February 21, 2019
A couple of weeks of ago I wrote about my memories of an internship I did with Connecticut’s Old State House. To continue the series of museum memories of my career, I started a museum educator position at the historic house museum, Stanley-Whitman House, in Farmington Connecticut while I was earning my Master’s degree in Public History at Central Connecticut State University. Stanley-Whitman House, according to their website, is a living history center and museum that,
teaches through the collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington. Programs, events, classes, and exhibits encourage visitors of all ages to immerse themselves in history by doing, acting, questioning, and engaging in Colonial life and the ideas that formed the foundation of that culture.
It is located in the historic center of Farmington, and centered on the ca. 1720 National Historic Landmark house which is furnished with period antiques to reflect the everyday activities of Colonial life in Connecticut. Outside the house, there are period raised bed gardens, an apple orchard, and heritage stone walls. In 2004, the museum added a building that houses public service areas including a modern classroom, a period tavern room, post-and-beam Welcome Center, research library, exhibit gallery, and collection storage area.
While I was working as a museum educator at the House, I got to wear a costume in which I taught education programs for school groups between kindergarten and fifth grade. The programs I taught focused on educating students about life in the Colonial era and about the Native American life in Colonial Farmington. Each program had different stations the students spent time learning various aspects of colonial life, and rotated throughout the house and history center. For older students, I taught them how to cook recipes and I demonstrated how the food was cooked over the hearth.
During these programs, I learned early on about the importance of flexibility. School buses do not always arrive on time so when school groups arrive late myself and other educators have to modify our lessons to make sure the students get as much out of the program as possible. I also learned about how to handle the unexpected. When a group of fifth graders were acting up during a cooking lesson and after a number of times we told them to behave, one of the students got hurt as a result so I quickly raised my voice so the entire group can hear me tell everyone to stop what they were doing. As I continued my career, I understood there will be times unexpected things will happen and I would need to be able to be quick on my feet to handle the situation.
In addition to educating school groups, I also worked on a couple of projects that not only contributed to the Stanley-Whitman House but also fulfilled my requirements in the Master’s program. For instance, I took a Curatorship course and one of the requirements was to create an exhibit for a museum or gallery with classmates. A couple of classmates and I decided to work on an exhibit for the Stanley-Whitman to go along with their symposium In Plain Sight which focused on the history of slavery in Connecticut before the 1790 census. We used the resources available in the Stanley-Whitman House’s collections in the lower levels of the history center to research the slaves who lived in Farmington. According to the summary I wrote about the project, once we completed the research
The next steps for the exhibit were discussed during one of our group meetings after we shared what we found in our research. For instance, we discussed editing the biographical information found before creating the text panels. Then we discussed the possibility of adding some photographs related to slaves in Farmington and where they lived in the town. Once the exhibit is set up, we will be able to fulfill the Stanley-Whitman’s house mission for the symposium and our experiences in curatorship.
Another example of a project I worked on for the Stanley-Whitman House and as a requirement for my Master’s program was a capstone project as a final requirement for earning my degree.
I created a lesson plan according to the requirements of Teaching with Historic Places which uses historic places in National Parks and in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places to enliven history, social studies, geography, civics, and other subjects to help teachers bring historic places into the classroom. According to the abstract I created for my capstone project
It focuses on eighteenth century New England women and it takes a specific look at the lives of two women who lived in the Farmington, Connecticut, Mary Steele Smith and Susannah Cole Whitman. Both were economically comfortable, two white New England women who were members of the First Congregationalist Church, but the lesson includes background information about the history of Farmington and about women of different social and economic status to inform students that not every individual who lived during the eighteenth century lived the same way Mary and Susannah lived. This lesson plan will aid school-age children in becoming more aware of the study of Early American women’s history and its significance to the overall local and American eighteenth-century history.
After I completed the project, I submitted it to the committee for approval and I gave a copy for my academic advisor to keep for her records and for the director of the Stanley-Whitman House at the time.
My experiences at the Stanley-Whitman House were important to me because they were a part of the beginning of my career as a museum educator and the lessons I learned here I carry throughout my career. All of my memories at the museums I work with guide me through my career and help me become a better museum professional.
Announcement: After next week, I will not be posting new material for the blog because I am going to focus more on my wedding planning since my wedding is a month away. I will try to share previous posts when I can.