The “Remembering the Bohemian Flats” exhibit is an interdisciplinary, inter-institutional collaboration that began with the work of an undergraduate anthropology major. Several years ago, Rachel Hines was searching for a way to bring her interests in local history, education, and archaeology together in a senior thesis project. She chose to focus on the Bohemian Flats given that it lies in the midst of a city and a university campus, yet its history remains little known, and created a series of sample lesson plans that would teach local history and archaeology to school children. Her project earned her the Elden Johnson Prize for the best senior thesis in archaeology.
Three of Ms. Hines’s project advisors were part of a University collaborative sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study working on creating a more durable partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society around educational opportunities in heritage studies and public history. Based on the promise in Ms. Hines’s project, the group chose the Bohemian Flats as one area to explore how collaborative teaching and public engagement could bring more diverse students out of the classroom and into the public and professional realms of heritage. With support from an Arts and Cultural Heritage state partnership grant, we began with a spring 2014 course, Archival Research Methods in Anthropology. Both undergraduate and graduate students delved into the local records – maps, community surveys, newspaper reporting, photographs – with two guiding principles: first, that they use the materials to think about how immigrants’ experiences might have differed from the way it was represented by outsiders, and second, that they make their findings and interpretations broadly accessible to many audiences. Students created a database of their sources, designed thematically oriented interpretations, and constructed both digital web-based and display-case final projects which were presented to an open audience at the end of the semester.
Based on the content and relevance of the project to the themes of the Mill City Museum, the collaborative team of University and MNHS agreed to create the current exhibit to bring the project to an even broader audience. The content of the exhibit is still the work of current and former students, who have selected the themes and images, written the panel texts, and will devise additional programs to engage multiple audiences. We believe the exhibit represents a very successful example of how the University and the MNHS can collaboratively create new opportunities for student and public learning. In particular, we believe projects like this provide students with critical thinking and interpretation, civic and community engagement, and professional skills – hallmarks of the liberal arts. We plan to bring more projects like this to the public in the years to come.