UMKC History students turn class project into winning exhibition
A University of Missouri-Kansas City student-produced LGBTQ-themed exhibit, currently being displayed at the UMKC Miller Nichols Library, has received a Student Project Award from the National Council on Public History. The exhibit can be viewed on the third floor of UMKC Miller Nichols Library through April 8, and is available online.
The Student Project Award is given to an outstanding public history student venture initiated as academic coursework and implemented and recognized beyond the classroom for its contribution to the field of public history. “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights” was submitted by UMKC students Taylor C. Bye, Kathryn B. Carpenter, Samantha Hollingsworth, Leah Palmer (now an alumna), Kevin Ploth and Jennifer Tufts.
The students created a traveling exhibit commemorating Kansas City’s LGBTQ history, including its pivotal role as host, in 1966, of the first national gathering of gay rights activists in American history. The project began as part of the Public History Theory and Method course taught by Christopher Cantwell, Ph.D., assistant professor of History and Religious Studies. Most of the work was completed during fall 2016. The Department of History’s M.A. with a Public History Emphasis prepares students for careers in museums, historical organizations, parks, archives and other cultural institutions. The Public History Emphasis also provides students with several opportunities for real-world work experience, taking advantage of Kansas City’s many historical institutions to offer funded and unfunded internships.
In creating the exhibit, students worked with LGBT-KC and the collection at the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America located in the LaBudde Special Collections Department at the UMKC Miller Nichols Library. Most of the material in the exhibit came from GLAMA.
“They did so much work to preserve and tell this history first,” Carpenter said of GLAMA.
“Each student was responsible for the research and design of a panel, and then toward the end of the semester, we voted on a design to use for the entire exhibit,” said Samantha Hollingsworth, graduate teaching assistant and Public History graduate student.
After the class concluded, the project received a grant from Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage. UMKC graduate student Kate Carpenter was hired to complete the rest of the work. The grant also enabled them to produce the physical exhibit.
“From January through March 2017, I worked with Dr. Cantwell and Stuart Hinds (Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America Curator) to bring all of the individual panels into a cohesive, smooth narrative, to do some editing on the student drafts and to design all 12 panels,” Carpenter said. “We also created some marketing materials, and I manage the exhibit’s traveling schedule around the region.”
After the exhibit launched, the students created a web version of the exhibit. The traveling exhibit version continues to tour the region. It’s now at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, and will open at the Watkins Museum in Lawrence, Kansas, on May 18.
“I learned so many things from this project, but I think the most vital was the importance of building relationships with community stakeholders, and having the humility to listen to their experience and knowledge—even when that means accepting critical feedback. Just because we create an exhibit doesn’t mean we own the history. I think that’s a powerful lesson to learn firsthand,” Carpenter added.
“Not only did I learn about the fascinating and predominantly unknown history of Kansas City’s place in the Gay Rights Movements, but I also learned how to design an exhibit panel, how to present historical research in a condensed, informative way for public consumption, and how to work with a team to build a cohesive exhibit,” Hollingsworth said.
The students will receive their award at a celebration breakfast April 21 in Las Vegas. The award includes money to assist with conference travel expenses. Hollingsworth, Carpenter, Palmer and Bye plan to attend the conference.
“I am excited for the professional development and to connect with other people in the field,” Hollingsworth said. “I am also excited to present our work during the poster session so we can receive professional feedback and display our abilities to potential future employers.”
“I’m looking forward to the chance to learn about public history projects from across the country, and to connect with other public historians,” Carpenter said. “I think this conference will be a wonderful opportunity to see public history in action, and to learn about project ideas that we might be able to bring back to Kansas City.”
Hollingsworth is a first-year graduate student and expects to graduate in May 2019. She hopes to obtain a career in exhibit development at a museum or museum education role. Her historical interests lie in the history of science and medicine.
Carpenter is a second-year graduate student and plans to graduate in May 2019. This fall she is applying to Ph.D. programs in History.