As a senior studying History at the University of Illinois, I wanted to engage History in a way that went outside the classroom and writing papers about things I could only connect myself to through books or libraries. Looking for such an opportunity, I gained an interest in public history and was eager to learn more about what it was. Additionally, I always wanted to get experience with museum work. The Champaign County History Museum check off both boxes for me.
In my internship at the CCHM, I was given the responsibility of curating a digital rendition of the in-person exhibit, “Zuppke en La Playa: Sketches of a Gridiron Great.” This exhibit is a showcase of the work of Robert Zuppke, University of Illinois football coach, philosopher, and painter. The exhibit at the museum addresses his accomplishments as a football coach in great detail. But it also pays special attention to sketches that he did during his time in Havana, Cuba in 1946. My goal for this project was to showcase these sketches in a clean, attractive, and easy to follow digital format utilizing the Omeka platform.
I learned a great deal during this internship. I can honestly say that the people I met at the museum and the experience I had working within the realms of public and digital history is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences I have had since coming to the University of Illinois. During the semester, i learned about Dublln Core metadata and its various elements, I mastered the Omeka platform on which I built the digital exhibit, and learned a lot about Robert Zuppke himself. Having known nothing about him going into the project, I gained a great respect for him and enjoyed reading his “Zuppkeisms.” Additionally, I got insight into what it is like to work in a museum setting by working on my own project and learning from the other interns and staff memebers who run the museum. I learned I had a great interest in this work, and I definitely would consider working in a museum again.
The challenges I encountered were easily overcome. The greatest challenge I faced was in making something that the general public would find enjoyable and nice to look at. I wanted to make sure my digital rendition did justice to Robert Zuppke’s accomplishments and compelled people to keep reading through each section. Finding that balance between readability and form was difficult, but I succeeded by simply taking a step back and asking myself, “would I even read this to the end myself?” By the time I finished my project, my answer was a resounding yes and I was very proud of the work I produced.
I see this experience relating very significantly to the broader scope of history. As we move into an increasingly digital and online world, digital history is becoming a bigger field. By exploring the possibilities of digital public history it becomes apparent that media like Omeka and even social media platforms will serve an indispensable role in history for years to come. You can reach a much bigger and broader audience digital, or you can cater to a smaller and specific audience. Because you can do either in the digital space, I think digital media will be very important in reaching the audiences public history is made for.