By Elizabeth Popovic
This summer I had the privilege to serve as an intern at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum (TLFM) in Kenly, North Carolina. It was an enriching experience that allowed me to gain knowledge of the world of collections management and virtual exhibition curation. This internship was unique for me, as I experienced working at a small-scale museum for the first time. Self-reliance was a major factor in my internship and a skill that will come in handy as I go on to graduate school this fall. I was able to set my own deadlines and had much creative freedom while crafting the virtual exhibition. It was inspiring to see a community come together to preserve the knowledge of their local heritage.
An example of an object entry on PastPerfect software.
When I started my internship, I received training on proper collections procedures and learned how to use PastPerfect software under the guidance of my supervisor, Beth. PastPerfect is a critical tool in museum cataloging and management, which is utilized by the TFLM as a database for objects both on display and stored in their archives. I was tasked with going through the museum’s tool collection object by object and locating its entry in PastPerfect. Once I found the correct entry, I would update it with further information, including adding images of the object and providing a detailed description of the object, to make it easier to locate. There was some additional troubleshooting with Beth when I came across an object that had no clear accession number or entry in the PastPerfect database. Other than those instances, I was able to properly handle tools in order to photograph them and update their PastPerfect entries as needed. This hands-on experience allowed me to use a sharp attention to detail to assist the museum in better preservation and organization of their artifacts.
The focal point of my time as an intern, however, was focused on researching for and designing an online virtual exhibit for the TFLM’s website. One of the early tasks in my internship involved researching virtual exhibition platforms as well as potential exhibition topics. I opted to use the platform Genially, as it is geared towards creating interactive experiences with those who view the creator’s content. I knew that I wanted my exhibition to be as hands-on as possible and this seemed the perfect site for my goals. As I had already spent time with the museum’s tool collection, it made sense for my exhibition topic to be tool-related as well. I conducted extensive background research on rural farm life from the late 19th to early 20th century and the tools used by individuals during this period. While I was initially set on making the exhibition about tobacco harvesting tools, I had more interest in the topic of cooking tools used on rural farms, and decided to pursue the latter.
An image taken of the wood stove that is part of the Tobacco Farm Life Museum's collection.
I took on a tremendous amount of responsibility by starting this exhibition project, which gave me valuable insight into the intricacies of bringing history to life in a digital format. I began the project by outlining the structure of the exhibition, ultimately deciding to break it into sections based on individual recipes. Each section would include the recipe for a certain food item and then go into detail about the tools needed to make each recipe. I decided that the presentation format would be the best way for me to include all of this information in a user-friendly manner.
Communication and collaboration were key aspects of this project. Feedback from Beth played a crucial role in helping me to refine the structure and content of the exhibition. She encouraged me to break up the exhibition using the throughline of recipes and stressed the importance of showing how vital various tools were to the cooking process. I met regularly with Beth, both in-person and virtually, to discuss my exhibition outline and to create a timeline for its completion. Additionally, we met at the museum in order to photograph certain tools in their tool collection for inclusion in my virtual exhibition. The museum’s library proved an invaluable resource as I was able to search through cookbooks for family recipes that would have been used during the time period the TFLM is focused on. This research helped me to select suitable recipes and gather relevant content for my exhibition.
An image of me taking pictures of tools in the museum's collection for use in the virtual exhibition.
As I progressed with the exhibit, I carefully curated content for each slide, wanting to ensure it was well-researched and engaging. This included finding relevant videos showing the creation, use, etc. of the cooking tools I discussed as well as adding source cards to each slide, in order to show the information’s credibility. To further engage the audience, I created and designed interactive question slides. These slides are meant to get the audience involved in their learning experience and provide an immersive experience without the need to be physically on-site at the museum. The final stretch of my internship was dedicated to strengthening the introduction and conclusion of the exhibition as well as reviewing the layout of each slide, to ensure a seamless experience for the user.
The editing page for the virtual exhibition created using Genially software.
In retrospect, my internship at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum has been a remarkable time of growth for me. It allowed me to contribute to the preservation of local history as well as hone my skills in collections management and digital humanities projects. The community atmosphere at the museum along with Beth’s vital guidance throughout has made my experience here truly enriching. I am immensely proud of the work I was able to do on behalf of this museum and I am incredibly excited for the exhibition I worked on to become available to the public. Lastly, I would like to thank the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association, to whom I am incredibly grateful, for supporting my internship financially. It has been a life-long goal of mine to find sustainable work helping museums to educate their communities and you have provided me the means to achieve that goal.
Note: Elizabeth's internship was funded by the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association. This reflection was written for the M-WTCA and is published here with their permission. The completed digital exhibit is available for viewing here: https://view.genial.ly/64bfd59b6742ec0011d7cd3f/presentation-tflm-online-cooking-tools-exhibit