Thursday, September 29, 2011

My First Exhibit

As I have mentioned before, one of the things that drew me to the Public History program at UWO was the number of hands on opportunities I would have to learn new things in my field.  Here I am, less than a month into the program, already putting together exhibits!

This coming weekend is Homecoming at Western, and the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry is commemorating its 130th Anniversary as well.  As part of the celebration the Medical School asked that a few special exhibits be put together from the UWO Medical Artifact Collection.

Public History student were given the opportunity to volunteer, and gain a bit of experience to add to our portfolios.  All together there were three displays, although I only assisted with two of them.  It was a nice opportunity to learn about the challenges of working with different displays, and get a chance to play around with placing artifacts.

Overall, I think they turned out pretty well, and I had a great time collaborating with Allison, Lindsay, Adriana, Sarah, Shelley, and Michelle.

Toothkeys and Forceps: Tools of the Dentist

This wall display didn't have any shelves, so we had limited space with which to work.
Also, the foot-pump drill posed a challenge as it was hard to place it and not obscure the text.

Scalpels and Stethoscopes: The Doctor's Instruments

View from one side.

Though against a wall at the moment, this display will have a 360 degree view,
which makes placement of artifacts and text more difficult. 
You have to consider all views when arranging.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Banting House

First, a confession:

Prior to moving to London, and doing some research on historic homes and museums in the area, I was not familiar with Dr. Fredrick Banting, the specifics of the discovery of insulin, or the severity of type I diabetes prior to this discovery.  All of that changed last Friday.

My Public History class took a field trip to the Banting House and was treated to a tour given by curator, Grant Maltman.  We had been told ahead of time that this historic site was a lot different from others because it tended to attract visitors with an emotional connection to Dr. Banting and his discovery.  Still, that didn't quite prepare me for the experience.  

Now, I will be the first to admit that museums can touch people.  It is because of some of the fond memories I have of visiting historic sites that I chose to go into Public History.  But as inspiring and educational the places I have worked at have been, I have yet to bring anyone to tears.  All through his tour Mr. Maltman told us of people that had come from all over the globe to Canada, specifically to visit the Banting House; a woman whose infant daughter was diagnosed with type I diabetes, a grown daughter whose father had been among the first to receive insulin when it was approved for human use, a child who cried when she didn't have the English words to thank Dr. Banting in the museum's guest book.  It was all I could do to hold back the tears while standing in the bedroom where Dr. Banting had his realization.

Since my visit, I have told pretty much everyone I have talked to what a wonderful museum it was.  I can't wait to go back and take Doug with me.  But as I thought about it, I wondered what made my visit so spectacular.  It was an interesting, and well put together museum - but the house and the artifacts themselves weren't anything that would blow you away.
Then it hit me.

It was Mr. Maltman's passion for the house and the history that made it so engaging.  The emotion he put into his tour made all the difference in the world.  Another guide could have given us the same information, but not delivered it the same way, and it would have been a completely different experience.  I was not the only one in my class that noticed his passion and was impressed.

Not only did I learn about Dr. Banting and his discovery, but I was reminded why I chose Public History in the first place.  I want to tell the intriguing stories from the past - inspire, excite, and perhaps evoke a few tears.  To be so excited about something, that it rubs off on others.

Decorative window depicting the Queen Mother's visit to Banting House.

Curator, Grant Maltman starts the tour talking about the
history of the museum, and the Queen's visit.

Banting enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical services during WWI,
and was awarded the Military Cross.

Dr. Banting moved to London to start a private practice,
but struggled to get started.

Dr. Banting was in the process of medical testing for the troops in WWII
when he died in a plane crash at age 49.

The bed where Dr. Banting had his life-changing dream.
(I apologize for the quality of the photos.  Flash was not permitted in the museum, and my camera isn't the best.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Doors Open London

Have you ever looked forward to a day or event so much that you spend copious amounts of time making a plan and scheduling so that you can see and do as much as possible?  That is exactly what I did for this past Sunday.  And you know what usually happens when you put that much effort into a plan - it falls apart before it really has a chance to start.  My day turned into a series of happy accidents, which lead to my conclusion that while planning may not be everything, timing certainly is.

This weekend was the 10th anniversary of Doors Open London.  It's an event that happens all across Ontario (not necessarily on the same weekend) and gives people a chance to go into some buildings that aren't usually open to the public, and those that are usually open (like museums) are free!  It also happened to be the last weekend of the Car Free Festival, and several blocks downtown were open to pedestrian traffic making it easy to get around to the different venues.  

Although I didn't take photos of everything, here is a brief pictorial post of my day.  Call it an "afternoon in the life" if you will.

I started my day at Metropolitan United Church.  Now it wasn't a stop on DO (although it was a beautiful building), but it was a Sunday and I had yet to visit this church.  I figured it was a great place to start downtown.

Metropolitan United Church

Just across the street was the site I was most excited about seeing, the London Life building.  For the first time they had their auditorium open to the public.  This is where the London Life Troupers would rehears before touring to entertain the Allied troops during WWII.  I was very impressed with the knowledge and enthusiasm of the volunteers here.  They did a wonderful job of presenting some very interesting photos and artifacts.

London Life

As I exited the building, I heard music playing and what sounded like a parade coming down the street.  I wasn't aware there was a parade affiliated with DO, so I watched to see what was going on.  Turns out it was part of the Walk A Mile in Her Shoes Campaign, which raises awareness of violence against women, as well as funds for a local women's shelter.  It was a parade of men walking around Victoria Park in red high heels.  An entertaining way to bring awareness to an important cause.

Walk A Mile In Her Shoes Parade

There were several men in uniform marching.  Kudos to them!

From here I rode my bike down to Dundas street that was closed to vehicles.  I walked along the closed street - which was much quieter than I was expecting, perhaps it was busier on Saturday - and took in all the buildings and booths on the street.  My favorite stop was the London City Planning offices.  The city had taken two buildings - previously a theatre and restaurant - and merged the inside to create a cohesive office space.  However, the facades were restored to their original splendor.  My historic preservation professor at EMU would have approved.

London city planning office

I stopped by an art gallery across the street.

The Arts Project

Finally, I decided to end my afternoon at a historic base ball game at Fanshawe Pioneer Village.  The London Tecumsehs played a fantastic game with an impressive 15 - 3 victory over the visitors.

Historic Base Ball!

 It was a nice end to a wonderful day, where nothing went according to plan!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fanshawe Pioneer Village

One of the things i like about the UWO Public History grad program (other than it being a one-year non-thesis program) is that we have the opportunity to do a research assistantship rather than a teaching assistantship.  Even better, we have the opportunity to complete this RA at one of the local historical institutions.  Earlier this summer, our program director contacted us with a list of institutions and research projects form which to choose.  I submitted my top three, and waited to hear back.  I was thrilled to be placed at my top choice: Fanshawe Pioneer Village.

Now, those of you that are familiar with my work experience know that I worked at Greenfield Village for several years.  FPV is a similar living history institution, although it is smaller in scope.  To quote their mission, "Fanshawe Pioneer Village will partner with the community to educate about the past, collect and preserve local history and accurately interpret one century of time from 1820 - 1920."  They collect an preserve objects and building to tell the story of the founding and settlement of London up to 1840 and the settlement and rural development of the former townships of Westminster, London, West Nissouri, North Dorchester, Delaware and Lobo 1790 to 1920.

This year I will be working with the Director of Operations/Curator.  I am excited and a little apprehensive because I do not have any curatorial experience.  However, I have decided that I want to diversity my museum work outside the comfort zone of interpretation and special events.  Many smaller museums require their employees to be jack-of-all-trades, so the more varied my skills the better.  It sounds as if I will involved in two projects.  I'll be working on digitizing their collection records - which is also good registrar experience - as well as assisting in closing down the buildings and reopening them in the spring.  With the latter, I will get some hands-on artifact experience as well.

My first day was this past Friday, and wasn't quite sure what to expect.  It started out with the typical new job paperwork, and some training videos to watch as well as reading to do.  In the afternoon, one of the educational program employees took me on a guided tour of the Village.  Following the tour, I was given a crash course in PastPerfect, the collections management software most Canadian museums use.  It was practically an avalanche of information to absorb!

Everyone was welcoming and it seems like a wonderful work environment.  I believe I lucked out and am in for a great time, and a fantastic experience to add to my resume.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A New School Year

There is something exciting about the start of a new school year.  Campus is a buzz of new activity, everyone seems to be full of energy, it’s a fresh start and a new beginning.  I’ve always looked forward to the first day of school, guess that pretty much means I’ve always been a nerd, but I suppose that’s what you get being the daughter of two teachers.  I find the academic year to be a comforting cycle of new beginnings and satisfying conclusions.  Even though things are always changing – courses, professor, classmates – there is the ease of a familiar routine.  Perhaps that is why I spent the first half of my undergrad career thinking I wanted to be a teacher, I enjoy the rhythm the academic calendar.

For me, the start of the semester is always filled with a renewed vigor.  This is a fresh start, a blank slate, and I convince myself that this time the energy will stay with me.  This semester I’ll always be on top of my readings, tackle my assignments with enthusiasm, and perhaps even work ahead!  I know this zest will start to wane as the term progresses, so I try to take advantage while I have it.

However, sometimes - in my zeal - I get overwhelmed with everything that there is to tackle this semester.  While trying to get started on some work the other day I found myself at a full stop because I didn’t know what to do first.  I felt as if I should be reading about the War of 1812, brushing up on my architectural nomenclature, searching for online archival exhibits, all while simultaneously blogging and tweeting about what I am doing.  Fortunately, I organized my thoughts and was able to get started.  (It was also nice to find out later I’m not the only public history grad student who was feeling that way this week!)

In the midst of the readings and classes, there have also been plenty of new colleagues to get to know.  On Monday, we were notified that the public history grad office was ready.  (The history department moved buildings just before the semester began and there is still a lot of painting, organizing, and settling going on.)  I have a feeling it’s going to be a great place to not only get work done – more so when we eventually have wifi access – but also to commiserate with classmates over the workload.

It has been a busy and exciting first week, and one that bodes well for a good semester.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Western Labour Update

I feel I would be remiss, on the eve of my first day of class, not to mention the labour dispute that is occurring on campus.  I received an e-mail from the university today stating the Librarians and Archivists would commence strike action on Thursday, September 8th.  Apparently, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) and UWO have been having contract discussions since April, but have been unable to reach a resolution that is acceptable for both sides.

Honestly, I know very little about the dispute aside from what the UWO website tells me.  They have done a good job keeping students informed, and letting us know how the strike will influence our first day.  Classes will commence as scheduled and most of the library services will be available.  However, the city buses will not cross picket lines, so there will be a few detours in that service.

This is not the first time I have started aschool year at university with a strike.  Faculty at Eastern Michigan University went on strike at the beginning of the 2006 fall semester.  I was actually a bit surprised at the time how little that interfered with my class schedule.  Half of the courses I had were taught by adjuncts, which was actually one of the complaints of the professors in the union.  That conflict was resolved within a couple of weeks, although I know the faculty has gone on strike again since.

It will be interesting to see how this situation is resolved.  It hits a bit nearer to home this time as public history is closely related to library science.  In fact, my course that meets for the first time tomorrow night is Understanding Archives.  I have little union experience, having never been in one myself, and my lack of knowledge of the specifics of the dispute causes me to reserve judgement.  I just hope a solution that pleases both sides will be found swiftly and peacefully.