Monday, April 30, 2012

Ode to Conferences

By Kerry Lippincott, Education Coordinator

Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but it seems we (museum professionals) often get so caught up in the day to day business of our institutions that it’s almost like working in a little bubble. Then opportunities arise, whether it’s through a webinar, seminar, conference, or workshop where we are reminded that we are part of a much larger community. These opportunities provide a chance to step back, take a breath and gain some perspective; gain new skills or brush up on old ones; be exposed to new concepts; recharge batteries; touch base with colleagues and friends; and simply be reminded why we entered the museum field in the first place.

I got bitten by the conference bug in 2005 when I attended my first conferences (American Association for State and Local History’s (AASLH) Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Kansas Museum Association’s Annual Conference in Salina). Since then I have continually sought out a variety of professional development opportunities.   I have to admit I still get excited when I get a conference schedule and start deciding what sessions and workshops to attend.   Over the past few years these opportunities have expanded greatly through webinars.   Just this week for those of us who can't be at the American Association of Museum’s (AAM) Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, there's AAM’s Virtual Conference. And I have a mentioned the freebies from conference vendors (I would like to thank AALSH for their "I heart History" post-it notes, which made perfect gifts for my co-workers). 

Last week I attended Museums in Conversation: How Do We (Re) Vision Our Museums? in Albany. Sponsored by Museumwise and the Museum Association of New York, Museums in Conversation is the annual conference for museum people (staff, volunteers, board members, students) in New York State.  Overall the conference had a great vibe and I participated in engaging discussions on customer service, creating a space for community dialogue, thinking strategically, technology and school programming.  I’m constantly in awe of what my colleagues are accomplishing despite challenges (mainly budget and staffing cuts).  Museums in Conversation serves as a reminder that I’m part of wonderful museum community.    

And sometimes you get to walk away with a little something extra.  During the Museumwise Award of Merit Presentation the historical society, along with Elmira Little Theatre and Friends of Woodlawn Cemetery, was presented a Certificate of Commendation for the Woodlawn Cemetery Ghost Walk. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Collecting the Common

By Erin Doane, Curator

Like all historical societies, our museum is filled with common items.  Certainly, there are extraordinary, one-of-a-kind items in our collection as well but most of the objects are from everyday life.  More than once while I was touring people through collections storage someone has seen an object on a shelf and said something along the lines of “My grandmother had one of those” or “I remember playing with that when I was little.”  If so many of our museum’s artifacts are so ordinary, why do we collect them?   We collect them because it is the common items of everyday life that tell the history of a people.  

Many outwardly ordinary items tell important stories.  Take for example three relatively common objects – a bottle of medicine, a pair of scissors, and a milk bottle.


In the early 20th Century strychnine nitrate was prescribed to treat lowered metabolism, rapid fatigability, hypotension and weakened cardiac activity.  Strychnine is also a highly toxic substance used in rat poison.  This bottle of pills from H.D. Atwater, Druggist, 500 Main, Elmira, New York was prescribed to treat one individual but it helps to tell the greater story of pharmaceutical development in the 20th century.

Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) is a fixture in the history of Elmira.  He is well-known for his literary works and his wit but there was more to him than just his fame.  Items like this small pair of scissors which he gave to his housekeeper help to flesh out the personal life of a man who has become a legend.

Not only does this glass milk bottle help to show the history of an industry, it also has a role in telling the story of a disaster.  On June 21, 1972 the rains from Hurricane Agnes began to fall.  Thomas E. Butler and William S. Woodhull, owners of Maple Farms Dairy, were stranded on the roof of the plant for 20 hours during the devastating flooding that ensued.

Common items are important because of what they can tell future generations about a time, about a place, and about a people.  Without museums actively collecting these items, so much of our story could be lost forever.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Essential Pieces

By Kerry Lippincott, Education Coordinator

Maybe you've seen them around.  Many have a special interest so they have written articles for The Chemung Historical Journal or given a program during one of our lecture series.  Every March several serve as judges for Southern Tier Regional History Day.  During the summer some man the historical society's booth at community events.  There are also others who work behind-the-scenes.  To assist in the managing of the historical society, several serve on the board of trustees or on committees.  Others help care for the archival and 3-D collections by cataloging artifacts, conducting inventories or doing data entry.

All this work is done by our volunteers and interns.  Though I and the other staff members take every opportunity to express our appreciation for all the work done by our volunteers and interns, I firmly believe that you can never say 'thank you' enough.  This being National Volunteer Week I wanted to especially take a moment to express my gratitude to our volunteers and interns for the time and dedication they give to the historical society.

When a volunteer or intern begins at the historical society I always say "Welcome, to the CCHS family!"  and I truly believe that we are family.  Whether you are a staff member, volunteer, intern or trustee we are all part of a family tied together by the love of local history and a belief in the historical society's mission.

A few years ago I found a saying about essential pieces, which I think applies to our volunteers and interns.  "Essential Pieces - Isn't it wonderful thing how we're all different? Each of us has strengths and skills to share and when we link our individual strengths together we're invincible."

To our essential pieces (and to all essential pieces out there) I give a heartfelt THANK YOU.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Postcards from the Golden Age

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Marketed as a quick, cheap way to send notes, postcards have been around in the United States since the mid-19th Century.  Postcards were first marketed as souvenirs at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893. The cards gained in popularity, but were fairly limited as only the United States Post Office was permitted to print or sell the cards within the United States.  In 1898, the laws changed, allowing private companies to publish and sell the cards and paving the way for the golden age of postcards.
Much like modern greeting cards, there were postcards for every purpose, occasion and sentiment.  Not only were there the tourist postcards we’re familiar with, there were also cards for holidays, birthdays, advertisements, special occasions, propaganda, best wishes and the simple joy of mailing something pretty.  The Chemung County Historical Society has over 3,000 tourist postcards of places in and around Chemung County and another 1,000 illustrated postcards. 

Another popular type of card found in our collection is the so-called real photo postcards.  These cards were exactly what they sounded like.  Instead of getting your family photos printed on regular photograph paper, you could have the developer print them on a postcard and send them to your friends and relatives.  We have about 100 or so of these with everything from vacation photos to family portraits on them. 

The golden age of postcards came to an end during World War I.  While there were some American postcard publishing companies, most were printed by European-based companies.  In fact, most ‘American’ postcards, including the patriotic one shown above, were printed in Germany.  The war brought production to a halt and made importing French or British cards nearly impossible as well.  Postcards lingered on for tourism and the like, but themed, illustrated cards never regained their popularity.  The golden age was done.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Great Car Thing!

By Peggy Malorzo, Administrative Assistant

Travel back in time with the Chemung County Historical Society as we celebrate the 18th Annual Great Car Thing Party on Saturday June 9, 2012 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm!    This year’s Party features a 1989 Rolls-Royce Corniche II.  Purchase your tickets today! Tickets are only $125.00 and include entry for two for a full night of fun, drinks, food, and music. Only 250 tickets will be sold, so buy yours today! Don’t forget to dress to impress in elegant 1980’s attire. Cash prizes will be awarded for the three best costumes!  Can’t make it?  You’re still eligible for the $10,000 grand prize drawing, so call 734-4167 today to reserve your tickets.  Come see what everyone is talking about!

Call us today 734-4167.   See you at the Great Car Thing Party!