I freely admit: I am a self-proclaimed craft nerd. In kindergarten, I was the kid who truly enjoyed gluing sticks into haphazardly-formed structures and insisted that every painting my little fingers lovingly created be prominently displayed on the family refrigerator. This creative passion has continued into adulthood as I thoughtfully knit gifts for friends and family and scrapbook every vacation taken. At first I didn’t think my graduate assistantship with the Special Collections Research Center in Swem Library would allow me to indulge my nerdy side. I thought it would be mostly processing collections, typing out finding guides, and helping patrons. And then I discovered the joy of exhibits.
My first assignment was to create an exhibit celebrating Homecoming at William & Mary. Luckily for me, this mostly involved going through University artifacts and old yearbooks to find appropriate pictures and objects to place in the case. My main goal: entice people to take the three steps away from the groupings of computers and look at the exhibit. I understand the difficulty in this endeavor; even I am guilty of often overlooking the glass cases scattered on the first floor of the library. Most people come into the library with one task in mind and invisible blinders essentially block their view of anything else. But I was determined to overcome this roadblock and draw people to my exhibit. Call it blind naivety, but I was ready.
Some of the artifacts I chose were traditional Homecoming objects: some cups, a homecoming towel, and a t-shirt. These picks added dimension to the case and brought variety to the texture of the overall exhibit. I additionally included two football programs, as the Homecoming football game is the culminating event for the weekend. One has a portrait of a young lady and her football player beau standing in front of an American flag. While it encapsulates the forced gender and racial codes of the time, I thought it also effectively evoked the nostalgia that ultimately defines Homecoming. Nothing is ever perfect, but hindsight surely makes everything appear rosy. And isn’t that what Homecoming is all about?
In an attempt to entice people over to the case, I also included a duc cap. While duc caps do not necessarily relate to Homecoming, they are a unique William & Mary tradition that I hoped would interest people. For one, they are funny looking little caps that almost look like a child’s dunce cap. Each first year student was required to wear the cap as a marker of his or her “introductory” status. I hoped that some alumni returning to the College might remember their experience wearing one, as the tradition continued well into the 1970s. Seeing it, the alumni might start a rousing conversation with, “Hey, remember that one time with our duc caps…?” The possibilities are endless.
All in all, I loved my experience creating an exhibit. While it was fun to do research and learn about the school, I additionally realized the amount of work that goes into each exhibit. A quick, passing glance does not pay tribute to the hours of planning, research, and implementation that go into each case. So the next time you are running into Swem to find that last book for your research paper or print out that article for class, take a breather and check out the exhibits. It’s win-win; you get a much deserved break and people like myself will be happy knowing that someone has taken those three little steps to check out our work.
Hannah Craddock is a graduate student in the Department of History and a 2010-2011 Archives Apprentice in the Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library.