Archives Behind the Scenes: Student-Created Exhibitions

As a Research Services Assistant at Seidman House, I worked on a number of projects that supported my goal to work as a museum curator post-graduation.  Prior to working here, I did not have experience with providing research support, managing a professional social media account, or all of the steps that go into curating an exhibit.

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My favorite tasks were related to building exhibitions. I was able to create six digital exhibits and ten physical exhibits during my time as a student employee. The majority of the exhibitions were in Seidman House, but I also worked on one larger scale exhibition that was displayed at the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons.

I worked on those exhibits from the beginning to the end. This meant I had the opportunity to suggest ideas for what would make a good exhibition and then follow that idea from start to finish. I worked with my supervisor to choose the best materials to feature, design the captions, write captions, and arrange the materials in a display case. One of the main challenges I faced when creating an exhibition was writing the captions because, as an undergraduate student who writes a lot of papers, I am used to writing a lot in order to meet a page or word count instead of trying to condense so that only the most important information is featured. I have learned that text will vary by exhibition depending on whether it is a digital or physical. In a physical exhibit, text needs to fit within the parameters of the case and must be balanced against the item itself; therefore, it’s important to remain concise. In a digital exhibit, however, this is less of an issue. My confidence and skills have significantly increased since I started, but I will continue to work on this in the future.

I also enjoyed the process of setting up a display case.  Initially, I thought this would be easy, but once I got hands-on with the materials, I learned it was much harder than I anticipated. A lot of thought has to go into where materials should be placed in an exhibit such as their color, size, and how they coordinate with the other materials. This thought process varies from exhibition to exhibition; a display with just novels IMG_20190426_123903is completely different from an exhibit for a special collection with materials ranging from pamphlets to images. Being able to create exhibitions with a variety of materials is a skill that I am lucky and extremely thankful to have been able to improve upon.

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It is also important to think about the number of materials that will be in the exhibit because nobody wants a case that looks too full and possibly disorganized or with not enough materials so it feels incomplete.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working here and I am so glad that I was able to work on a variety of projects, but the exhibitions will always be my favorite. I feel more confident going into my Museum Studies program this fall because of the great experience I gained while working here.