Emily Esten, History Major, Applied Humanities Learning Lab Fellow, UMass History

In its second year, the Applied Humanities Learning Lab (AppHuLL) seeks to take dynamic and motivated students and allow them to put into practice humanities skills on a real project. Many of this year’s Fellows are undergraduate students from various disciplines in the Five Colleges. The course is half-career prep and half-project management – two vastly different goals, but both addressed in the four-day intensive. Of the course of January 11-14, we fifteen Fellows went from knowing nothing about the Quabbin Reservoir and its history to standing up as scholars and humanists in our own right.

AppHuLL Networking Lunch (Photo Credit: Chelsea Miller)

AppHuLL Networking Lunch (Photo Credit: Chelsea Miller)

Our first day, we walked out of the classroom daunted by what seemed an impossible task – I almost felt like I was invading a mostly-forgotten history protected by the few surviving persons. But we were welcomed – by great mentors Cheryl Harned and Mark Roblee, and most importantly, by the community members and leaders who helm the memory of these places today. Between field trips, conversations, activities, and workshops, we accomplished so much in learning where we stood and what we needed in order to move forward.

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Chelsea Miller, MA Candidate, UMass History

This blog post originally appeared on The Harold, and is part of a series of essays, opinions, and reviews written by students, faculty, and staff of the Institute for Curatorial Practice.

As an intern for the Institute for Curatorial Practice, I am particularly struck by ICP’s ability to bring a wide range of collections into one conversation. I saw this in action during the ICP’s summer program. I received a graduate fellowship that enabled me to attend the five-week program and to lead a co-curated digital exhibition, BODY [IN/AS] LANDSCAPE. My teammates and I created an exhibition that explores how human forms and activities transform landscapes, and what new landscapes are produced by an artist’s intervention in the landscape. The exhibition draws from several collections, including the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Hampshire College Special Collections, Smith College Museum of Art, the University Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Mead Art Museum. While these collections are part of the Five College Consortium, they remain separate. But the ICP opens up the possibility of bringing them together. After this summer, I felt inspired by the concept of digital exhibitions.

The medium of a digital exhibition prompts questions about the possibilities and anxieties surrounding digital reproductions. Since the emergence of mechanical means of reproduction, specifically photography, there has been debate over whether the reproduced image can substitute for the original work of art. But what I hope to argue is that the digital reproduction is a useful tool for learning, teaching, and preserving objects.

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“…The stories we craft, and the stories visitors to exhibitions both bring to, and craft from, their encounters, can expand empathy and create transformative experiences, provide new insight and catalyze action.” Marla Miller, Professor, UMass History

The New England Museum Association (NEMA) held its annual conference in Portland, ME, on November 4th-6th. This year’s theme was “the language of museums,” and many sessions explored the importance of communication. Students, faculty, and alumni from the UMass Amherst Public History program attended the conference, and several of us maintained an active presence in the conference’s Twitter conversation, #NEMA2015 (click the link to see our tweets on Storify).

UMass Amherst Public History faculty, alumni, and students at NEMA 2015.

UMass Amherst Public History faculty, alumni, and students at NEMA 2015.

Many sessions that we attended focused on making museums inclusive spaces that combat systems of oppression, but there were also sessions on visitor engagement and photographing museum collections. Other members of the UMass Amherst Public History cohort attended sessions on objects and emotion, creating empathetic experiences, legislative advocacy, statewide collaborations, having difficult conversations in museum workplaces, and graphic design.

Here are some reflections from faculty and students on #NEMA2015:

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Mike Jirik, PhD Candidate, UMass History

Last week, the Graduate History Program hosted Edward Baptist (Cornell University), a distinguished historian of American slavery. During his visit, Professor Baptist had lunch with graduate students from the History and African American Studies departments before giving a public lecture. Both of the events centered on his newest book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. The book has garnered considerable attention among historians and general readers, partly because of a controversial review in the Economist.[1] Needless to say, this was a much anticipated event for an aspiring historian of slavery and abolition. The conversation during the luncheon was simultaneously enlightening and invigorating, and the public lecture was a major success. After reflecting on those events, I felt compelled to share some thoughts on the lecture, the conversation at the luncheon, and the general importance of Professor Baptist’s work.

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Ann Robinson, PhD Candidate, UMass History

Over the summer, I worked on a project with Kathie Gow of the Hatfield Historical Museum and our own Emily Redman.  The project, Understanding Medical Care in Early 20th Century Hatfield, was funded by a grant we applied for from Mass Humanities. The grant gave us the opportunity to interpret and analyze the medical collection at the Hatfield Historical Museum.  This collection is comprised of over 100 items, many of which are connected with Dr. Charles A. Byrne, who practiced medicine in Hatfield from 1895 to 1933.  Included in the collection are a wide variety of items, from medical tools and equipment to scrapbooks, to nursing exams and Dr. Byrne’s patient records. Throughout my work, I learned a lot about medicine and medical care in the first decades of the 20th century and I want to use this post to share a sampling of these.

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Emily Esten, Class of 2016, UMass History

I interned at the John Brown House Museum (JBH) in Providence, RI this summer. Interning in a small historic house museum allowed me to be a jack-of-all-trades. I opened and closed the museum, followed and guided tours, attended meetings, met with docents, assisted at events, create education packets…essentially, a little bit of everything.

The John Brown House Museum in Providence, RI

The John Brown House Museum in Providence, RI

But the most important task I dealt with on a day-to-day basis was manning the front desk. As the first person patrons would see prior to entering the museum, I handled all their questions. Over the course of the summer, I had a running FAQ list of statements I had heard far too often, such as:

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Julia Foulkes ’97PhD, UMass History

Why does the U.S. incarcerate more of its people than any other nation? Historians are just beginning to tackle this complex issue that has led to an explosion of prisons and people in them since the 1960s. (The latest issue of the Journal of American History brings together the most current research.) Public historians, however, have had little to say. With the exception of Eastern State Penitentiary, there have been few museums or public institutions that have delved into this controversial topic. Now an innovative practice-oriented consortium of 20 universities (including UMass!) is tackling it head on.

The Humanities Action Lab (HAL), headquartered at The New School in New York City, brings together public historians, activists, and scholars across the country to foster dialogue on contested social issues. The pilot exhibition was the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, which explored the 100-year history of the U.S. naval base that has been at the center of debate in the fight against terrorism. (UMass public history students worked on this exhibition, which appeared in Herter Gallery in the fall of 2013.)

Solobia Hutchins, Ruby King and Holly Richardson of the Massachusetts Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC) protest at the construction site of a new women's jail in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 2006. Photo courtesy of the Arise for Social Justice Records, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

Solobia Hutchins, Ruby King and Holly Richardson of the Massachusetts Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC) protest at the construction site of a new women’s jail in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 2006. Photo courtesy of the Arise for Social Justice Records, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

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