Until my time spent at the Heritage Center, my interest in museum work and cultural heritage management was underwritten by my fascination with the objects involved—Classical archaeology was only as interesting as its statuary and American history was only as interesting as the objects which told its stories. My concept and appreciation of museum work gained another crucial dimension during my month with the Heritage Center: the importance of community. In many ways the Oberlin Heritage Center is a professional institution, but in seemingly as many other ways it is a community club of sorts, relying heavily not only on the monetary support of its members but also their expertise and experience.
Towards the end of January, Prue Richard, the Collections Assistant, invited me to attend a collections committee meeting, which would be held at—to my surprise—Kendal (a local retirement community). On the way to the meeting I remember asking Prue if these meetings were public or private, if the committee was composed of board members or paying members, and who would be attending. The answers to these questions were not at all what I had expected. The committee was composed of an incredible diversity of volunteer talents, each of which was hugely valuable to the Heritage Center. The use of community talent and expertise seems essential to the continued prosperity of the Center.
I also enjoyed and learned quite a bit in my more day-to-day tasks at the Center. Interested in both research and collections management, I was able to spread my time somewhat evenly between these two interests. In terms of research, I was given the task of updating biographies on the previous tenants of Monroe house to go with the new furnishings plan. I focused primarily on the Monroe Children—Emma, Mary, Charles, and William. As far as collections management goes, I was able to help Prue develop a new salvage plan which would be used to evacuate the most important objects in the event of a fire or other major crisis. In performing these two tasks I became very familiar with the museum database program Past Perfect as well as a number of genealogical research databases. I also spent a good deal of time in the College archives poring over old financial and legal documents.
The tasks I was given by the Heritage Center staff were undoubtedly personally valuable—and hopefully valuable to the Center as well; but, the aspect of my time here that I may have enjoyed most was being my friends’ personal Oberlin historian. Dozens of times other Oberlin students would approach me with questions about the age of their home or the previous tenants, and given my access to all the information stored at the Heritage Center, I was more than capable of answering these questions. From finding the building history of my house on East College to finding that my friend’s apartment was previously a Masonic Temple, these small bits of historical knowledge have really brought Oberlin to life for me—breaking out the four year cycles I tend to see Oberlin as being stuck in, and revealing a community with a rich, important history that needs to be told and remembered.
OC Class of 2012