Category Archives: HistoryMaking

Database Conversion Project

By Michael Sprague

Since my last post, I have been assisting the Wyandotte County Museum in converting written records of its artifacts to a new digital database. The museum has been overdue for this conversion of its records for quite some time. Given the quantity of the museum’s artifacts and oddities, I am not certain how the staff has managed to organize its many closets, cabinets, and vaults. I had previously discussed this issue with the curator and the director, and they stated that this database was among the primary goals of the museum to complete. The director also jested that without the database, the staff did not know what they had in their archives. After learning about how much work has been done for the database, and how much more work still needs done, I am not so sure she was joking.

With only three paid staff members, the museum depends on the labor of employees and interns. The staff created a crowdsourcing model, drawing volunteers across the country to do the meaningful work of creating this database. Since mid-March shutdown, the museum’s database has grown from 7,000 records to more than 17,000. I am proud to have contributed 250 records to the database. It may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to 17,000, but at moments it felt like an overwhelming task.

The collections that I entered into the database ranged from 19th century real estate documents to WWI combat uniforms. All of these artifacts were donated by residents of Wyandotte County, and meticulously catalogued by a former staff member in the 1980s (who frustratingly, wrote all of these notes in cursive script). While the work was at times tedious, I certainly felt accomplished to have measurably contributed to the museum’s most needed project. I intend to volunteer my time towards this project over the summer if more work is needed, even though my internship concludes this week. If nothing else, this project showed me the staggering number of artifacts housed by the museum. It has also instilled a sense of duty to contribute more to the endeavor of properly cataloguing it.

The Limitations of Working Remotely

By Michael Sprague

Work for my internship has slowed down a bit. I knew there were limitations to the work I could do remotely, and those limitations certainly become more evident these last two weeks. Recently, I have completed two minor projects for the Wyandotte County Museum – summaries of both Western University and Sumner High School for a planned exhibit on historic institutions of education in Wyandotte County. Both schools are evidence of the resiliency and determination of the black community of Kansas City, so I consider myself privileged to have contributed to this project. I have learned much about both institutions during my time at the museum, and certainly I have much more to learn. The connections I have made during my internship will greatly benefit that end.

Aside from these two projects, I revised a role-playing game I designed for the museum, a project I previously discussed in my blog posts. My skills at communicating effectively to elementary age children are dubious at best, so it proved a more challenging task than I had expected. There is now a game draft ready to test for both elementary aged children, and high school aged students. Hopefully, it will prove as a good resource for the museum in the future.

Additionally, I made some minor edits to an exhibit I completed for Quindaro, and its recognition by the National Park Service. I have a plan with the Wyandotte County Museum’s director to work on the exhibit in the middle of May – so long as the stay-at-home order is not extended past that timeframe. This is something that I would like to see through. Remotely completing a draft for an exhibit simply does not feel rewarding on its own – I want to see the fruit of my labor hanging on display in the museum. In spite of this frustration, I am still grateful for this opportunity to get practical experience in a museum, and I will likely volunteer over the summer if I can be of further assistance to the staff

Raising Quindaro Out of Obscurity

By Michael Sprague

These last few weeks have few weeks have been atypical for the Wyandotte County Museum. Shortly after University of Missouri – Kansas City closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the director informed all volunteers to work from home. Since the stay at home order, all museum staff is working remotely. It will be closed at least until the stay at home order is lifted and will likely remain closed until May. This has complicated my work for the institution, but I am still working on and revising two concurrent projects. Before the closure of the museum, I was able to collect some photographs for one of my projects, which I have now completed. Of course, this situation is not ideal for a variety of reasons. I was steadily building connections with historians of Wyandotte County, and the shelter-in-place order has unfortunately halted that. However, I am still committed to completing my work remotely.

Last month, I completed a game for high school and college aged students at the museum, which is focused on the community of Quindaro and its fight against Browning-Ferris Industries and the Kansas City, Kansas City Council. This is a topic which I am passionate about and intend to research going into my future graduate studies. The intersecting story of the fight against a proposed landfill in the Quindaro bluffs speaks to environmental and urban developmental histories and showcases the blatant disregard of the health of communities of color in the Kansas City era during the 1980s and 90s. The boom times of Old Quindaro are certainly fascinating and show the complexity and diversity of the Kansas City region’s history – but it seems that historians have marked the end of Quindaro’s history in the 1860s. What followed was the history of a burgeoning black community, which has largely been overlooked by historians and government officials alike.

Of course, Western University, the first black public school in Kansas, and arguably the first historically black college west of the Mississippi River is a fascinating story. I have devoted a significant amount of my undergraduate studies to the institution, and the impact that it had on the black community of Kansas City. This story has not been well told by local historians. Indeed, few laymen in the Kansas City areas know of its existence. Its history should absolutely be elevated into the public awareness, and the Wyandotte County Museum intends to create an exhibit dedicated to it at some point. Hopefully, with the resources I have available, I will be able to contribute to it.


I collaborated with the director of the museum to create an exhibit for Quindaro. The townsite was recently recognized as a National Commemorative Site, and the director wanted to draw attention to this in the museum. The exhibit provides background for the boomtown and its rapid decline, followed by a period of obscurity, and re-acknowledgement during the 80s and 90s. Photographs of the Quindaro ruins are limited – most structures were either stripped bare for firewood by Union soldiers during the Civil War, or succumbed to vegetation and erosion. However, there were some photographs of structures still standing in the 1910s and 20s.

When Browning-Ferris Industries was required to fund a comprehensive archaeological survey for their proposed landfill site, few expected the ruins of a burgeoning city would be discovered. Truthfully, I do not fully understand why Quindaro’s history was so unknown at the time. Certainly, many Quindaro residents (such as Jesse Owens and Orrin M. Murray, Sr.) whose ancestors settled in the area knew what was there, but the ruins seemed to take everyone else by surprise, historians included. One archaeologist involved in the survey declared the townsite the “Pompeii of Kansas.” For more than one hundred years, the town that had contributed as a gateway for free state aid into the Kansas Territory, and as a haven for runaway Missouri slaves had been forgotten. I strongly suspect that Chester Owens was right when he said that no one knew about the history of Quindaro because no one valued the history of African Americans.

The final portion of the exhibit is dedicated to the effort to secure national funding for the Quindaro townsite. The goal is to highlight some of the effort by the community to preserve the ruins. It was not until 2002 that the townsite was registered on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, since BFI withdrew their contract to construct a landfill, little has been done to further excavate the ruins, or to properly display what was uncovered in the 1980s. The passion was there, but the funding was not. Many are hopeful that the townsite’s recent designation as a National Commemorative Site will fund initiatives to further survey the ruins, and to display them in a more responsible manner. At this time, it is not clear how much the site will receive from the NPS, or what will be done with those funds. I ended the exhibit on a hopeful note, but in truth, I am more reserved in my optimism. Unfortunately, the endeavor to elevate Quindaro’s history has been contentious, and I do not see that changing any time soon. Circumstances would be better if the whole townsite were owned by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, but unfortunately it must contend with the private owners of some of its property. In the interest of Quindaro’s history, I hope the community can finally come together to celebrate what the townsite represented, and its very real impact on freedmen and their descendants.

WyCo Museum – A Lesson in Community Outreach and Cooperation in Public History

As the weather has become warmer, the Wyandotte County Museum has become more active, and my work has intensified. Recently, I completed a Sumner High School alumni project, which took considerably longer than I though. I am currently developing a role playing game for middle school children who come to the museum, which emphasizes the importance of Native American culture, environmentalism, and the preservation of historic sites. This project uses the Quindaro ruins as the model, and places the students into a debate over the landfill initiative in the 1980s and 90s. Work on this project is almost complete, and I look forward to the upcoming project – work on an exhibit for Old Quindaro.

Two weeks ago, I attended a meeting at Kansas City, Kansas Community College on behalf of the museum. KCKCC is working on a digital mural project for the region’s history. The committee has made efforts to be inclusive, and has welcomed members of the community into the planning process for the mural. The intent is to create a diverse, comprehensive history, and the community has greatly contributed to that goal. I admire the work the committee has done, and look forward to the opportunities to help in this project. Through this committee, I made many connections which will undoubtedly be useful for my role at the Wyandotte County Museum. I already have a meeting with a faculty member who is very passionate about Quindaro, and who was significantly involved in the excavation of the ruins.

The curator is currently working on an exhibit for Wyandotte County architecture. I have assisted him in setting up the exhibit. This included moving some of the masonry of the Carnegie Library, which has long been demolished in Kansas City, Kansas, and creating poster boards of photos of the most impressive buildings in KCK still standing. The masonry is quite impressive, and the exhibit will tell the history of the county through its architecture. The exhibit will be open to the public by the middle of this month, and all who are interested in Wyandotte County history are welcome to come.

Rebuilding the Community’s Trust – the Beginnings of a Wyandotte County Internship

Wyandotte County has a diverse and provocative history, and it deserves a deeper understanding by the community that now lives within its boundaries. That is the goal of the Wyandotte County Museum – the staff is intent on highlighting the region’s significance through public outreach and building strong relationships within the community to cooperatively tell the county’s history. Apparently, the museum has not had a good record with collaboratively telling Wyandotte County’s history, a fact that the staff will freely admit is an obstacle the museum to overcome. While this has already posed challenges for my internship, it is my goal as well to help rebuild the museum’s reputation.

My internship at the Wyandotte County Museum has definitely had an interesting beginning. It started with uncertainty, as I tried to gauge my role in the museum’s team. My historical research prior to interning has primarily focused on the experience of African Americans post-Emancipation, and there is certainly a compelling story of black migration to the Kansas City area from the South after the Civil War. Therefore, after some guidance from Amy Loch, the director at WyCo Museum, we have created a series of goals for my internship that are related to that field of history. The long-term goal is to potentially create a hallway exhibit for Quindaro, and to develop a role-playing game for elementary and middle school students that emphasizes the importance of stewardship of archaeological sites, and respect towards Native culture.

Thus far, I have researched the “Potato King,” Junius G. Groves, who emigrated from Kentucky to what is now Kansas City, Kansas. Groves became among the richest African Americans in the nation through his business and became a notable philanthropist for black farmers in the region, undoubtedly wishing to provide opportunities of success for others. Currently, I am working on a project related to Sumner High School, and its notable graduates. Research into graduates who stayed in the area has proven difficult, which led me to consult the curator at the Alumni Room at Sumner Academy. We spoke for two hours, and my intention was to gain a deeper understanding of black education in KCK. This connection will undoubtedly be beneficial as I move forward in interpreting African American history in the region.

It was on the same day that I contacted a notable black community leader in Kansas City, Kansas to get their input as well. This is where the reputation of the museum caught up to me. While they were polite, and indicated that they were willing to help, they certainly did not hold back their criticisms of the museum when I spoke with them on the phone. Unfortunately, this encounter was not as fruitful as I had expected, but I now understand the importance of building trust with the community. Their criticisms were well placed, and the museum can undoubtedly do better at building trust. Amy Loch recognizes this as a problem, and has worked diligently to bridge the gap, and the individual on the phone had only positive things to say about her efforts. It is my goal, in the limited degree of influence I have at the museum, to also work towards this endeavor. It will be fascinating to see where that effort goes.

Part Time Job Opportunity: Arts Council of Johnson County

The Arts Council of Johnson County is looking for a part time Administrative Assistant. The Administrative Assistant will support the Executive Director in the business and administrative needs of the Arts Council of Johnson County and its constituents. S/he will be a highly engaged, collaborative team member to fulfill the vision and mission of the Arts Council of Johnson County. The ideal candidate for this position loves the Arts and is customer-focused, detail-oriented, and highly organized with expertise in systems management, event coordination, and project management.

Responsibilities: 

  • Maintain databases
  • Plan and prioritize work activities and use time efficiently
  • Coordinate office upkeep and maintenance, including but not limited to purchasing office supplies, managing inventory, and occasional computer troubleshooting

Knowledge, Skills, and Qualifications:

  • Detail-oriented with strong accuracy level and thoroughness
  • Highly organized, loves systems and checklists, and is impeccable with tracking
  • Ability to multi-task and learn quickly
  • Excellent verbal, written, and interpersonal communication skills
  • Ability to manage multiple priorities with simultaneous deadlines
  • Accountability in areas of responsibility
  • Ability to self-motivate, take initiative, and work autonomously with minimum supervision
  • Can-do attitude, solution-oriented, and positive
  • Excellent working knowledge and experience with current computer equipment and programs

Required / Preferred Experience:

  • Minimum of three to five years office administration experience required, preferably in Executive level administrative support
  • Familiarity with the fundamentals of project management
  • Graphic design skills preferred, but not required

Job Details:

  • Status: Regular part time, non-exempt. Position has room for growth, could potentially become full-time after approximately 1 year.
  • Schedule: 30 hours per week. Mon-Fri, daily hours flexible between 8am-5pm, some evenings and weekends.
  • Compensation: $16 per hour
  • Location: Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf, Ste 2500, Overland Park, KS 66212
  • Other:  Free admission to arts events

How to Apply:
Send a cover letter, resume, and contact information for three references describing your qualifications and interest in the position to sarah@artsjoco.org. The email subject line should read PT Administrative Assistant Search.

Deadline for Application: Applicants will be reviewed beginning Jan. 28th. Application will remain open until position is filled.

The Arts Council of Johnson County is a non-profit organization and does not discriminate against any applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, gender, orientation, or national origin.

Salary Range: Up to $29,999

For more information, click here.

Interning at ContemPlace

When I put the address for ContemPlace into my Google Maps I was certain that I’d made a mistake. Why did it look like the “Kansas City, Missouri based” non-profit I was about to start interning for was somewhere out in Leavenworth, Kansas? I didn’t even know that KC proper extended past the Missouri River, let alone so far out into the countryside; when I pulled up the gravel driveway surrounded by ripe rows of grape vines stretching out across the hills, I became increasingly excited and mildly concerned that I had been mistakenly placed in an internship at a vineyard.

ContemPlace, founded by exhibit designer and vintner Jerry Eisterhold, is an umbrella non-profit for educational initiatives, trying to make a name for itself in national conversations surrounding civic engagement taking place among organizations such as American Public Square and the American Association for State and Local History. I was hired on to assist in the development of its premier project: a scalable, customizable poster exhibit titled Seeing Through the Census, designed for display in libraries and community centers to help inform the public of the history, purpose, utility, and wide-ranging implications of the United States’ decennial census. Several of these educational panels had already been designed before I started at ContemPlace, my initial task was to generate content for an additional 7 panels. My days were spent researching the history of the census, its successes, its failures, and its controversies. The first panel I wrote addressed LGBTQIA+ visibility in the census, something I had honestly never given a moment’s consideration to. I learned that, by tracing concentrated usage of the word “partner” rather than “husband” or “wife” to denote the relationship between two heads of household, we can use census data from 1900 on to visualize historic queer neighborhoods in U.S. cities. I also learned that, while the 2020 census will be the first to provide the option of clear distinctions between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, it will not provide any visibility for trans and non-binary folks. And that the 21st census in 2000 was the first to allow Americans to choose more than one option when describing their racial identity. I learned, above all, that the census was not an apolitical exercise but rather a battleground for social justice and reform.

Most of my peers, and in fact, much of mainstream America, came to the same realization over the last six months due to political controversy over President Trump’s attempt at including a citizenship question in the 2020 census. Many worried that the information would be used unlawfully to identify so called “illegal immigrants” for deportation by the Trump administration’s zealous ICE raids. Though his efforts were blocked by the courts after 17 states sued the Census Bureau, significant damage had been done to the institution’s reputation as a safe and benevolent custodian of private data. Consequently, states with a high immigrant population are now facing the serious threat of an undercount that could result in the loss of millions of dollars of federal funding.

Seeing Through the Census couldn’t constitute even a drop in the bucket when it comes to the amount of census awareness needed to combat a PR catastrophe of that magnitude. Yet, however modest its impact, the project has heart. I wrote 6 more panels for the exhibit, on hard-to-count census tracts, visualizing the history of racial segregation in Kansas City, the undercounting of young children, congressional reapportionment, prison gerrymandering, and the difficulties of reconstructing Native American genealogies using historic census data. I began promoting the exhibit by contacting every public library and as many community centers as I could find in Missouri before reaching out to library systems across the nation. As of today, December 13th, only a handful have accepted the exhibit and agreed to display it. However, I’ve also had the opportunity to present a project to a meeting of regional library professionals put on by the Kansas City Public Library and to meet with members of the Mid-America Regional Council’s Complete Count Committee to discuss strategies for encouraging census participation. I have learned valuable lessons in panel design, written my first grant, collaborated with colleagues and made true friends. I continue to promote and seek funding for Seeing Through the Census and hope to have it displayed at several more venues.

So, What Does a Humanities Council Do, Anyway?

That was my first question when I began my internship at the Missouri Humanities Council (MH) this semester. I quickly learned that humanities councils work with a wide network of organizations to provide residents high quality exhibits and programming, often in communities that might not have been able to access them otherwise. Every state has a humanities council, and ours is particularly active: 

 “MH provides programming that encourages family reading, highlights Missouri’s heritage, supports creative writing by veterans, and assists local museums, libraries, and other organizations promoting education—facilitating public conversations on topics that include history, religion, archaeology, anthropology, philosophy, literature, law, ethics, and languages.”

As you might imagine, it is nearly impossible to describe a “typical work day” at the Missouri Humanities Council. As a graduate intern this semester, however, I was able to glimpse a small part of their widespread impact. 

Most days I worked with Dr. Monique Johnston, Director of Education Programs, helping to facilitate history education on a statewide level. My major project was managing the Show Me Missouri Speakers’ Bureau, which connects history speakers to organizations across the state. I was offered many opportunities to provide input and take leadership of projects as well. Using my knowledge of the current Speakers’ Bureau program and seeing a need for teen-related humanities content in the state, I created a project proposal for adding young adult presentations to the bureau roster in the future. I was also responsible for scheduling the tour of Rightfully Hers, a pop-up exhibit from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) celebrating the centennial of 19th Amendment. So far, the exhibit has been viewed by students in four high school and university libraries in the KC metro area. It was even used as part of an extra credit assignment for a Liberty High School social studies class!

Some days offered experiences that were just plain fun! In September, I helped children (and a few adults!) create their own story books as a stop on a Where the Wild Things Are themed literary scavenger hunt in the Crossroads neighborhood. Though not something that I would have expected to do as a history intern, it was a great opportunity to see how MH gets children and their families engaged with the humanities. 

One of the most interesting days was spent in Columbia, MO. I attended and helped prepare for a statewide planning meeting for organizations hosting the upcoming WaterWays exhibit, about the human connection to water. Missouri Humanities is bringing this exhibit to the state in 2020 via the Smithsonian’s Museums on Main Street (MOMS) program, which works exclusively with humanities councils to offer high quality exhibits to small towns across the nation. The meeting was fascinating, as each host organization discussed their town’s historic connections to Missouri’s water system, and their plans for engaging their communities in those stories. 

Though no two were the same, each day at MH provided opportunities to learn something new, and helped me gain skills to add to my public historian’s tool belt. 

So, what does a Humanities Council do? A better question might be: What don’t they do? 

The Chiefs have an Art Collection??!!

From the first day of my fellowship, I’ve been on a mission to spread the word about the amazing art collection at Arrowhead Stadium. There are over 50 local and regional artists in the collection and the range of size, style, and medium is unmatched in the Kansas City area. In fact, the Chiefs were applauded by the National Endowment for the Arts as wonderful example on how large sports franchises can support the arts.

The Arrowhead Art Collection is nationally acclaimed and yet those in Kansas City are often shocked when I tell them my role with the organization. So the primary focus of my fellowship, in addition to supporting the day to day operations involved with the collection, is to forge strategic partnerships in the community.

I am the fourth fellow from UMKC to have the opportunity to work with this collection. The ground work that those before me laid has allowed me to advance the collection. Matt Reeves, Austin Williams, and Brooke Leisinger all had a major role in curriculum development for the children’s groups who tour the art collection at the stadium. Up until recently, the children’s groups had been the primary focus of the fellows. The organization wanted to support the children’s tour with Visual Thinking Strategies developed by the fellows. They are awesome!

Over the last year, in addition to the children’s groups, the fellows were able to organize events such as “paint and sip” and “cookie decorating” that allowed adult groups the opportunity to engage with the collection for a fun event.

Since I started, I have met with organizations in the Kansas City art community to expand the opportunities for adult groups and specifically arts related groups in the city to experience the collection. Over the last five years working in the Kansas City art community, I’ve found that the best partnerships are formed when both parties have a deeper sense about the mission of the other organization. So, I have been working on bringing outside arts organizations in and the Chiefs organization out into the arts community.

I have been pleasantly surprised with the enthusiasm and support that I have received both internally and externally in the work I have done this semester.

On November 2nd, November First Friday, I organized an event for members of the Chiefs organization to visit six (!) arts organizations in the Crossroads. I led the group through the venues and spoke a bit about the differences in the arts organizations and the exhibitions. The variety in the Kansas City arts community is vast and something to be celebrated. I believed that if the Chiefs organization was to begin thinking about strategic partnerships with organizations, they should have a better idea of the different types of organizations in the community.

Conversely, on the night of November 20th, I was able to successfully plan and execute an event for the members of the KCPT to come into Arrowhead to experience the art collection. The event invited 150 of the patrons who support KCPT to come to the stadium for a behind the scenes experience with the art. I was able to recruit ten of the artists who are affiliated with the collection to come for the event to share some of their personal inspiration behind the works. The response to the event was overwhelmingly positive and many avenues to continued partnership discussed.

Although its only my first semester with the organization, I feel that I have been able to make a positive impact. I’ve honed some of the skill I’ve developed in my school and professional work and have been able to translate that to a large-scale organization.

I’m excited to see what next semester will bring!!

APS is moving….

So, it has been a crazy week at APS! APS has officially moved into the Westport Plexpods and they are still moving quite a bit of office stuff! So, I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible this week and focus on the APS HISTORY PROJECT. It is going well. I met with APS designers for their social media platforms and we decided to use this great app called blurb and I have been learning a lot about Blurbs uses. I have chosen to form a Trader book for APS that they can hand to their Fundraisers and then I am still trying to come up with a pamphlet styled sheeting system they can adopt and change to their ongoing platforms, so we will see how that goes. So this week has been kinda in the middle of craziness for APS And just trying to assist and stay out of the way, much as possible!!! I am using all of the material they have been housing and trying to find that cohesive collection from the beginning to the present of what APS consists of.

Until next week, my goal is to keep knocking down this major project and find bits to work on within the #metoo presentation that is taking place later on this year.