Connecting to Your History, a new exhibition at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, explores the personal meaning of objects, why we save the things we keep, and how to preserve those objects.
Everyone has something they have saved from their own life – a prom dress, a prized childhood toy, a piece of jewelry, a family Bible, an old report card. So everyone can relate to the importance of cherished objects from our past. “Everyday objects tell a story,” reads one panel in the exhibit. “They remind you of a favorite memory or reveal an extra secret.”
Connecting to Your History begins with several examples of the kinds of archival materials people save, including war papers, a Civil War diary, scrapbooks, and letters.
The next section features a case of three small artifacts – a shawl pin, a corsage, and a ring. The exhibit challenges you to figure out why these artifacts are important. At first glance, they don’t have a particularly special meaning, until you lift the door to reveal each story.
The shawl pin was removed from the throat of an 8 year old girl in 1869.
The corsage is a “warsage,” made from a kit to create a flower from World War II stamps.
The bone ring was made from the amputated leg bone of Peter Hechert, a sergeant in the120th Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
These artifacts are wonderful examples of the stories objects have to tell. Every museum collection contains and everyday objects whose meaning is not readily apparent. But when paired with its story, the object suddenly becomes more significant and interesting.
A large world map occupies one wall of the gallery. Visitors are asked to put a small round sticker on the map where they were born. Different colored stickers represent the birthplace of the visitor’s parents, grandparents and great grandparents. This “low-tech” interactive helps visitors connect with where they came from, and provides a visual examination of their own family history.
Two computer kiosks in the gallery connect visitors to the National Digital Newspaper Program and Ancestry.com. The NDNP allows researchers to browse historical newspapers by geographic location or search them using keywords. At Ancestry.com, visitors can discover their own family history.
The last section of the exhibition explores the characteristics of different materials – such as paper, textiles, leather and bone – and includes information on how to preserve your personal objects at home.
Connecting to Your History has universal appeal, and could easily be replicated in any history museum. If we can help people learn how to preserve and protect their own artifacts at home, it will help preserve their stories for future generations to enjoy – both inside and outside of our museums.
The author did not pay admission to see this exhibition. She was attending a meeting at the Ohio Historical Society on a day when the museum was closed. Museum staff offered the meeting participants a behind-the-scenes tour of the new exhibitions on view.