MSU Students Create a Dumpster Museum
by Brittany Hackwell – MSU History Undergraduate
As a self-dubbed museum enthusiast, much of my time is spent at, looking up, or thinking about exhibits. So when my professor for my Public History: The World At War mentioned that we would be creating a pop-up museum for Montana State University’s campus, I immediately perked up. The limits we were given consisted of a budget, and that the project had to do with Montana and World Wars. Ideas started to get thrown around, we started with simple posters being hung in one of the halls, which moved to a makeshift structure holding our posters, which somehow managed to turn into using a dumpster. The idea seemed ridiculous; but ridiculous enough that we all liked it.
During the first few weeks of the planning, we worked hard to create a base idea for our museum. We decided to title our museum “Montana During The World Wars”, and split up into groups that would then create mini-exhibits. While at first I struggled to decide on a topic that would interest me enough, I ultimately decided on, and was assigned, to the Native American in the World Wars group. This topic proved especially difficult due to the lack of well-kept records in the state, so we eventually extended our project to soldiers who had any kind of connection to Montana. Our mini-exhibit featured information on Chief Plenty Coups, Joseph Medicine Crow, Joseph Oklahombi, the code talkers in WWI, and Private Ira Hayes who was one of the six soldiers in the famous “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” by Joe Rosenthal.
One of the groups in the class’s focus was on the structure itself. That was the group to really come up with, create, and eventually implement the structure. Within this project, they decided to somehow use the structure to include information on the structures of the war, namely trenches, from my understanding. That quickly snowballed into an impressive idea to use a massive dumpster to somehow show the realities within the hardships of the wars.
Over the next few months, we spent one class period per week working in our groups on our topics. The idea that this information that I was responsible for putting together would be reaching people who 1) weren’t my professor, and 2) may have little to no previous knowledge on this topic, and my poster could potentially be the first, or strongest, information they would receive and store was more motivation than I realized. Never before had I really considered that the work I did for research, and the effort I put into this, could affect other’s education and knowledge. Seeing as this was a Public History class, realizing all this was part of the curriculum, but for a hopeful museum curator, it was vital. After months of pouring our hearts into this research, and hours of attempting to create an informational, but equally aesthetic poster, I, along with the rest of my class I can assume, took a deep breath and submitted them all for printing.
On one of the last class days of the semester, the dumpster was on campus, and was eliciting a decent response from those who had no clue what was going on. We spent the class period, and some time afterwards, mounting our posters and our title, and seeing the finished product. The trench had been created by a team pulled together over the weekend, and was better than I would have ever expected. The floor was covered in boards, so walking through there in even the sturdiest of shoes was treacherous. It had boards set up so you could step up and see over the top of the trench, and look out on the battlefield (AKA MSU’s mall). The group had also included pictures, stories, boxes, and more miscellaneous items that added to the theme. The weather was a toasty 15 degrees, and there were piles of snow scattered throughout the trench, so Montana’s weather helped accentuate the feel and look of the trench.
Various social media accounts were created for this museum, a number of articles throughout the history community in Bozeman were featured, and we all worked to have this project spread by word of mouth. Tons of people saw the dumpster, many read the posters, and quite a few went through the trench and were able to leave Montana and finals week for just a moment as they experienced a (safe) version of a WWI trench, something very few would ever be able to experience, or even imagine.
This class had us reading a number of books and articles spanning from Christianity and propaganda in WWI to the modern day argument of religious rights on planes. On top of that, we all became experts in our own topics as we spent hours upon hours stressing over our projects. Up until then, while I understood the importance of informal education, I had only ever been on the receiving end of it. Now, I have gotten a glimpse of the difficult, detailed work that goes into getting even the smallest amount of information out. The concern that some of the information may not be completely accurate, or worded well enough to get the point across. This is the information people very easily could assume as gospel truth, and to have that power, and responsibility, to provide nothing but accuracy and ease of understanding, while also trying to create something worth looking at at all, is a hefty weight.