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“Understanding our past helps connect us to our present:” Kent Library hosts student-designed historical exhibits
Founded in 1793, Cape Girardeau is one of the oldest towns in Missouri. What started as a temporary trading post in the early 18th Century is now a town with a population of over 40,000 people.
Such a long-standing settlement brings along an abundance of history. April 15 marked the unveiling of three new student-designed historical exhibits on display at Kent Library, each focusing on a different aspect of Southeast Missouri history.
Kaitlyn Barnett and Allyson Ingli, Master’s students in the Jane Stephens Honors Program studying historic preservation, worked together on an exhibit detailing the history and evolution of the Andrew Ramsey, Jr. house built in 1795.
“It just shows a lot of cultural significance of the area since he was a prominent member in the society when he built the house,” Barnett said.
The exhibit is titled “There is no I in House: The Significance of the Ramsay House from a Log Cabin to an I house,” and highlights Barnett’s and Ingli’s nomination for the National Register of Historic Places. The exhibit can be found to the left of the Special Collections and Archives unit of Kent Library.
“This house particularly was built by different people who came from different backgrounds, and that’s relevant in the actual construction of it, especially with a log cabin,” Ingli said. “That shows the craftsmanship of immigrants — they brought their heritage here.”
Lakin Fraker, a second-year graduate student studying historic preservation, curated an exhibit showcasing the collaboration of art and history students with Kent Library’s Special Collections and Archives unit on a purchase of items for the Rare Book Room.
Fraker’s exhibit is titled “Cultivating a Passion for the Medieval in the Present: Examining Student-led Collection Development in Special Collections and Archives,” and features several authentic artifacts dating as far back as the year 1100. The exhibit is located to the right of the Special Collections and Archives unit of Kent Library.
“A medieval artifacts dealer came to campus, and the students got to help choose which items got to be part of the collection,” Fraker said. “There’s a lot of things — one-of-a-kind artifacts — that people wouldn’t get to see anywhere else.”
In his exhibit, Peter Reckling, a graduate student studying historic preservation, featured a timeline of telephone communications in Cape Girardeau.
Reckling’s exhibit titled “Who You Gonna Call? Recounting Over a Century of Telecommunication Service in Cape Girardeau,” can be found on the main floor of Kent Library.
“It draws interest to a life that wasn’t so long ago, especially for locals,” Reckling said. “Learning a little bit of history about their town is something that they can really hold on to and have some pride in.”
The design featured several small “micro-homes” Reckling said he created to place the phones in places they would look appropriate.
“Creating these little bits of home with the mixer stand, cookbook, salt and pepper shakers, while they’re not phones, it really sets that scene for a miniature vintage kitchen,” Reckling said.
Reckling said he hoped people would find a fond memory or something relatable while looking through the exhibit and said this was one of the reasons for the “I Love Lucy” connection to the rotary phone popularized by the 1950’s sitcom.
“A special feature of the exhibit is people can actually call the phone inside the case and hear it ring,” Reckling said. “It’s a marriage of old and new.”
Steven Hoffman, professor of history and coordinator of the historic preservation program, said the purpose of students designing the exhibits is to provide an immersive experience to prepare them for their careers.
“It’s important for us in the program to actually do the work that professionals do,” Hoffman said. “This is all student-driven — they’re doing the research, they’re coming up with the ideas.”
Hoffman said the three exhibits allow people to learn more about Cape Girardeau.
“When people have a connection to their past, and particularly a connection to a place, I think you have a more meaningful life,” Hoffman said. “Understanding our past helps connect us to our present.”
The student-designed exhibits are on display for a year. To learn more about each of the exhibits, viewing is open to the public in Kent Library during regular operating hours.