For the past few months, we have been working to translate the W&M Hip Hop Collection into an exhibit titled Re-Mixing the Old Dominion: 35 Years of Virginia Hip Hop History and Culture. In addition to selecting the “stuff” to showcase the collection and the history of Virginia hip-hop, a completely different set of skills are also needed to create a successful exhibit. The process of creating an exhibit entails a level of organization, public writing, and display techniques that are different from curating and archiving a collection.
Tracing the histories of oppressed groups is notoriously difficult as their members may have been prevented from attaining educational or material resources that would allow them to keep records of their experiences. Or their existence may have been deemed so inconsequential that they were simply excluded from or misrepresented by larger data sources like census records, upon which researchers often rely. Consider the especially elusive nature of historical records that detail the lived experiences of nonhuman animals in a society where they are largely regarded as objects, property, or pests.
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.
Where might one find the Civil War telegrams of General Joseph E. Johnston? Or a weekly magazine that documents the history of rock and roll, blues, and country music? Or the William & Mary report card of your Great Aunt Sally? Very likely, the answer can be found in archives like the Special Collections Research Center in Swem Library!