As history major Sarah Hummel ’19 prepares to graduate, One Thing after Another wanted to ask her about her extensive experience at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics (NHIOP) where she’s been working since 2017. Hummel obliged us in this thoughtful interview.
Q: What inspired you to work at the NHIOP? How did you get the job? When did you begin working there?
A: The opportunity to work at the NHIOP arose while I was taking HI363: Public History with Professor Salerno during the fall of 2017. One aspect of this class was curatorial work, and our project was to curate displays at the Institute. We had the opportunity to go through the Institute’s archives, choose materials, and collaborate with our partners and classmates to tell a story through a museum display. It was a neat experience! I had been interested in museum work for a few months at that point, and that project got me even more interested. After that project was complete, there was still a fair amount of curatorial work to be done at the NHIOP. At the same time, it is my understanding that Ann Camann, my boss, wanted to embrace the historical and archival aspect of the Institute and make exhibits, like the ones that our class created, a regular part of the Institute’s offerings. In October, I was offered the job to be a part of this process, and I started working at the NHIOP that same month.
Q: What do you believe that you have gained from your time at NHIOP? Are there any history related skills or pieces of knowledge that you have particularly enjoyed?
A: I have gained so much from my time at the NHIOP! First, the experience of having a job in which I contributed to a larger goal, vision, and project—that has been rewarding. The job has taught me discipline, but it has also taught me creativity and critical thinking. In particular, brainstorming ideas for exhibits is a fun process, but it can be challenging to tailor those ideas to the specific materials in the archives. It is a way of thinking that takes practice, but it has been good training for my brain. The job has definitely taught me the value of communication and collaboration—none of these exhibits would exist without teamwork! I have been blessed with wonderful coworkers and a great boss, and we are able to work together, provide constructive feedback, and work off of each other’s’ ideas to propel ourselves to success. In terms of history-related skills or pieces of knowledge, I have enjoyed being able to explore the archives. There is a lot of fascinating material in the NHIOP collection, and I hope even a fraction of it gets its day in the sun.
Q: Why do you believe the projects you have worked on are important?
A: The projects we have worked on are important for several reasons. First, they are a teaching tool. Museum exhibits and other kinds of curated displays are alternative educational materials, and, following the mission of the Institute, we are committed to keeping our exhibits nonpartisan. This way, guests can visit and learn from our exhibits, but the material they are consuming is not biased or partisan. It is just information presented in a pleasing and thought-provoking way. This form of learning can be harder to find in today’s world, but unbiased information about the past and present is crucial in order to reach informed conclusions and decisions. Additionally, the projects we are working on are significant because they are a jumping-off point for a larger conversation. That is what we hope to inspire in every visitor – a desire to think more about what he/she has seen and read, and ideally discuss this material with others. For example, our most recent exhibit is about the concept of equality, both during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and in the modern historical context of social movements. We want people to ask questions about what they have seen: What is equality? Does it exist? How are conditions different now compared to 150 years ago? To 50 years ago? 25 years ago? What can equality look like in the future? If we can spark a conversation about topics such as this one, then we are encouraging civic engagement, and civic engagement is the heart and soul of democracy. People can become personally involved in their history, in their present, and, consequently, in their future. In this way, critical thinking and conversation are empowering.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about the “Perspectives on Equality” exhibit? What story or stories do the displays tell? Please describe the experiences of and the methods used in your work.
A: “Perspectives on Equality” is the newest installment in the American Ideals series that we started at the beginning of the year. The “American ideal” that we are examining in this exhibit is equality. The exhibit is contained within a two-sided glass display case, so my co-curators and I divided our story into two segments. The first segment revolves around the understanding of and debate over equality, particularly racial equality, during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. The Institute recently received a large collection of Lincoln-related objects, and we were eager to use as many of these as we could. The second segment studies equality in the context of the social movements of the latter half of the twentieth century, with a spotlight on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It might seem that these two segments have little in common, but what pulls them together is the concept of equality: how was it interpreted and handled by different groups throughout the course of American history. Equality is seen as a concept that is fundamentally “American,” and we are trying to explore what that means, exactly, and how that definition has panned out at various points in history and for various groups. The timing of the exhibit was also convenient, as it corresponded with Presidents’ Day and Black History Month.
In terms of methods that we used, I would like to emphasize the collaborative nature of this process. For every exhibit that we curate, my co-curators and I start by meeting to brainstorm a theme. For this exhibit, I believe we actually went back and forth a few times to come up with the exact theme that we wanted to convey, and our planning started, if I am not mistaken, before Christmas break. After devising a theme, we divide and conquer the curatorial tasks. I worked on the Lincoln segment, while my co-curator, Matt Solomon, worked on the social movements segment. After a few weeks, we sent our written “storyboards” to Lexie Soucy, who works at the NHIOP, to read, edit, and send out for printing. The “storyboards” are essentially long, detailed labels that we have professionally printed on high-quality poster board. Within about a week, we had the case put together and the storyboards installed. During this time, I was also working on the Reach display, which is a set of curated quotations and photographs related to the exhibit theme that appear on the televisions in the Institute. I was also putting together the book display in the NHIOP Political Library, again related to equality and social movements. The three parts of the exhibit – our three forums for storytelling, if you will – opened in February
Q: What have you been working on since the end of this project?
A: Since the end of the “Perspectives on Equality” exhibit and the coordinated Reach and library displays, I have been working on two projects. The first is a written guide to curating exhibits at NHIOP, which I wrote in preparation for a meeting with my co-curators, including next year’s curatorial team. The main emphasis since the new exhibit opened has been the transition to the new curators; there are two graduating seniors among the curatorial staff. In writing the guide and having this meeting, we are trying to make the transition as seamless as possible. I have also been compiling a portfolio of all of the written work that I have done at the NHIOP for the last two years. It is nice to have all of the text in one location, and I hope to be able to use this as a writing sample or as an example of an extensive project when applying for jobs. It is also incredible to see how much curatorial work we have done at NHIOP in the past two years! I am on page twenty-five so far…
Q: We understand that as you near the end of your graduating year, you have been compiling a portfolio of the work you have done for NHIOP over the years. What other projects or special tasks have you been a part of? Do you have a favorite? If so, what makes it your favorite?
A: The portfolio is dedicated to the exhibit work, which includes the Reach and library displays. I also included a description of the curation process, as well as some photographs of the displays for good measure. In terms of other projects that I have been a part of at the NHIOP, I am honored to have been a member of the Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassador Program since January of my freshman year. Through this program, I have met some of the biggest names in politics, heard some incredible speakers, and attended some great events. For example, I had the opportunity to work at the Republican Presidential Debate in February 2016. It was an experience I will never forget. I have also met many wonderful people in the program! I applied for and was accepted as Community Outreach Committee co-chair early in my junior year, and I have cherished the opportunity to take a leadership role in this program.
Q: Do you have any post-graduation plans? How does it feel to nearly be finished with your time at Saint Anselm’s?
A: That’s a great question! At the moment, I am trying to keep my options open. I am planning on getting a job after graduation, then I am probably going back to graduate school next spring. There are so many career options, it is hard to choose just one! I cannot believe that my four years are almost over. They truly flew by. It feels like just yesterday I was walking into my World History class with Professor Hardin . . . and that was the beginning of my freshman year! I am nervous to be moving out of my comfort zone, but excited to be starting the next chapter of my life.