Two public history program grads walk into a museum…

As every public historian knows, our training has ruined museums for us.  Even when we’re just visiting a museum for fun, we find ourselves considering how the exhibits are arranged, examining how artifacts are mounted, analyzing the font size and layout of labels, and critically evaluating the interpretation.  The critic that we spend so much time cultivating in graduate school sometimes blinds us to the real power of museums.  But every once in a while, we encounter something special that captures our imagination and helps us to see museums with fresh eyes.

While in Washington D.C. this summer, a fellow Loyola public history graduate and I ventured out to the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.  We were prepared for a fun day of looking at cool airplanes and analyzing the museum’s interpretation.  Having been to numerous aviation museums across the country, my inner critic was eager to see how the Smithsonian’s effort compared.

As we walked around talking about airplanes and critiquing label copy, I suddenly stopped.  Didn’t I just see something familiar?  We ran back to the World War II section, and there it was: a bomber jacket with my grandpa’s squadron patch on it.

I’d seen patch a thousand times, framed with my grandpa’s medals on the wall at my grandparents’ house in Washington State.  But what was it doing here?  The only label for the artifact indicated that it was donated by Russell Paulnock.  Clearly I would have to find out more.

I did some research when I got home and made some interesting discoveries.  My grandpa, Anthony Lauby, and Russell Paulnock both served in the 18th Bomb Squadron of the 34th Bomb Group in the 8thAir Force during World War II.  Grandpa enlisted in the Army Air Force in August, 1941 and became an aircraft mechanic, rising to the rank of Master Sergeant.  Paulnock enlisted in the Army Air Force in November, 1941 and became a bomber pilot, attaining at least the rank of Second Lieutenant.

Master Sgt. Lauby in Blythe, California, c. 1943

Both men trained with the 34thbomb group in Blythe, California before going overseas to Mendlesham, England in 1944.  While in England, Paulnock piloted the B-24 “Belle of the Brawl,” and my grandpa was a crew chief overseeing the maintenance and repair of B-17s and B-24s.  I can’t ask grandpa if he knew Russell Paulnock, because, like an increasing number of World War II veterans, he is no longer around to ask.  But maybe he worked on “Belle of the Brawl,” and maybe he even saw Paulnock in the same jacket that I stumbled upon almost 70 years later and a world away.

Overall, my friend and I enjoyed our time at the National Air and Space Museum.  The chance encounter with Paulnock’s bomber jacket enabled us to step outside our analytical headspace and see the artifacts in the museum with a sense of wonder, reminding us of the power of museums to connect visitors to the past.

Summer at the Library of Congress

Greetings from Washington, D.C! I feel fortunate to be spending my summer in the nation’s capitol as a Junior Fellow at the Library of Congress. My internship is in the technical services section of the Prints and Photographs Division, working with a team on an ongoing rehousing and inventory project. The goal of the project is to consolidate thousands of boxes of unprocessed collections from two storage locations into a new storage facility in Maryland. Our job is to rehouse the material, organize it if needed (which is usually the case), create folder-level container lists, and update the catalog and finding aids used by the reference staff so that the collections are more accessible to researchers.

Admittedly, processing archival collections is not the most exhilarating way to spend a day, but I find photographs and printed material much more compelling than textual records, so I very much enjoy my work. One of the best parts is that I have the opportunity to work with a variety of collections and materials, and I get to choose the collections that I process. After processing eight different collections, I have a new appreciation for all that you can learn just by paying attention to visual evidence. Let me tell you a little bit about two of my favorite collections and what I’ve learned from the visual evidence (and a little bit of contextual research).

The American Humane Association

Horse ambulance

Horse ambulance operated by the Erie County SPCA, c. 1910

The American Humane Association served as “a voice for the voiceless” – advocating for the humane treatment of animals and children beginning in the late nineteenth century. The photograph collection illustrates the activities and interests of the AHA beginning around 1910 through about 1960. One of the most interesting aspects of the collection is that, taken as a whole, it shows how people’s notions of animals evolved over the first half of the twentieth century. Most of the early photographs deal with horses – either working in the city, on ranches, or being used in wartime. Early education campaign posters photographed in the collection urged people: “be kind to dumb animals,” “you can’t starve and beat your horse and have him haul the load,” and “don’t skip his meals.” By the 1930s and 1940s, these basic reminders of how to treat animals were replaced by charming photographs of children with puppies and kittens, and a special series called “Touring with Towser,” that demonstrated the best way to road trip with your dog, including having the proper equipment such as a dog bed, thermos, food, collar and leash, and even raincoat. By looking at the content of the photographs used by the AHA in their publications, one can see how animals changed from being generally utilitarian creatures to members of the family.

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