Bridging students open Skinner’s “Cabinet of Curiosities”

“Our task was to delve into the mind of Joseph Allen Skinner, the founder of the Skinner Museum at Mount Holyoke. We wanted to discover the man behind the collection and find out why and how he came to possess such a diverse collection of cultural artifacts. In our research efforts with Cheryl Harned, we came to realize that the flood that destroyed Skinnerville, his original home, influenced Skinner to collect and preserve historical objects. His museum is a veritable homage to the curiosity of the human mind.” —Jessica Ratcliffe, UM ’15

Skinner Museum shelf of booksRatcliffe was one of 18 students from the five campuses who participated in the Applied Humanities Learning Lab, a January-term intensive course that was part of the Five College Bridging Initiative in the Public and Applied Humanities. The Mellon Foundation-funded effort explores ways to link undergraduate work with graduate and professional work. A third-year PhD candidate at UMass, Cheryl Harned was the facilitator and graduate fellow for the project, which helped undergraduate students interested in museums, archives and history find professional applications for their humanities studies.

The 1931 Project Exposition

The Five College community returned to the Depression Era on March 11 at the 1931 Project Exposition. The theme of the evening might have harkened back to days of old, but the content certainly didn’t. The culmination of the Applied Humanities Learning Lab, the event featured a presentation of Five College student work on the cutting edge of applied humanities in action.

Exposition event photo“The Applied Humanities Learning Lab offered a sneak peek into the realities of working in the public humanities. The program guided us to be introspective and to recognize the skills we’ve developed in studying the humanities, and then how to market those skills. However, I found the best part of the program was working with the Skinner Museum, in South Hadley, through which we actualized the lessons from the program. My group worked on community outreach to build a bridge between the museum and the community. We focused on reaching new demographics and elevating the relevancy of the museum to its community.” —Bianca Renzoni, UMass

“Growing up, I always enjoyed going to museums, so I was excited for the chance to plan an exciting experience for other museumgoers. I jumped on the chance to join the programming team during our intensive because it provided a way to combine history with fun events, two things I particularly enjoy. The Skinner Museum has a lot to offer the Mount Holyoke community, as well as the [larger] community, and I was glad to have a part in making it a viable attraction.” —Emma John, HC

Decorated bird cage“For my classes, I often find myself tucked away in books, curious but alone. The AppHuLL intensive plucked me out of my library cubicle and taught me the power of people — I’ve learned about the applied humanities through the words and experiences of those who work in a range of fields; through our in-class activities, which taught us how to ask questions and engage; and through our projects, in which we’ve learned the importance of collaboration and how to collaborate. This knowledge and these skills will follow me in whatever career in the applied humanities I eventually pursue, and I’m incredibly grateful and excited for all the opportunities I now see ahead.” —Chloe Michaelidis, UMass

“As a medieval studies major and public history minor, I’ve been asked many times what I’ll do in the future. Prior to this course, I had the same concerns as the people asking me the question. Spending my January term hearing from public historians inspired confidence in my future. I now know of the variety of interesting career paths I can pursue. Creating programming for the Skinner Museum opened up the world of museum education, a field I had never considered before, but I enjoyed the process of brainstorming and collaborating with my team. The 1931 Project has inspired me and instilled confidence in my future and in myself. It has taught me that I’m capable of so many things I never thought I’d be able to do. This process has caused me to fall even more deeply in love with the applied humanities. On behalf of my team, I’d like to thank the Skinner Museum and everyone involved with AppHuLL for this wonderful, stressful, and incredibly inspirational experience.” —Kristina Bush, MHC

During the January term, the students worked in four teams to solve different issues that arise in the life of a museum.

Team Communications

  • Jean Lawrence, studying history and Japanese at UMass Amherst
  • Indiana Massey, first-year student at Hampshire College
  • Jessica Ratcliffe, studying history and economics at UMass Amherst
  • Garen Sahagian, student at UMass Amherst
  • Emily Wells, history major and French and public history minor at Mount Holyoke College
  • Emily Devoe (mentor), art history graduate student at UMass Amherst

Team Advancement

  • Ly (Harriet) Bui, economics major at Mount Holyoke College
  • Phoebe Cos, history major and public history and museum studies minor at Mount Holyoke College
  • Kerube Gonzalez, history major at UMass Amherst
  • Bryan Gosciminski, senior at UMass Amherst
  • Jill Dwiggins (mentor), UMass Amherst alumna specializing in public history, publishing and literacy/writing education

Team Exhibition

  • Kim Cabrera, art history and English major at UMass Amherst
  • Daniel Thomas McNulty, studying anthropology and history at UMass Amherst
  • Darwin Pappas-Fernandes, English major at Smith College
  • Laura Pinkerton, art history major at UMass Amherst
  • Gina Wetzel, studying anthropology and geography in the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass Amherst
  • Christopher Benning (mentor), PhD candidate in history at UMass Amherst

Team Programming

  • Kristina Bush, medieval studies major and public history minor at Mount Holyoke College
  • Emma John, concentration in revolutions in history at Hampshire College
  • Chloe Michaelidis, heritage studies and legal studies major at UMass Amherst
  • Bianca Renzoni, studying anthropology, history, the French language and Africa in the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass Amherst
  • Elizabeth Hodges (mentor), art history graduate student at UMass Amherst