WCU Museum Studies Students Create Exhibition Paying Tribute to Philadelphia’s Diverse Heritage

WCU exhibition workers
Image via West Chester University.
Pictured from left: Philadelphia’s Global Heritage exhibition are Harrison Warren, museum studies minor; Professor Michael A. Di Giovine; Virginia Vintson, graduate student; Jacqueline Armao, museum studies minor.

To tell the authentic stories of the diverse communities that have made Philadelphia what it is today, 15 Museum Studies Program students at West Chester University (WCU) recently partnered with the Global Philadelphia Association (GPA) to create a special exhibition in WCU’s Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology that highlights the city’s narrative far beyond its colonial heritage of the Liberty Bell.

Rare artifacts can be seen on the university’s campus from Philadelphia’s very early beginnings; the relics tell the lives of Native Americans, Africans who were enslaved, numerous immigrant groups seeking political/religious freedom, and many others, even the famed Mummers. The priceless artifacts are on loan from the Lest We Forget Museum of Slavery, Landis Valley Museum, the National Parks Service, and numerous other non-profit lenders. Beyond the Bell: Philadelphia’s Global Heritage exhibition can be seen now through May 1 at West Chester University’s Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, located on campus in the Old Library building at 775 South Church Street. The museum is open to the community free of charge.

The elaborate, “mini-Philadelphia” exhibit focuses on labor, immigration, transportation, fashion and arts, festivals, as well as sports and pop culture. Against the backdrop of a floor plan modeled after Philadelphia’s own urban grid and made by West Chester University student Christian West, visitors are able to see an array of relics that give life to the spirit of Philadelphia: shackles from a slave ship; 5,000-year-old pottery used by the Lenape people; autographed sports memorabilia from the Hilldale “Darby Daisey’s” Negro League baseball team; reproductions of letters by Edgar Allen Poe; Mummers’ souvenirs, and costumes; artwork by Philadelphia-based artists; souvenirs from the Philadelphia World’s Fair of 1876; and inspiring fashion from Colombia, Palestine, Liberia, South India; and much more.

With the expert guidance of Michael A. Di Giovine, director of the university’s Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology and director of the Museum Studies Program, the undergraduate and graduate students have installed an exhibition that is the first-of-its-kind at the university.

“This is an extraordinary exhibition – and one of the largest we’ve ever had in the museum,” said Di Giovine. “We couldn’t have done this without the support of the Global Philadelphia Association and its members, as well as many, many community organizations and enthusiastic private individuals who were willing to lend us their valuable artifacts. We hope that, through this important collection of artifacts, organized in a creative design by the students, we can give visitors an understanding of not only the broader heritage of Philadelphia, but also the impact of diverse communities and their interactions on the nation’s history.”

For more than nine months, Di Giovine and 15 graduate and undergraduate Museum Studies Program students have researched, designed, and installed the exhibition. The exhibition’s fabrication has been developed by Associate Professor of Theater Tom Haughey. In addition, Director of the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum David Blackburn co-instructed the class and helped curate the exhibition.

“I’m very grateful to have worked on this exhibit and gained so many valuable, hands-on experiences,” said Jackie Armao, a history major and museum studies minor. “It’s been really exciting to see something we’ve envisioned come to life; it started as a list of ideas and now it’s a real space where people can come and learn about all of the people and things that make Philly what it is—which is exciting!”

The exhibition is open Mondays, 10 AM – 2 PM; Tuesdays, 11 AM – 5 PM; and Thursdays, 10 AM – 4 PM. Private appointments and special student-curator led tours can also be organized by calling (610) 436-2247 or emailing museum@wcupa.edu. More information can be found at West Chester University.

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