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Brenna Michels-Gates, a Northwest student studying a minor in public history and museum studies, organizes a set of local artifacts loaned to the Nodaway County Historical Society for its "Hometown Teams" exhibit. Northwest students have played a key role in organizing and operating the exhibit. (Northwest Missouri State University photos)

Brenna Michels-Gates, a Northwest student studying a minor in public history and museum studies, organizes a set of local artifacts loaned to the Nodaway County Historical Society for its "Hometown Teams" exhibit. Northwest students have played a key role in organizing and operating the exhibit. (Northwest Missouri State University photos)

Nov. 20, 2018

Smithsonian exhibit providing unique experience to history students


"Hometown Teams" features a series of colorful kiosks and displays about a variety of sports topics, including mascots and film.

"Hometown Teams" features a series of colorful kiosks and displays about a variety of sports topics, including mascots and film.

Dr. Elyssa Ford, an associate professor of history at Northwest (right), reviews plans for "Hometown Teams" with students as they set up the exhibit in October. History students have organized several exhibits at the Nodaway County Historical Society in recent years.

Dr. Elyssa Ford, an associate professor of history at Northwest (right), reviews plans for "Hometown Teams" with students as they set up the exhibit in October. History students have organized several exhibits at the Nodaway County Historical Society in recent years.

A traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program is bringing the trials and triumphs of American sports to the Northwest Missouri State University community, and it’s giving history students experience with a big league exhibit.

“Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America” celebrates the region’s sports connections through a collection of professional displays and interactive kiosks. The exhibit opened Oct. 14 and remains on display through Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Nodaway County Historical Society, at 110 N. Walnut St., in Maryville. Regular museum hours are 1-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

Northwest is cooperating with the Nodaway County Historical Society and the Missouri Humanities Council to host the exhibit, which is stopping in just six communities throughout the country. As a result, it is helping Northwest students who are interested in history and museum work gain valuable profession-based experience.

“You could see how excited people were that we were getting this exhibit from the Smithsonian,” Dr. Elyssa Ford, an associate professor of history whose local history practicum class has played a key role in the exhibit’s success. “They get to unpack it. They get to guide, give tours. They get to add this to their résumé. It’s not just ‘I did an exhibit,’ but ‘I did a Smithsonian exhibit.’”

Joe Bell, a senior history major from Grand Rapids, Michigan, has gained experience giving tours of historic houses and working at the Lakeshore Museum Center in his home state. He hopes to continue museum work after he completes his bachelor’s degree at Northwest, and working with “Hometown Teams” has further enhanced his knowledge.

“I get a chance to not only work within a museum but actually with something with ‘the institution of the country’ – that’s huge,” Bell said. “We get a chance to not only set it up, but telling the story of what’s here and helping people understand the whole thing. At the end of the day, I can say, ‘I’ve worked with Smithsonian-level stuff.’”

Catlyn Brady, a sophomore history major from Maryville, said working with the exhibit helped her increase her understanding of exhibit spaces and how to arrange artifacts. In preparing the exhibit, students spent several evenings at the history museum to sort through local items that were loaned for display and to set up the kiosks.

“Seeing all the work that goes into making an exhibit like a Smithsonian exhibit has really given me a better appreciation for it,” Brady said. “It’s a name that people all over the country know, so now to have it associated with Maryville is very exciting.”

“Hometown Teams” features a variety of topics, including the evolution of sports equipment and safety concerns, gender and race, forgotten sports and newer, cutting-edge sports, mascots and cheerleaders. Visitors also see localized exhibits that highlight the sports history of North Nodaway and Barnard. Exhibits featuring Northwest history were created by public history interns under the guidance of University Archivist Jessica Vest and are displayed on the campus in the B.D. Owens Library, Valk Center and Brown Hall.

In conjunction with the exhibit, students organized supplemental events, such as a roundtable discussion about controversial mascots and an opportunity for community members to learn and play cricket at the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse.

It’s a different project for Ford and her students who have organized several exhibits at the Nodaway County Historical Society in recent years, including refurbishing a collection of military uniforms. For previous exhibits, students have focused their efforts on a semester-long study of best practices while conducting research, organizing materials and building an exhibit as the culmination of all their work.

In the case of “Hometown Teams,” however, the exhibit had been professionally designed, and it was up to the students to install it earlier this fall, providing a different kind of experience that students also might have if they choose to work at a museum. Students also are participating as docents and observing and evaluating how people view the exhibit. They selected questions from a Smithsonian guidebook to ask visitors, prepared fun facts about sports and conducted additional research to provide in-depth explanations about pieces of the exhibit. 

“The idea isn’t so much that they will be a full docent and giving guided tours through the exhibit but that they have all of these different tools,” Ford said. “When people are in the exhibit, they can come up to them and say, ‘I see you’re looking at that. Did you know …?’ and be able to go off and engage with people more, which will then help them and those visitors engage better with the content and the exhibit.”

For more information about “Hometown Teams,” visit www.nwmissouri.edu/hometownteams/ or contact Ford at ebford@nwmissouri.edu.

For more information, please contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468