by Susan Zehnder, Education Director
Everyone who has been to the museum has a favorite artifact or document that they remember long after they’ve visited. One of my personal favorites is not currently on display, but it's something I often share with groups. It is a connected series of iron links that make up an unassuming Victorian pot scrubber. Because it's function is not immediately obvious, it can spark people's curiosity to look a little longer and look a little closer in order to discover more.
The object was used during the early 20th century to scrub pots clean, and I use it to prompt questions like these: Who used it? How did they use it? Why was it used? What was the user’s position in society? What limitations did the user have or not have when using it? Each question has the potential to reveal new information. The stories behind the answers can help us understand history in new ways.
A new resource is now available to help visitors connect with our museum objects and the stories behind them. Inspired by a comment from our office manager, Samantha Sallade, and a suggestion from our archivist Rachel Dworkin, our curator, Monica Groth, recently created the first of what will be many self-guided tours available for free at our front desk. These tours take you through the galleries on a scavenger hunt to discover new connections to the artifacts and documents on display.
This is one way to check assumptions and appreciate the object for what it is while we consider its place in history. Of course many of our exhibits change throughout the year, and not everything we have is on view at all times. We have thousands of artifacts and documents in the collection that are available for research, but are not on display due to their condition, conservation concerns, or the fact that we simply do not have space for everything. It doesn’t mean that we value the items any less.
We share stories of Chemung County events, people, and places through our exhibits and frequently add to and update them in order to tell these stories more completely based on what we verify. Sometimes visitors share information and sometimes we uncover new information that helps us reframe those stories. Our volunteers working on HistoryForge have put in many hours collecting and entering data to tell more complete stories of Chemung County’s past. They meet twice monthly, and if you'd like to get involved, contact coordinator Andrea Renshaw at HistoryForge@ChemungValleyMuseum.org for more information.
Self-guided tours that are currently available are "Black Stories of Chemung County" and "Women's Lives in Chemung County." We plan to update these pamphlets periodically and to create more based on different topics, as we work to keep our collections fresh, relevant, and inclusive of the history of Chemung County residents.
|Jenny Dunmeyer (center) wearing her WADC uniform
The WADC admitted women of every race and background except Japanese. What privileges did they have that Japanese women did not? As a Black woman, Jenny was included in this group during the war, but what were her experiences post-war? You can read more about her life in a previous blog on the Reid family, You can also view Jenny's story from another point of view since she is also included in the self-guided tour "Black Stories of Chemung County."
If you have a suggestion for a tour, mention it to our receptionists or write to me directly at Educator@ChemungValleyMuseum.org. And the next time you’re in the museum, pick up one of our self-guided tours for yourself. It’s a chance to see Chemung County history through different lenses, and the museum through fresh eyes.