What began as an idea formed during a session at the National Council on Public History’s annual conference in 2011 is now a reality.
A group of University of Louisiana at Lafayette graduate students created a unique mobile museum exhibit.
It’s only fitting that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette History Department’s Museum on the Move (MoM) is a vintage Airstream, because the iconic brand has such a rich history of their own.
As Professor John Troutman, the history instructor that brought the museum concept to life told Airstream Life, “What vehicle to support a mobile museum is more historical, and timelessly attractive, than an Airstream?”
The university located the 26-foot 1954 Cruiser on an Airstream forum, and Troutman and a colleague picked it up outside of Birmingham, Alabama in February 2013.
Students from the School of Architecture and Design came up with concepts to remake the trailer into a functional and modifiable mobile museum . They hired a local contractor—and Airstream enthusiast—to gut it, rebuild the frame and floor, and rewire it.
All the retro comforts were replaced with wood flooring and industrial framing to accommodate museum panels.
Troutman’s graduate students developed the museum’s initial exhibit, “Crossing the Line: Louisiana Women in a Century of Change” during the fall semester of 2013.
Students and Troutman worked out the lighting, exhibit panel mountings, and exhibit “flow,” as well as acquired the show’s artifacts and images, and wrote the explanatory text.
The exhibit features 10 Louisiana women from the late 19th century to the present who created extraordinary change in the state.
The exhibit is based on research provided by students in a Louisiana Women course taught by history professor Mary Farmer-Kaiser. Troutman’s students pared down the list of 40 women to 10 after focusing on a theme of activism.
In the spring and fall of 2014, they toured the exhibit all over southern Louisiana—to historical association meetings, local civic group meetings, farmer’s markets, music festivals, and schools.
“That is one of our greatest successes in terms of developing this program—the Airstream draws people in, long before they read the exhibit description outside the door,” says Troutman. “Everyone wants to talk about the Airstream, tells us their Airstream experiences, and asks where we found it. That gets them in the door, so that they can see the exhibits that our students will design and install each year. Buying an Airstream to serve as the exhibit vehicle is the best decision we could have ever made.”
Troutman’s students love the MoM because it gets them professional, hands-on experience in museum work and gets them out in the community—even out into Troutman’s driveway, which he describes as being “ground zero for installing our exhibits in the trailer.”
The academic work for the museum’s next exhibit, covering the history of oil production in Louisiana’s oil-rich state, is now taking place in student seminars. In the fall, Troutman’s graduate student seminar will convert that scholarship into “Oil in Louisiana,” the next traveling exhibit.
Being a history professor, Dr. Troutman is eminently qualified to speak on the place of the Airstream in the historical record: “Airstreams are remarkable: Their popularity reflected the desire of Americans to learn about other parts of our country, and to expand the venues for their family time and their critical family experiences, beyond their homes, and onto the open road. The design aesthetic of these trailers is unmatched and a thing of wondrous beauty.”
Museum-quality beauty, it seems.
Museum on the Move (MoM)
Museum on the Move (MoM) is a project of University of Louisiana at Lafayette History Department.
Public History students outfit a vintage Airstream trailer with an interpretive exhibit that will then hit the road to take history directly out of the classroom and to the public. Exhibits will be created on a rotating basis and require the melding of two courses and a cohort of students.
The first course is a traditional history course where students conduct research projects geared toward the planned exhibit. The next phase of the project is for a Museum Studies course, under the direction of Dr. John Troutman, where students re-craft the research done in the first class to create exhibit components that they will install in the trailer.
Once the exhibit is up and rolling, the trailer will be sent out on short runs to venues around the state where the students’ (and the program’s) work will be on display.
You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.