As a lover of history, I have always appreciated what museums do for the public and have always had a desire to work for one some day, I just never knew if such an opportunity would arise. Luckily, when I was picking out my classes for the Fall 2019 school year, I stumbled across this incredible opportunity to intern at a museum, and achieve college credit at the same time!
Flash forward to December 2019, and I was wrapping up an internship at the Champaign County History Museum, a small organization dedicated to preserving local history in the county. I was part of a team of two other student interns who were in the same program. Together, our responsibilities varied but essentially we were a big part of the museum’s day to day proceedings, such as working the front desk, opening and closing the museum, and keeping the building clean. In addition, the interns served as an aid to the museum board for their long term projects, such as public outreach and dealing with exhibits.
During my time at this museum, I learned a great deal, not only about local history, but about the purpose of public history, especially in a local context. In my experiences at the museum, I have witnessed many guests with deep personal connections with the county coming in looking for information about a topic that pertains to them, and it is always a pleasure to assist them. I have also made personal connections with some of the museum’s board members and volunteers, many of them are experts on the county history and hearing their own personal stories has been an experience I will not soon forget.
My personal favorite project that I was a part of at this museum was when we transitioned an entire new exhibit room. During this process the museum had to close down in order to get the work done. My favorite part was seeing all the volunteers and board members come together to complete this task. Over a two week span, together we =tore down the current exhibit, one that was dedicated to the University of Illinois’ 150 year anniversary. This exhibit had a lot of important artifacts so we had to make sure to carefully store them so they could keep their historical value. Then, we took the empty room and transformed it into an exhibit about the 1929 Harris Mansion Heist, Champaign County’s first high profile crime. Myself and the other interns helped in various ways throughout this process. Most of our tasks included painting walls, sanding platforms, and bringing artifacts to and from the museum’s storage unit. I enjoyed this experience the most because of the objects I processed as well as the people I got to work with.
The pictures shown here are from the completed stage of the new Harris Mansion exhibit. Some of the key items include the guns used in the heist and a game used football from the game that occurred on the same day.