Graduate students studying history at the University of Delaware spent the past two weeks at the Milford Museum assisting with projects that were difficult for volunteers and staff to complete in a timely manner. The students were part of the “Curatorial SWAT” team through the University.
“Small museums complete an application and the students themselves decide which location to assist each year,” said Tracy Jentzsch, Program Coordinator for Program Studies at the University. “We are in our seventh year and this year have entered into a partnership with the Bard Graduate Center in New York City.”
Ms. Jentzsch said that the students help with a variety of projects at the museum, from cataloging, photographing and entering information into the computer about the collections housed in the museum. The students use Past Perfect, a database used by many museums throughout the country and currently in use at the Milford Museum. Ms. Jentzsh said that if the museum they are helping does not have Past Perfect installed, the students work with staff and volunteers to set it up and teach those interested how to use it. When the students leave the museum, they will leave behind a SWAT Kit that includes materials to help the museum continue organizing and cataloging collections.
“While we have been here, we have helped take down the Civil War and Christmas displays, store them and catalog them,” Ms. Jentsch said. “Right now, one of the students is actually spackling and painting the War Room while other students are attempting to recover documents discovered recently in a wall and donated to the museum. The students get hands-on experience and are able to work with different people at different levels of historical preservation.”
Betsy Keene, who is working on her Master’s in History with a Museum Studies Certificate said she participated in the group last year and learned a lot about what working in a museum would be like.
“I started downstairs with the wall documents,” Ms. Keene said. “That was so interesting. These are documents that were being used as insulation inside a wall. The papers are from Daniel Godwin who was a Justice of the Peace in Milford. Some of them are actually court documents that he used to insulate his home. Many of them are folded and, as you can imagine, very dirty. We are hydrating them in an effort to unfold them, cleaning them and preparing them for use.” Ms. Keene said that she then moved on to helping take down the Civil War exhibit and was now spackling walls in preparation for painting.
Ms. Keene said that she always wanted to be involved in museums and knew she did not want to sit behind a desk doing research. She said she enjoys the SWAT team work because it is hands-on. Anna Lacy and Ashley Giordano agreed with Ms. Keene’s assessment.
“I found it fun when I did it last year, “Ms. Giordano said. “It allows us to work with many different people and to do a lot of different things related to historic research.” Ms. Lacy, who also participated in the group last year, said that she enjoyed learning more about the collections, how to care for them and organize them. Ms. Giordano and Ms. Lacy are working toward a Master’s in History with a Museum Studies Certificate as well. The two women were photographing and documenting the Lady Bug Collection at the museum, preparing sheets that included data that would be loaded into Past Perfect.
In addition to helping tear down and set up exhibits in the museum, catalog collections and enter them into Past Perfect, the students also organized and cataloged a basement storeroom.
“They have provided professional assistance that has moved us forward light years by providing us with intellectual knowledge of our collections,” Claudia Leister, Executive Director of the Milford Museum said. “Sorting, inventorying, cataloging in two weeks what would take another five years to get done if we had to do it. In addition, the physical help in getting things removed and replaced has been beyond helpful.” Ms. Leister said that there was simply not enough time in the day for her to complete some of the projects that the students had finished in just a few days. She said that the students were also benefiting from the behind the scenes view of museum work, something that would be invaluable to them in their careers.
The museum plans to open two new exhibits in the next few weeks. One will be a tribute to Milfordians who served in the Armed Forces while the other will be entitled “Frozen,’ and will highlight the Milford Ice & Coal Co, cutting and using ice from the lake, ice skating and ice cream and ice tools. The Milford Museum is open 10 AM until 3:30 PM Tuesday through Saturday. They are closed Sundays, Mondays and holidays. Sunday hours will resume on May 1. There is no admission for the museum, which is located at 121 South Walnut Street in Milford. For more information on the reception or other exhibits at the museum, individuals can call them at 302-424-1080.