Sunday, December 11, 2011

Top Notch Tour


A visitor to the museum would have no problem exploring the museum on their own and learn something about the building, its collection and the history of Iowa. But when a visitor to the museum takes a tour, it is amazing how much more you discover about the museum. Taking a tour really brings to life the story of this museum and its place in Iowa’s history. Not only are the docents incredibly knowledgeable about even the smallest items in the museum but they also tailor the tour specifically to the group. The docents have talent for capturing the attention of any age audience.



I had the pleasure of watching one of the docents in action when I tagged along with school tour. The students were fifth graders accompanied by several teachers and a few parents. As a teacher myself, I can assure you that it is not easy getting and keeping the attention of a group of fifth graders. Not only was the docent able to keep the students engaged but they were actually asking questions! For teachers everywhere questions = engagement and a desire to go beyond passive information gathering and have a sense of personal inquiry. This is what I love about museums, and the Old Capitol Museum in particular. Museums provide an outlet for informal learning that develops the audiences’ ability to take ownership of their learning.


If you haven’t had a tour of the Old Capitol Museum, schedule one. Soon! For all of you college students out there who need a time-filler before dinner or lunch with your parents who have come to visit, schedule a tour with your parents! They will be so surprised you thought of it. It’s ok, you can take credit for it!


(take the tour and learn about some unbiased construction tricks!)

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Trip to the Prairie!


Several weeks ago I was able to attend “Prairie Days” an event sponsored by the Cedar County Historical Society and the Old Capitol Museum. Since I knew the event would most effectively cater to young children, I decided to bring the daughter of a friend of mine to the event. Gillie and I were excited to go “back in time” and imagine life of the prairie. Gillie was a step ahead of me as she had attended a Prairie Camp over the summer months. The event was held on the grounds of the Cedar County Historical Society in Tipton. It was a windy day, perfect for imagining the brisk days working and playing on the prairie.



Our first stop was, of course, the little schoolhouse. I was quick the soft spot for historic one room school houses. That would have been no easy task, teaching children of varying ages and trekking through snow, rain, and other weather absurdities just to get to the school house. Remembering my reading of one of the diaries at the Old Capitol Museum, I recalled that many school teachers in Iowa arrived on horseback while the pupils would walk several miles to school! Talk about commitment to education!



When we entered the school house, we were greeted by a volunteer who was displaying a variety of wildlife from the prairie. There was even a buffalo hide! So cool! Gillie and I stayed for a while and rang the bell as we left.


We then followed our noises to the delicious foods available to try including an authentic stew that would warm you on the coldest of days. There was also a butter making station that Gillie and I took part in. The most popular station was the candle making station. It was so popular that, unfortunately, we were unable to participate. Instead we explored the tents used by traveling groups on the prairie. It was interesting to see the way people lived who did not have permanent settlements. Items had to pack easily and be absolutely necessary. The tents definitely kept you shelter from the wind but warmth was still a problem. Lots of layers and blanket helped fight the really cold days.




Overall, we had a really fun afternoon exploring prairie life. I was really happy to see the Old Capitol Museum take part in such a unique event. I hope they continue to do events like this in the future.

Monday, November 28, 2011

An aMAIZEing Exhibit


If you live in Iowa, then you know that it almost impossible to escape the corn that surrounds us. Fields of corn line highways and it has even been prominently displayed in movies and documentaries. But how much do you really know about the corn that feeds and fuels us?


The Old Capitol Museum has had the pleasure of hosting a traveling exhibit called “Maize: Mysteries of an Ancient Grain” Based on this exhibit developed by the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York I can honestly say that I had no idea how aMAIZEing this plant is! The exhibit has been with the Old Capitol Museum since August and will, sadly, leave us in a few short weeks.



One of the things I found most interesting about the exhibit were the “What inspired me to become a scientist” panel adorning the walls. Reading these, you discover the variety of backgrounds and interests that drew so many different researchers to study maize.



The exhibit has great interactive areas that look at the evolution of maize, its past and present functions and threats to healthy maize development.


(CORNy Products)

The teacher in me envisioned all kinds of connections to school curriculum from science and math to history, English and drama. I encourage visitors to check it out because it won’t be here very much longer. You can listen to Dr. Erin Irish on IPR discuss the impressive characteristics of corn and answers questions from listeners. I got a sneak peak a few weeks ago and was fascinated but how orderly those little stalks of corn are!


(What a CORNy picture!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

When the museum IS your collection

I had the chance to sit down with Shalla Wilson Ashworth, director of operations, the other day and talk about collections at the Old Capitol Museum. One of the things I have learned in my introduction to museum studies course is the central role collections play to a museum. But what happens when the museum itself is, essentially, the collection?


That’s what Shalla and I discussed! While the museum does have a small collection of “old cap” memorabilia and items historically accurate to this building’s time as the house for state governance, the museum would not be considered a “collection” museum. Instead, the museum itself is the collection, representing Iowa City role as the first place for state governance, the place where the first constitution was written, the place where class were first held at the University of Iowa and, now, a place for students to come and experience government. The museum has made the conscience decision to use historically accurate replicas of desks and chairs in the House Chamber for the purpose of letting young people sit in the chairs and work at the desks without fear of breaking delicate objects. In many ways, this makes the Old Capitol Museum a “living” museum where people are encouraged to touch, sit and put themselves in the shoes of people from the past. Having ample space but limited items giving the Old Capitol Museum the opportunity to have traveling exhibits like the Maize Exhibit and temporary exhibits like the Life on the Prairie Photography exhibits, not to mention the ability to have regular speakers, class and concerts up in the Senate Chamber.

But what happens with the items they do have, can’t display, but don’t have room to store. They use it, of course! As Shalla and I talked in her office, she directed me to the fact that her desk was, in fact the president’s desk! Rather than putting it in storage, it seemed more fitting to use it for it’s original purpose. This raises the questions: why don’t we continue to use functionally collected items? Function, it seems, to be in the eye of the collector!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Arrrrrr you ready for a recap?

Is October really over?! I apologize for my lack of blogging over the last few weeks. The Old Capitol Museum has been quite busy this month and I have neglected to report about its happenings. So let’s get started!



I will start with my most recent visit to the museum for the Campus Creepy Crawl. Every year during Halloween weekend the Pentacrest Museums deck their sites out each with a theme to celebrate the spirit of Halloween. The Old Capitol Museum decided on a Pirate theme and let me just say, they went all out! With several hours of intense prepping and decorating (not to mention the long hours of planning that occurred previous to the weekend festivities) the museum transformed into a huge pirate ship, complete with mice running along the floor boards, anchors, masts and several pirate clad volunteers passing out candy and putting on plays and treasure hunts. It was amazing to see the transformation! It was also exciting to so many families come out for the event. Some of the children dressed up as pirates, too! My favorite part of the event was the Treasure Hunt, led by student volunteers. They did a great job getting the children excited about roaming the museum for “treasure”!







One thing that drew more visitors to the Old Capitol Museum was the surprising presence of the Muscatine River Monster. It looked particularly enticing to see at night. I love the idea of combining art, legend and history in the same place because, sometimes, it’s hard to tell them apart!



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Visit to the Diaries


The other day, I had the opportunity to check out the Youth Diaries here at the Old Capitol Museum. I was really interested in the diaries because I had actually already seen some of the diaries at the Iowa Women’s Archive last spring. I was taking a women’s history course (16A:171:001) and the professor assigned us the task of studying one women’s life that was archived there. It was probably one of my favorite assignments (can you have favorite assignments?) because it was a little like being a detective. Based on the information available (photos, letters, diaries, newspaper clippings) you had to piece together this women’s life and, in doing so, learn about life in Iowa in the 19th Century. By the end of the semester, I felt like I knew the women I researched. This must be how historians feel about the people of the past they research.


What I love about the Old Capitol Museum Youth Diaries Project is how interactive it is! It is incredibly user friendly, especially for younger audiences who might get frustrated working with the documents (they are sometimes very hard to read) at an archive. I was most excited about finding the women I studied at the exhibit! Since I had studied her years as a teacher, I was excited to read about her younger years at the OCM (Old Capitol Museum). I also loved that the exhibit directs you to parts of the diary often overlooked. For instance, with Lucy Van Voorhis White, the exhibit points you to her “code” at the bottom of the page, something you might find in many young girls diaries but would likely not notice. The exhibit also directs you to historical, geographic and political conditions that would have influence the diary writers. The best part? It’s compact! You could spend a half an hour there and walk away with real sense of the person whose diary you studied.

The teacher in me had many thoughts about ways to use these diaries to enhance student learning

Social Studies:

-Using the diaries as a tool for understanding primary documents.

-Mapping the places in Iowa where the diary writers lived. Discuss the influence geography had on the young writers

-Research trends discussed in the diaries (food, fashion, entertainment)

-Choose one person as the subject of a research paper. Include aspect of Iowa and national history pertinent to this person’s life.

-Since many families in the 19th century migrated from other places, trace the journey of this diary writer’s family (there are great resources at the State Historical Society of Iowa for this project)


-Have students keep a journal for several months before starting the project. Once students have viewed the exhibit, have student write a piece that compares the personal diary with the ones view.

-Write a short story based on events from one of the diaries

Next blog topic: One aMAIZEing traveling exhibit!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Meet your undercover blogger!

Hello and welcome to the Old Capitol Museum blog. My name is Rachel Howard and for the next few months, I have the unique privilege of sharing with you the exciting happenings at the Old Capitol Museum.


I am graduate student at the University of Iowa and in December, I will receive my master’s degree in Social Studies Education. For the past four years, I taught history at a small boarding school in West Branch. As an educator, I am constantly looking for new ways to engage and challenge my students understanding of the past. My upcoming blog posts will focus all the ways the Old Capitol Museum educates its public through traveling exhibits, special education programs, lectures and events. What I also hope to provide is this museum from an educators prospective – how to use this museum as an enrichment tool in your classroom.

The Old Capitol was a symbol of Iowa’s transition to statehood and, today, a symbol of the proud history of the University of Iowa. This was the place where the state’s constitution was drafted. Since then, it has served many more functions to Iowa City community.

Join me over the next few months is exploring this museum as we discover its ability to educate, inspire and connect people to the history of Iowa and beyond.