-Written by Jolene Patrina ’19
This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to work at the Oneida County History Center (OCHC) through the Upstate Institute Field School. OCHC works to collect, preserve and make available the history of Oneida County and the Upper Mohawk Valley. This nonprofit organization, located in an old Christian Science church, houses a research library, a 5,000 sq. ft. exhibit space, and thousands of collections including artifacts, manuscripts, artwork, and more. With many of these materials, I created an exhibit titled “World War I Centennial: Oneida County and New York in the Great War,” commemorating the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into the first World War by focusing on the American experience and local history of the war. Exhibits are usually up for two years or more; OCHC currently contains six exhibits of all different sizes on local history, all of which are open to the public.
OCHC serves the local community in preserving and exhibiting a wide variety of local history. It is often difficult to complete this mission as both archival and exhibit work is largely completed on a volunteer basis, and there is only one full-time employee, Brian Howard, who rarely has time to work on curation.
This summer I curated a large portion of the exhibit space with my World War I project, which will help OCHC in its goal of sharing local history and attracting visitors. Specifically, I looked through the OCHC’s manuscripts and artifacts pertaining to World War I, conceptualized an exhibit from these items, and designed and implemented the exhibit. This process involved working closely with artifacts, such as military uniforms, weapons, gear, and technology, all of which were over a century old and very delicate. Similarly, I worked with fragile documents such as posters, photographs, and newspapers, and often had to encapsulate (i.e. laminate by hand) many of these items. This work culminated in my exhibit that includes topics such as New York’s efforts to fund the war and conserve resources, technological innovation and its impacts, women in the war, and certain Uticans’ experiences during the war. Ultimately, this exhibit will help to preserve and present local history in an interesting and comprehensible way to the surrounding community, and hopefully attract more visitors to OCHC.
My first summer as a Field School Fellow has been both educational and exciting, as I was given the opportunity to create something substantial largely on my own, and was able to contribute to both preserving and making accessible local history. This project enabled me to work hands-on with fascinating materials and added a meaningful component to my studies as a History major. Furthermore, I was introduced to curation, work that I have never done before but am now extremely interested in pursuing as a career. In addition to my wonderful experience with curation, working in Utica allowed me to connect with a local community that I otherwise would not have encountered, and added depth to my understanding of and appreciation for Upstate New York and the local communities it fosters. Ultimately, I have gained invaluable experience in both history and curation, while also forming connections with and learning about the local community.