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The Richmond Virtual Museum

A Richmond Historical Society/ Richmond Elementary School Partnership Project

Virtual Museum: "It's a museum that's inside the computer." -Travis

Why a Virtual Museum?

Richmond has no history museum. We have the Old Round Church, but no public place for documents, photographs or other items important to the town's history. The Community History Project's proposal that we digitize local history artifacts, using IBM computers and other donated equipment, was just what we needed.

Like many small local collections, Richmond's virtual museum contains an assortment of things from different times and places. Some of the items, such as a scrapbook made by a little girl in 1889, had been given to the Richmond Historical Society and stored in someone's closet or attic. Other things in the "museum" came from the private collections of local residents. One person, for instance, allowed us to photograph some of her antique hats and bonnets; another brought in old photographs of Richmond. Finally, we invited local antique dealers, long-time residents of the town, and the families of the students themselves to share with us their hand-me-downs and treasures-antique toys and books, household items and curios: things that tell of everyday life when their grandparents and great-grandparents were young.

Like other local history societies receiving donated goods, we had to make some decisions about what to keep and what to refuse. In our case, the decisions were simple: our archivists were Richmond Elementary School third and fourth graders, and our choices about what to preserve in the "museum" were guided by their interests and energies.

The Archivists at Work

During two six-week periods in 2003, groups of about nine student volunteers met with the school's technology coordinator and a Richmond Historical Society member to add items to the virtual collection. Each week volunteers recruited by the RHS member provided artifacts for the students to examine. Each student wrote an explanatory note about one or more of these artifacts, scanned or photographed it and put the description and picture into the CHP computer as a PowerPoint entry. The entries were grouped together by category, with one PowerPoint file or "slide show" for each type of artifact.

Throughout the process, the student volunteers were enthusiastic participants. They appreciated being entrusted to handle delicate material and promptly donned their cotton gloves with each new batch of objects.

Cotton-glove engagement with local history led to many hands-on learning experiences for the student archivists, from scrutinizing old photos with a magnifying glass to modeling antique hats for future museum visitors. These experiences in turn helped them to identify more closely with their own hometown. When asked which artifact she most enjoyed working with, for example, one student wrote, "I liked two pictures - a picture of the Round Church and a picture of a Richmond baseball team. I like them because the Round Church is still standing and I like the Round Church. I like the baseball picture because I like baseball a lot and it is interesting to know that Richmond used to have a town baseball team."

Perhaps most importantly, the third and fourth graders understood that by participating in this digital preservation project, they had become caretakers of their community's past. "You put [the pictures and descriptions] into the computer so everybody can see them," explained one student. "So they never perish," said another.