Junior Curators Learn Valuable Skills from Museum Artifacts

Platteville School District Library Media Director Page Leahy, center, holds historic postcards from The Mining & Rollo Jamison Museums collection for middle school students examine.

Students from Platteville Middle School are gaining a unique opportunity to engage with primary sources and to assist in preserving local history. In conjunction with The Mining & Rollo Jamison Museums, students from Page Leahy’s “Pride Time” are learning to catalog early 1900’s postcards from the Platteville area.
Leahy, District library media director, initiated the project in collaboration with historian Tracey Roberts and Museum Director Erik Flesch. While serving as a volunteer at the Museums in a grant-supported collections care and digitization project, Leahy realized that the detailed observation and reasoning skills necessary to describe each object would serve as a great student exercise.
To kick of the project, Flesch and Roberts visited Leahy’s class at the PLMS library on March 1 to introduce the Museums and the collections cataloging process. They passed out a selection of plastic-protected historic postcards from the Platteville area, and helped the students in small groups to make key observations and deductions that would be recorded on forms just as if they were doing actual curatorial digital cataloging in a museum setting.
Each week students catalog a different batch. This process requires them to examine context clues to unearth key details like creation date and location. “Oftentimes we have to be detectives,” said Leahy. “For example, one postcard was of the Potosi Brewery. We figured out the postcard time range by the cars in the postcard. We referenced some automobile books in the library, which gave us a decade for when the photo was taken.”
“We enjoy seeing students exercise their sleuthing skills and discover local history as they decipher the cursive handwriting and interpret the regional photography,” said Flesch. “Mrs. Leahy is also helping to advance the Museums’ digital catalog and to inspire volunteerism — and we are very grateful.”
Once the students have catalogued their collection of postcards, the stack will eventually be referenced for entering into the Museums’ PastPerfect database as part of an ongoing project to digitize the Museums collections. To learn about starting a similar project with your group, or to volunteer at the Museums, contact Erik Flesch at museumdirector@platteville.org or at (608) 348-3301.