The tunnel connecting Lane and Kendall Halls is generally one of the least descript areas of the Hillsdale College campus. On Monday morning, however, 15 students turned it into a miniature museum.
Each spring, Professor of History David Stewart offers students the chance to a one-credit course on museum studies. For their final project, students research a subject of their choosing and put together a vivid poster-sized presentation to showcase to other students, faculty, and members of nearby historical societies.
“The subjects had to deal with something within an American context,” Stewart said. “Something in American art, American history, conservation in America, something to do with America to put on a poster. Other than that, it was pretty open-ended.”
The students took full advantage of this flexibility, working with subjects ranging between fashion, literature, motherhood, architecture, video games, history, and more.
“They were things that students went, ‘I was really interested in this and I wanted to know more, but maybe it wasn’t right for a term paper,’” Stewart said. He said it was this type of curiosity, mixed with some individual passion, which spawned most of the ideas for the project.
Junior Adam Cieply presented his topic of “The American Arcade: Yesterday and Today” to a continual stream of onlookers. He said he was inspired by another course he took at Hillsdale — ethics of video gaming — and saw the project as an opportunity to research a topic which had played a role in his childhood and which he though other Hillsdale students may not have known much about. He traced the history of the arcade from its origins to its modern roles, such as the arcade and bar hybrid.
“As a kid going to arcades it was one of those great social interactions, so the fact that a lot of these modern arcades are being created for the sake of living on that legacy was something I wanted to talk about,” Cieply said.
Junior Kristin Freeman occupied the wall across from Cieply, where she presented her project, “The American Cola: Coca-Cola and American Advertising.”
“My friends tease me and say I’m addicted to Coca-Cola,” she said. “I knew already that it had a very rich history and a large influence on American advertising, so it was both kind of personal but also a chance to spreads some awareness of the impact that it had of American advertising.”
Personal interest was a driving factor for senior Ralston Tucker as well, who researched ghost towns in relation to the American identity.
“I’m a fan of the Wild West. I think it’s really cool, and ghost towns are a fixture of that,” she said. “I think most of the time when we see something abandoned, the first instinct is to bulldoze it, so I wanted to figure out why so many of those towns had been left standing and preserved just as they were. And I do think it’s important to preserve what life was like at the time, and they’ve done a really good job of that.”
Some students even took the opportunity to research topics tied to Hillsdale College. Senior Josh Schmid was one such student, presenting on Hillsdale College and The Great War.
“Whenever anybody thinks of Hillsdale and war thinks of the Civil War, so I wanted to explore something people don’t know about,” Schmid said. “World War I is one of the more obscure wars in U.S. History, so I wanted to do this war some justice. Going in, I knew a lot about U.S. involvement, but I knew nothing about what Hillsdale did.”
Schmid said he found bountiful information on the topic, mentioning that all but two upperclassmen men left the College to fight by the time the war ended.
Stewart said he has seen a lot of interest from students in the museum profession over the last decade, and this class provides them the opportunity for some hands-on experience and learning.
“A lot of students over the past ten years or so have approached people in the department and said, “I like history, but I don’t want to be a teacher. What do I do then?’” he said. “Nationally, this is sort of the obvious answer, although we’ve never done much of it at Hillsdale, so we started offering this class.”
Stewart added that this extends beyond just the history department, to areas such as art history and the sciences.
Now in its second year, the course is offered every spring. Each student encouraged others considering the class to actually register for the it next year, but Cieply put it most succinctly.
“Just take it.”