Fostering Interest and Outreach

Myself visiting Waynesburg University for a presentation about WWI using the Soldiers and Sailors' footlocker program. The photo was taken by professor Rea Redd. 


Fostering Interest and Outreach

This semester I had the pleasure and honor to intern at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland. As a history major I was very enthusiastic to be chosen to work with the staff of Soldiers and Sailors. The building itself was built in 1907 but only recently became a museum. Over the 100+ years as a GAR post and SUV headquarters, the Soldiers and Sailors museum acquired thousands of artifacts from the Civil War and both World Wars but has only limited space to display these artifacts. I was surprised at the number of people, including those who spend much of their time in Oakland, who were unfamiliar with the museum and had never visited or even heard of it.

During the four months of my internship, I learned countless skills important to museum work but I feel the some of the most important were those involved with helping present the institute’s image to the public. I would like to focus this post on two particular projects; one outside the museum and the second from inside.

To help bring the museum experience to those unable to visit Soldiers and Sailors and share artifacts not usually displayed, the museum’s director of education recently created the “footlocker program”. This is a collection of several large footlockers stocked with artifacts from different wars starting with the Civil War and up to the War in Iraq and Afghanistan. These footlockers have artifacts not normally displayed but also not rare or one of a kind. The theme of the lockers is to display common items such as uniforms and equipment of the average soldier in the field and some items from home. These lockers can be loaned out to high school teachers or other groups to be used for presentations outside of the museum.    

In February I was introduced to professor Rea Redd of Waynesburg University, at an event hosted by Soldiers and Sailors for WWII veterans. Professor Redd oversees several courses offered by Waynesburg focusing on the World Wars and 20th century conflict. The department was looking for options to help students comprehend warfare during WWI and WWII as well as the individual soldier’s burden. This was an excellent opportunity to reach out with the footlocker program to a university that is local but still outside of Pittsburgh and project the museum’s image and message. We arranged two separate visits to Waynesburg, one for WWI and another for WWII scheduled about a week apart. The curator and director of education reviewed both footlockers for each above mentioned period and entrusted me to take both footlockers to Waynesburg University and give a presentation. Both presentations went very well and the students as well as the staff at Waynesburg were very interested and grateful to Soldiers and Sailors. These sort of presentations are essential for smaller more recently established museums to establish themselves with the public and create a base.

The second project I would like to discuss was later in the semester. This second event was planned to bring people to the museum who never visited before by using more visual encouragement. “The Museum Comes to Life Evening” would use interactive displays as well as staff and volunteers dressed in period correct attire and equipment from various eras covered by the museum’s timeline. The approach to the evening was that visitors could easily become bored and unimpressed with artifacts sitting lifelessly behind glass, so this event would show how these items were used by troops in the field and in proper context by having actors wear the displays. This would allow the audience to establish a more first-person connection with each display and gain a greater understanding and promote further interest, and hopefully a return visit.

Both of these projects were very enjoyable to plan and participate in. My internship at Soldiers and Sailors taught me much, such as inventory, acquisition, cataloging and creating displays. However, I feel that projects developing a connection with the public and encouraging them to visit are just as important as any skill in museum work, because overall, what good is a well thought out display if no one comes to admire it.