors veterans from Pennsylvania who received the highest honors possible like the Medal of Honor. I treated the tour as more of a conversation with the students and asked questions rather than just lecturing them hoping they would ask me questions as well. Some kids did ask questions which some connected with the topic, but not about the displays themselves that allowed me to connect the tour to other inventory that is not on display and the work I did with PastPerfect.

The PastPerfect software allows the institution to keep an inventory of all the different artifacts and pictures they have and much of my time was spent with it. When new objects come in they are put in a storage box and then more closely examined. I would then write descriptions for something like a Japanese grenade from World War II, and take its picture and add it into the system. This allows us to search for certain objects, like a decorated soldiers jacket, to have it ready to go on display or a traveling display like the one just put on during a Penguins game at PPG Paints Arena. The descriptions made me do research for some objects which gave me the ability to answer some questions from students during the tours.

After finishing one of my tours, one student came to me to ask me more about the United Service Organization (USO) and soldiers' downtime. I had previously organized pictures and different travel pamphlets from two different soldiers while looking at new inventory and entering it into the computer. With the knowledge I gained from those I was able to tell the student about other types of entertainment and activities soldiers did during their free time on top of what the USO provided.

A final part of the student's day at the museum is reading and writing letters like they are soldiers away at war. During this I had one of the younger students ask me how often soldiers would write letters. Since I also transcribed a journal from a WWI soldier I was able to answer his question based on the soldier’s writings. The tours I gave had a focus on telling the stories of the different wars and conflicts through personal stories behind the objects on display. At Soldiers and Sailors just about everything I did connected to something else I did, just as their goal of telling stories keeps visitors connected to the past each time they walk the halls.

Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here