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Reimagining Historical Societies:  A Community Collaboration

by Ashley Purvis and Alexis Robertson, Graduate Students, Ball State University on

Moore-Youse Home Museum in Muncie, Indiana

Last Fall, the Delaware County Historical Society approached Ball State University for help in reimagining their organization. The students who participated in this collaboration researched how Indiana historical societies have faced sustainability issues and wrote a recommendation report to the DCHS based on those findings.

The Delaware County Historical Society in Muncie, Indiana faced an issue that many similar organizations around the nation currently combat. It no longer appealed to the community in which it resides. As a result, the historical society and the Moore-Youse Home Museum under its stewardship suffered declining membership and visitation. The current Board of Directors felt that the organization needed a rebrand within the community and approached Ball State University for help through its immersive learning program. This initiative at the university partners with local organizations that have a specific need or challenge they must overcome.  At the same time, these learning opportunities offer students with professional experience. Last Fall, the university sponsored one of these collaborative classes for the Delaware County Historical Society under the direction of Dr. Ronald V. Morris that would provide recommendations to the organization discussing how best to rebrand their image within the community. The students that participated in the Delaware County Historical Society project majored in History, Public History, and Historic Preservation with differing levels of academic experience ranging from new students beginning their freshman year to a third year graduate student.  They were Lucas Cauley, Sarah Laskowski, Ashley Purvis, Alexis Robertson, and Gwen Stricker.

 

Left to right: Lucas Cauley, Ashley Purvis, Sarah Laskowski, Dr. Ronald V. Morris, Gwen Stricker, Alexis Robertson, and Braydon Fox. Photo taken by Robbie Mehling.

In the beginning stages of the project, the students discussed the best methods to achieve the their desired results. The group settled on interviewing historical societies within the state to discover how they approached the relevancy issue within their respective communities. The students developed a thematic list of tailored questions that focused on aspects of the historical societies such as administrative development, finances, community outreach, and space usage within the museums. From the interviews, the students charted trends with the information and based the recommendations to the Delaware County Historical Society on those trends with case-specific knowledge of the society. Overall, the group felt that the organization should rebrand into the Indiana Women’s History Museum. From its inception, the Moore-Youse Home Museum had served as a family museum commemorating the Moore-Youses. The museum derived its uniqueness from the fact that three generations of Moore-Youse women lived in the house and finally donated it to the historical society when the last member passed away in the eighties. As a result, the society focused its efforts on collecting materials related to domestic life. This past strategy would allow the Delaware County Historical Society to easily rebrand into a museum focused on the lives of Indiana women while also providing opportunities for collection development and marketing within the state.

 

A screenshot of the architectural model that Gwen Stricker built to help the Delaware County Historical Society reimagine the space in the Moore-Youse Home Museum.

The students also recommended some general suggestions to the historical society for their immediate future.  As of the end of the project, the society was in the process of organizing, storing, and cataloging their materials into Past Perfect.  They needed to continue this process while also deaccessioning some of their materials.  Much like many similar organizations, the Delaware County Historical Society suffered from a serious lack of storage within their facilities.  Along these lines, the society should focus more of their efforts on community outreach and redeveloping their relationship with the Muncie community as well as the greater Delaware County area.  Finding space to utilize both within the house and research center will greatly aid them in this mission and could help them financially in terms of using it for rental space.  Gwen Stricker developed a three-dimensional model of the Moore-Youse Home Museum that provided a nice visualization for the historical society members in terms of thinking about space usage.  All of the students’ suggestions were well-received by the Board of Directors, and they plan to take steps to follow through with them.

This opportunity working with the Delaware County Historical Society supplied the students with a highly valuable learning opportunity. The class gave the group a greater appreciation for the hurdles that non-profit organizations have to overcome in order to remain sustainable and engaging while also giving us more perspective on the intricacies of museum management. It helped the students become better collaborators for the future in the professional world and allowed the group to develop interpersonal skills through the interviews, interactions with the society, and within the small class. The interviews provided opportunities to network with other people and organizations for future prospects and projects.  The recommendation report even contributed or cultivated skill sets.  The students had to analyze, chart, and draw conclusions from the interview data while writing a professional report that greatly differed from the normal style of academic writing for a university class. To show the historical society the final results, the students presented the information with a PowerPoint, which provided experience with public speaking. As an added bonus, the students worked for the betterment of the Delaware County Historical Society, and the project has spurred a great deal of interest from within the museum studies field.

Read the full report:

Download (PDF, 340KB)

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