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The new

Who are the people who have made McLean County their home? Where did they come from and how did they get here? What did they experience after they arrived?

On Monday, January 18, 2016 the McLean County Museum of History unveiled the new exhibit, "Making A Home", that will help answer these questions. This exhibit is the first in a series of five galleries to open that will eventually make up the larger permanent exhibit "Challenges, Choices, and Change: The People of McLean County."

It is the Museum’s first new permanent exhibit in 24 years and will serve as the foundation for its interactive student programs and public education.

The four other galleries are set to open over the next two years and will cover the historic themes of agriculture, work, politics, and the integral role McLean County played in the election of President Abraham Lincoln. This significant installation is being funded through the ongoing Extending Excellence capital campaign that is raising $3 million to build a new permanent exhibit, upgrade digital technologies throughout the Museum, expand the Education Department, and improve landscaping on the Museum Square.

Diverse people made McLean County ‘home’

From the arrival of native people to the immigration of Asian Indians and Latinos in the late 20th century, Making a Home explores the experiences of individuals and families who came from all over the world to make McLean County their home. Their stories reveal the many challenges this diverse group of people faced after their arrival — stories of determination and hard choices, of maintaining traditions and inventing new ones, stories of how their lives unfolded and changed — of making a home.

Making a Home is the culmination of the work of Dr. Gina Hunter, Museum Curator Susan Hartzold, and Museum staff.

Dr. Gina Hunter, professor anthropology, Illinois State University“This project was truly a team effort with a lot of fresh ideas and feedback that enabled us to create a really engaging exhibit,” said Hartzold who also designed the new exhibit. “I hope the concept of community is apparent when visitors enter this new space — that individuals and families who settled here shaped our community through shared and divergent experiences.”

Hunter, associate professor of anthropology and sociology at Illinois State University, served as the gallery consultant and brought with her unique qualifications and new perspective on how to present the story of McLean County’s people. She joined the Illinois State faculty after earning her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Illinois in 2001. She teaches classes in cross cultural human problems, ethnographic methods,

Latin American ethnography and gender studies. In addition, she writes on ethnographic methods, pedagogy, and the anthropology of higher education. She is co-director of the Ethnography of the University Initiative (U of I) and co-director of the Old Main Project at ISU.

“Making a home is something we all have in common, from the first American Indians to all of us today,” Hunter noted.

“The museum is rich in household artifacts and family archives and these reveal the familial and personal lives of our predecessors here. I think we all can relate to these everyday use kinds of objects and they help us imagine the past. I'm very proud to have been a part of the project. It was a challenging and amazingly fun experience. Trying to tell the history of the people of McLean County is like writing on a postcard—so much to say and show with so little space.”

New technology adds hands-on learning

First day visitors for

Visitors to the Museum’s new exhibit will get to know this diverse group’s stories through personal items and home furnishings, historic images, and a series of digital and hands-on learning interactives.

Efficient use of space was a necessity inside the 1904 old courthouse building that houses the Museum. Hartzold designed exhibit panels and vignettes to most effectively use the existing space for artifacts and images. She also worked with Digital Humanities Director Torii Moré to create new digital interactives that allow visitors to explore and learn with maps, videos, and Q&A activities that require less square-footage than traditional exhibit panels. These digital upgrades also engage different learning styles for visitors and students. A Promethean whiteboard located near the entrance of the gallery will double as a mini-theater and a digital board for Museum educators to use during class field trips.

An introduction video, How did we get here?, reveals where immigrants to McLean came from during different periods of time and the variety of hardships and success they experienced. The choice to make the journey to McLean County can be explored through a touch screen activity that invites visitors to choose a time period, location, or individual then hear and see information about an actual journey.

Another touch screen, Frontier Encounters, will allow the visitor to learn a few of the many interactions between native people and McLean County’s first white settlers. A downloadable app will expand on two areas of the exhibit, allowing visitors to learn about local history from their mobile devices, whether they are inside the Museum, at home, or on the road. Additional touch screens and flip books provide a wealth of information about the objects featured in the exhibit, and audio and video are used in several locations to provide additional context.

The exhibit will be open to visitors during regular operating hours. To learn more about planning your next trip to the Museum, click here.


Written By

Beth Whisman

Beth Whisman

Beth Whisman is the Executive Director of the McLean County Museum of History