By April Akins, University Archivist, Lander University
Each summer, Lander University’s incoming freshman class attend one of several orientation sessions. During the sessions, they are given time to explore the history of Lander through an experience with the Lander University Archives. Over the years, with the increase in freshman enrollment finding ways to make this experience exciting and meaningful has become challenging. This summer there were over 750 students to embark on a walk down memory lane. In order to give the students an opportunity to see the archival materials as well as gain knowledge of Lander’s 145-year history, I created the “Lander through the Decades” museum exhibit with the help of a student worker, Janie Sullivan, senior Lander University History Major.
Many students come to Lander having never experienced a museum before so in an effort to provide a learning experience for the students, materials were arranged into mini museum exhibits and placed behind glass on tables within our large group study room. Each mini exhibit was arranged to include several decades sharing highlights of Lander’s history through artifacts and manuscripts. A timeline was displayed to give students further details of events that occurred during the time of the materials. Setting up the museum in this format allowed not only the incoming freshman to view the materials but faculty, staff, and community members were also given an opportunity to see the materials. This was a great way to make the Lander community aware of the archives.
One lesson learned from this project is the need to provide more direction to the orientation leaders that guide the students through the museum. The communication that was shared with the leaders was not clear enough. There seemed to be confusion in how to view the materials. In the past, materials had been placed on tables and display cases out in the open allowing students to touch and browse the materials in a more hands on approach. With preservation in mind, the experience was moved behind glass and set up as a museum to not only provide the “museum experience” for students but to show the importance of preserving the materials. The glass barrier (and locked door) provided safety and security of the archival materials.
One idea for a spin off from this project that was received from a faculty member is to create a virtual museum exhibit with these same materials. The suggestion included having a mass communication and/or a computer science student work to create a digital replication of the exhibit that could be included in our freshman experience course’s online materials. This would also allow us to place the museum on our archives website to provide another avenue to access our materials.
A mascot costume and commencement invitations make up part of the Lander Through the Decades exhibit on display at the Lander University Archives in the Larry Jackson Library.