History Through Public Eyes

26 Jan

by Christina Carlson-

This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to learn about public history first hand when I took part in creating the Ubjects III exhibit at the Schmidt Art Center. The Ubjects III exhibit was part of a four year project known as CUSP that was undertaken by SIUE, Southwestern Illinois College, and University of Missouri-St. Louis. CUSP stands for Conjunctions, Ubjects (a made up word meaning unique objects), Stories, and People. The main purpose of the CUSP project is to understand the history of southwestern Illinois through individual participants from local communities.

Ubjects III began when people from Lebanon, Highland, Fairmont City, and Mascoutah answered the question, “What object in your home best defines your generation?” Participants from these communities met with students and gave short interviews to explain why their particular objects defined their generations. Many of the participants then lent their objects to create a community history exhibit at the Schmidt Art Center. During the summer, I created an exhibit using these objects and the stories behind them.

photograph of albums

Many people viewed music as a defining factor of their generation.









A "hippie" outfit from the 1960s, once worn by Linda Whyte of Mascoutah, Illinois
















Old camera

An 8mm motion picture camera-one of the first home movie cameras










Photo of exhibit space

The Ubjects III exhibition space











The project was both incredibly fun and incredibly enlightening for me. I realized how important it is to involve a community with a museum exhibit about their local area. Everyone has a different view of their community’s past and their own place in it. By combining so many of these views into something based on personal stories, the Ubjects III exhibit was able to present pieces of a community’s past which might not have been considered in a traditional exhibition setting. The exhibit was truly directed by those in the community who participated.

Should people in a community be involved in the creation of museums or their exhibits? Do you think there are stories or histories which are commonly ignored in traditional museums?


One Response to “History Through Public Eyes”

  1. Diana Yost February 2, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    I was in the Museum’s Studies program back in 2007-8 when the Ubjects project first started. I helped work on the first exhibit, Ubjects I, which was asked the community “what is the oldest object you own?”.

    I loved reading your article and seeing how far the project gone since it started!

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