by Amy Rudolph
Elm Staff Writer
Chestertown is making a name for itself as a hotspot for history. Through a partnership with the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street, the CV Starr Center for the American Experience and Sumner Hall have collected, curated, and presented the forgotten past of Kent County through the exhibit, “The Way We Worked.”
The Smithsonian developed a touring national exhibit detailing how work and workforces have changed in America. Each stop on the map created their own mini-museum to tell the story of their town.
Sophomore Cherie Ciuadella said, “We’ve heard about what it was live to live in Chestertown during segregation, desegregation, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and others. It was very difficult to narrow down our selections to one story per person; there is a lot of interesting content in our interviews.”
While the Smithsonian’s addition to the museum is an amalgamation of work done by all Americans, the Starr Center chose to focus on the African American voice in Chestertown.
“I think the fact that our project is centered around African American voices is incredibly important because the African American experience is central to Chestertown’s history, and that isn’t necessarily a story that always gets told,” said Ciaudella.
The students and staff at the Starr Center have worked tirelessly to interview current residents about their professions and collected artifacts from as far back as the Civil War.
From early slave field-workers, to all-black regiments in the Civil War, to workers at a now often-forgotten Campbell’s Soup factory, to current residents, the collection of Kent County working people evolves through time.
Student interns were involved with many phases of the project. Patrick Jackson, a WC sophomore, helped with the design process.
Jackson said his team helped scout a location for the mini museum, plan the exhibits, and source artifacts.
“The second part of it was actually building the museum and putting these things in place.”
Through two semesters, Jackson was able to see the team’s ideas become tangible.
“I don’t want to say it was frustrating, but just working with ideas for so long can only get you so far. I enjoyed the project a lot more when we brought those ideas into reality and put the museum together. That was my favorite part,” he said. “I would’ve liked to see [the museum] be a bit more interactive than it is. We were talking a lot about that in the more conceptual stages of the project so I was excited to see how we would do that. We just didn’t have the time and resources.”
Obtaining and curating the artifacts that would be on display was a crucial part of student participation in the project. Professor Jean Wortman, assistant director of the Starr Center, led the Maryland’s Museum on Main Street, according to a WC publication, and through work in her Fall 2016 GRW course “Making Meaning in Museums,” taught her students how to preserve objects and write reports about their historical significance.
“One of the skills I picked up is being concise. People aren’t going to want to read mountains of text about this one, tiny thing,” Jackson said.
Cherie Ciaudella served as the student leader for the contemporary oral history branch of the project. Ciaudella, along with seven interns, a videographer, staff from the Starr Center and Sumner Hall, interviewed almost 40 people.
Ciaudella said, “I am overjoyed with the museum. Having worked mostly on the oral history, which is mostly digital, I didn’t really see the other aspects of the museum until opening day. I was just blown away by the way that everything just came together.”
Not all ideas from the planningstage were possible in the finished product.
The Smithsonian partnership helped the Starr Center and its interns gain visibility for their work.
“I think it is a great opportunity for the students, the [student interns] in [Wortman]’s GRW class, the students at the Starr Center that were involved in this…[who] get to put that they worked for the Smithsonian on their resume,” Jackson said.
Ciuadella agreed. “I think that it’s sort of amazing that we’ve been given this opportunity to work with the Smithsonian, but also I think that the Starr Center’s partnership with Sumner Hall is very important. Sumner Hall is a great resource for history and for the community in Chestertown, and I think that this will lead to some great opportunities and collaborations in the future.”
The installment will stay in Chestertown at Sumner Hall located at 206 S Queen St until May 20.
On April 14, the Starr Center will host a talk with Barbara Ehrenreich at 5:30pm in Hynson Lounge and on April 29 and May 6, and walking tours through Chestertown with Professor Patrick Nugent.
Post-exhibit, there will still be opportunities for students to work with the Starr Center.
Ciaudella said, “The StoryQuest Oral History Program, for example, is always open to volunteers, and there are opportunities for advancement into paid positions. We welcome students of all majors and interests — we do a lot of interviewing people and research, but we also do audio editing, website work, archiving, and many other things. Anyone interested in becoming involved with or learning more about any of our projects can check out the C.V. Starr Center’s page on the college website, or contact a member of the staff.”
More in-depth information including full interviews will be available on iTunes soon.