JEFFERSON CITY, MO, NOV. 14, 2022 – In the fall 2021 semester, the Missouri State Museum and students from Lincoln University embarked on a radical and innovative new venture: the special topics course in museum studies. Led by Christine Boston, associate professor of anthropology/sociology, the class was designed to engage the students in the creation of three new and updated Missouri Black History panels to be exhibited at the museum.
The class’ completed panels are on exhibit at the Missouri State Museum, located on the first floor of the Capitol, 201 W. Capitol Ave., Jefferson City. The display runs through the end of December.
While listening to a podcast, Jamie Henry, then assistant director of the Missouri State Museum, came up with the idea to revamp the museum’s Black history panels. Henry reached out to the podcast’s creator, a faculty member at another university, and they began brainstorming.
Henry realized this undertaking would entail evaluating the museum’s current Black history cases, identifying the need and scope for overhauling the panels, creating programming for the new panels, researching and creating the exhibit labels, locating the appropriate images and finally designing and installing the new panels.
In January 2020, Henry reached out to Boston with his ideas. She saw the value of his ideas and was excited to begin. However, the project hit a couple of bumps, putting it on hold until May 2021. First, COVID-19 reared its ugly head, and then Henry left the museum to take over as superintendent at First Missouri State Capitol.
“Throughout the summer, a team of instructors and Missouri State Museum staff worked together to create the Special Topics: Museum Studies course that would be offered Fall 2021 at Lincoln University,” Boston said. “We created the course framework, identified the required readings, created the assignments as well as solicited the appropriate university support to get the course started.”
The class had coursework in anthropology and political science, but also incorporated ideas from the team at the Missouri State Museum in identifying new themes and creating the revamped Missouri Black History panels. The class was held at Lincoln University, where students received instruction in theory and application, and also at the museum, where they gained in-depth knowledge of museum studies and were able to apply those skills. By incorporating, investing and cultivating the students’ interest in this project, the museum team hoped to entice them to pursue a job in the museum studies field as well.
“This in and of itself was a challenging endeavor, but then we had a series of additional challenges, making this an even more daunting undertaking,” Boston said. “Several instructors left for different roles. What started as a committee of six ended with two: myself and Tiffany Patterson from the museum. Thankfully, we had a really good foundation to work from, having spent the summer discussing our goals, vision and execution of the course, so we were able to manage.”
The class, added to the fall schedule almost last minute, filled completely with 12 students with a variety of majors. Students were provided the autonomy to select, research content they felt was important to feature in the museum, and that would appeal to a wide and diverse audience.
“My goal was to create cohesive groups that could work together in the formation of the specific panel they chose and ultimately we believe these groups were successful,” Boston said. “They produced some really great content and told some amazing and hard stories in their panels.”
Mary Franklin, a senior in sociology, worked on the project and was hopeful the exhibit would interest museum-goers and maybe teach them something.
“I was highly involved in the project. I think the average museum-goer’s knowledge would be enlightened by knowing the history of Pennytown, its residents and its founder,” Franklin said. “I hope this project teaches visitors that African-American people are community builders, entrepreneurs, professionals and proud people.”
While this was just the inaugural partnership, Boston said there are plans in the work for future collaborations between Lincoln University and the museum. Several are already in the works, such as one on the Iron Riders and one with Black Towns and Settlements project.
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