by Becky Johnston-
During the past few years, the Museum Studies program has supported the four segments of the CUSP (Conjunctions: Ubject, Stories, Places) Project, which sought answers to questions pertaining to Southwestern Illinois communities. During its final phase of existence, Omeka–the online platform for history and museums–has been utilized to store the digital files of the various ubjects–a word merging unique objects–and their associated oral histories. Now that we have these items in one central location, we can examine them more closely to find their connection to Southwestern Illinois and how they define the region.
Last week, there was a meeting about wrapping up the CUSP Project. Questions were posed, more left unanswered than answered, but one–which Omeka’s organization helped to answer– was what could be learned about Southwestern Illinois through the CUSP Project? At first glance, when we loaded the items into Omeka, the answer was not obvious. It looked like a hodge-podge of unconnected items from across the world. What could be done with that?
The practicum class that has been in charge of the Omeka site for the CUSP Project this semester was asked to create exhibits solely based on the ubjects and their stories. As we searched for themes we realized there were more than we knew. We were looking for a uniqueness that could define the area, but what we found was that the region was not necessarily unique but incorporated many different things. People from across the world settled the area at various times throughout the past two-hundred or so years. Some people started a long lineage of families that occupied the same area, while others were only the first or second generations to come to the region.
Even though the origins were dissimilar, the stories they told were not. Commonalties could be brought out from the assortment of items and stories, and on this we based our exhibits. As stated previously, internationality was a strong theme. A majority of the items had their origins in other countries. Sometimes they came with an immigrating person or family. Other times, they came with a military family stationed at the nearby base. Different generations contributed items from those in their nineties to those in their early twenties. Sometimes the items were from previous generations. Though the items found their origins in time periods separated by generational differences, there were still ideas that remained constant. Marriage, family, and leisure were consistent concepts found in all four of the CUSP segments and from all generations. The feeling of belonging and the need for entertainment transcended spatial and temporal boundaries.
One surprise remained. Though the interviews were based on communities, and the chosen communities changed each year, the ubjects did not represent community. They may have been community oriented, but its meaning to the contributor of the item was not community. This came as a surprise in the meeting at the Schmidt Art Center on the Belleville SWIC campus.
The CUSP Project gave its participants the opportunity to connect with the residents of Southwestern Illinois and its history. There were discoveries and unattained objectives. Omeka helped to pull together the different segments to create a more delineated narrative of what it is to live in Southwestern Illinois that the separated segments could not answer. Omeka also gave the CUSP Project a permanent home for a world-wide audience instead of the limited view of one segment of the CUSP Project available at the Schmidt Art Center for a short time.
Please visit the CUSP Omeka site to see our definition of Southwestern Illinois and please leave your feedback.