Category: Public History Initiative Research Blog

PHI Intern Ryan Tullock Explores House Museums

By Ryan Tullock

This image shows William C. Gorgas seated, reading a letter.
William C. Gorgas, US Surgeon General
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

I went on my first house tour when I was in the eighth grade. I toured The Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee. I can almost remember every detail about that tour and was blown away by the fact that someone, albeit a very important someone, had their house turned into a museum. From that point on, it has been a wish of mine to be involved with a house museum of some sort. With that in mind, and knowing that desire was bubbling near the back of my mind, when the opportunity to work at Gorgas House in some respect presented itself, I could not help but jump at the opportunity! This was the opportunity I had been waiting for!

However, that’s getting a little ahead of myself. In the fall of 2016, I found myself in the Public History course being offered by Dr. Giggie. I was interested because I had never really considered Public History as line of work. To be honest, I did not know what Public History meant. As far as I knew, it could have been a course on writing books that appealed to the public, hence Public History. Whatever the reason, it caught my eye. At the very least, I could add it as a line on my Curriculum Vitae. Besides, what could it hurt? After a session or two, I realized that Public History was really just the idea of how the public interacts with history, whether that be through museums, publishing, digital humanities, or archival work. I could see myself in any of those disciplines, but still in the back of my mind was this desire to work in a house museum. Then Gorgas House opened as a possibility. I was hooked.

Now that I was on at the Gorgas House, the question turned to what I would make of my time there. When I had visited the house at an earlier date, I noticed that the mention of William Gorgas was contained almost exclusively to his time in the military. The remarkable thing is that Gorgas was much more than just a soldier. He oversaw sanitation in the Panama Canal zone, served as president of the American Medical Association, and most importantly was on the team that discovered that mosquitoes carry yellow fever! Yet none of this was being told. This rich history was shut up somewhere and I felt it my duty, if you will, to dig it out of the doldrums. My hope is that by the end of my time at Gorgas House, there will be a fully functional, online exhibit tracing the importance in the medical field of a man whose only accolade on this campus is as Surgeon General. While this is a noble title and a singularly important position, it only tells a very small portion of the story.

Lastly, having talked with Lydia Ellington Joffray, director of the Gorgas House, we both believe that this project is a great example of the mission of Gorgas House: to illuminate the lives of the Gorgas family and to educate people about this very important Alabama family. This project, as previously mentioned, will shine a light into the background of William Gorgas’ medical achievements.

In the end, I am excited to have the opportunity to work with the house and Hoole Library in illustrating this man’s background and how important he is, not only for the University of Alabama or United States military history, but also his great impact in the history of medicine.

PHI Intern Matthew Culver Works with Gorgas House to Create Exhibit on Centennial of US Entry into WW I

By Matthew Culver

This image shows the emblem of the 167th Infantry Regiment, an Alabama National Guard unit that served in France during WW I.
Coat of Arms of the 167th Infantry Regiment, an Alabama National Guard unit.
Courtesy of the US Army Institute of Heraldry

For the spring of 2017 I am working with the Gorgas House Museum to curate and display an exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of American entry into the First World War. I chose this internship to compliment my prior experience in military museums, as well as have the opportunity to serve in a “leadership” capacity during exhibit curation, which will afford me invaluable experience in the curation process.

I picked the subject of WWI based on my prior experience of working with US Army museums, particularly research pertaining to the World Wars. Normally my focus has centered around logistics, and this internship is allowing me to expand on military operations, considering medical work as well as combat roles, and of course more logistics. By the end of the semester, I hope to have successfully curated and exhibited an intriguing collection of macro artifacts, photographs and documentation telling the story of the University, the state of Alabama, and the United States at war. I hope to gain firsthand experience in curation that I can carry forward into a potential museum career.

The Gorgas House hopes to provide a valuable source of education into the role of Major General William Crawford Gorgas, the University, and the state of Alabama’s contribution to the First World War, highlighting a period of history that is quickly fading from public memory.

PHI Intern Ashley Tickle Creating an Exhibit at the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library on a Day in the Life of a Miner

By Ashley Nicole Tickle

This image shows coal miners standing around in Walker County.
Coal Miners in Walker County, Alabama
Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress

I decided to do the project at the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library because I am interested in museum work. I felt that creating an exhibit using

the materials in the collection would give me the best experience for that type of work. Lewis and I met with Dr. Kate Matheny, the Reference Services and Outreach Coordinator for Special Collections at Hoole, in mid-December 2016 to discuss what materials are available to work with. She presented us with three ideas. First, was an exhibit on industry in Birmingham using the Woodward papers and the Working Lives interviews. Second, was an exhibit using papers from a Harvard psychologist who used and experimented with LSD. Finally, she indicated that Hoole had a collection of old church hymnals. We decided that the Birmingham project would work best because of the interest it would have to the local population and a wide audience.

This image shows Ashley Tickle reviewing archival materials.
Ashley Tickle reviews archival materials at W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library

Having looked through much of the material, Lewis Whilden and I are going to create an exhibit displaying a “Day in the Life of a Miner” with focus on the types of work available, how much miners were paid, how miners used strikes and membership to labor unions to leverage pay and benefits, what kinds of risks were involved in mining (including accidents and health risks), and what miners did for entertainment (including baseball). In looking at these aspects of miner’s lives we will also have some focus on race relations and segregation since race affected what kinds of jobs one could get and thus how much one was paid.

From this experience I would like to gain a better understanding of the process of creating exhibits in museums and libraries. I hope that this will make me better able to read displays and exhibits when I go to museums in the future and will cause me to think more about what went into creating these exhibits. Finally, I hope that this experience will help me to be a better communicator since I will not be able to explain my findings in pages worth of print but instead must condense my findings into comprehensible snippets in a display case.

Our creation of this display furthers the mission of Hoole because it advertises to the public what is available in their collections. Several research papers could be written from the information in our exhibit. Further, one of Dr. Matheny’s goals is to have a well-researched academic exhibit displayed. This showcases how students in particular can use the library’s materials and can help get people into the library to use such material available in their collections.

PHI Intern Kevin McPartland Works with Tuscaloosa’s First United Methodist Church

By Kevin McPartland

This image shows the historical marker placed in front of the the Tuscaloosa First United Methodist ChurchI became interested in this project because of the time period spanned by the Church. The Church has its beginnings in some very unique times in American history. Not only was it a product of the second great awakening, but it also comes about during Alabama fever, and the establishment of a slave economy in what was then the American Southwest. Early America through the Civil War is my area of interest, so this project provides a chance to really examine these times on a local level.

I am particularly interested in seeing how the Church reacted to the Civil War itself. The University was essentially an officer training school, and members of the congregation almost undoubtedly fought for the South. It would be great to know who went, and why, and how the congregation dealt with the war. How did they feel about the cause? Were they pushing for secession beforehand? Was the Church political at all?

As for this semester, I plan on working mostly with the Church’s roll book from the 1830s. This is an amazing primary source document that could really shed light on who attended the church and what their lives were like. I would like to try to match the names to census records and tell some of the biographical stories of these early members. Additionally, the book can serve as a great view into the world of antebellum religion. The Church had slave members and they are listed on the roll. What was it like to be in the Church then? How did things change post-Nat Turner? What was the socio-economic status of the people in the Church, and how did they interact with each other? The court cases also give insight into the nature of the law in what was still largely frontier Alabama. The book as a whole is a tremendous piece of information, and it will be harder to narrow down options than to come up with them.

I really would like to build research skills during this project. The book will require some archival research to be sure, and the sources might be scant. It will be a challenge to synthesize these stories with the little information I will have. I also want to work on writing for a lay audience. Most people will not care about the broader historical implications, but they will want to feel connected to their Church ancestors. I want to be able to connect with them in a way that will leave a lasting impact.

Ultimately, that is the goal for the whole project. I want to situate the Church of 1831 with the congregation of 2018. This is their history, and it is my job to help them learn and understand it. They have given us free reign with the project, and I would like to see it be something they will reference and something that will anchor them in the past as they look towards the future. I want the average Church member to feel a connection with the past, even if they do not fully understand the full historical context.

PHI Intern Morgan Wilson Works with Civil Rights Commission

By Morgan Wilson

This image shows four white Tuscaloosa police officers and sheriff's deputies placing a black man into a prisoner transport.
Tuscaloosa Police and Sheriff’s Deputies Arrest a Demonstrator.
Photo Courtesy of the Tuscaloosa News.

This spring, I am participating in the Civil Rights Commission internship, which involves gathering and compiling information on civil rights in West Alabama. I chose to work on this project because I want to learn more about the rich but often underestimated civil rights events and legacies of the Tuscaloosa area. While American history and civil rights are not subjects that I have formally researched in recent years, I have a very personal investment in these topics on the local level. Members of my family have called the Tuscaloosa area home for at least four generations, and some were involved in events like Bloody Tuesday when marchers were beaten, hosed, and tear-gassed by policemen in 1964. Many of them still live here, and embarking on this internship has already inspired me to ask more questions about their viewpoints and experiences. The current political climate has also sparked a renewed interest in the issues of equality and progress, and motivated me to look back in order to understand and process recent events and debates.

As a public history intern, my current task is to research three sites: Greenwood Cemetery, Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center, and the Alabama Citizen and its building. I will be describing their origins, their roles in the community, and their ties to the Civil Rights Movement. These sites, along with ones like the Alston Building and First African Baptist Church researched by my fellow interns, are intended to become stops on the future Tuscaloosa and West Alabama Civil Rights Tour. I am excited to help build an experience that will bring parts of a fascinating and important history to life for both locals and outside visitors.

PHI Intern Chandler Padgett Works with Gorgas House WWI Exhibit

By Chandler Padgett

This image shows a WW I era gas mask that is on display at the Gorgas House.
William C. Gorgas’s WWI-Era Gas Mask

For my internship, I am primarily working on the WWI exhibit, while also giving tours. For the exhibit, I am working on one of three sections: the part focusing on William C. Gorgas. This project has involved a number of things. First, I have done an extensive amount of research on Gorgas’s life and his impact on the world around him. Second, I’ve translated that research into information for visitors through text and other interpretive tools. Perhaps one of the most engaging aspects creatively is having to come up with unique and interesting ways to interact with the audience. Third, I have searched for and obtained artifacts for use in the exhibit. Finally, I am helping with the logo and design of the exhibit overall.

I decided to do this internship mainly because I was already volunteering at the Gorgas House for multiple hours a week and had started on the WWI exhibit. I figured it would be nice to get class credit since I would be doing the same thing anyway. I originally started working at the museum to get experience, and the opportunity to work on the WWI exhibit just arose. Thinking that it would be a great learning opportunity, I jumped at the chance to work on the project. This semester, I would like to complete the exhibit in a satisfactory way; I want to feel proud of the product I produced. After the exhibit is finished, I would like to help with other facets of the museum. My work will further the mission of the Gorgas House because it “preserves and interprets the Gorgas family legacy,” specifically William Gorgas.

PHI Intern Charlotte Watters Works With Tuscaloosa’s First United Methodist Church’s Bicentennial Committee

By Charlotte Watters

This image is of the front entrance to Tuscaloosa's First United Methodist ChurchI chose to take this internship because I wanted a chance to explore the history that exists in the community all around me. I hope that this project will bring me closer to the community in which I live, and give me a chance to utilize my studies for a (slightly more practical) goal. While I initially became involved with this project because of a professor’s recommendation, the Department’s class on Public History definitely inspired me to become more involved in the preservation of our community’s past. I have already made a lot of close connections with fellow researchers, University faculty, and the greater Tuscaloosa community. Seeing how excited the Tuscaloosa community members were when they saw our team come in was incredibly rewarding.

I am working with a team on the bicentennial for the First United Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa. Our project is particularly exciting because the bicentennial falls on the same year as Tuscaloosa’s bicentennial. We found that breaking the project into fifty-year chunks is incredibly evocative; 1818-2018 spans the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, and modern day. The Church members seem eager to take on even the difficult aspects of their history, and are looking at partnering with other churches in town. Our team as a whole is planning on creating a series of short video clips documenting different aspects of the history, centered on the fifty-year time breaks. Personally, I will be curating a small exhibit of the Church’s artifacts for the FUMC’s history month, which will be in November of 2018. So far, I have found some pretty incredible things, including a registry that dates back to the 1820s. We are still in the very early stages of planning, as we meet with the bicentennial committee once a month. At our next meeting, we will be proposing our plan for the history month, and once we have the go-ahead, we will be able to make much more progress. Also, hopefully as the project picks up speed, we will have a lot of great photos to share, since the Church is a beautiful space full of great pieces of Tuscaloosa history.