Museum special project receives award, invitation to present
An interdisciplinary, student-faculty project through the Paul Findley Congressional Office Museum is receiving regional and national recognition.
The museum received the Best Practices Award of Excellence, Special Projects, award from the Illinois Association of Museums in March for the multi-year initiative titled "Forever Blighted: The Impact of War." Tim Blackwell '22 and Mathew Ragonjan '22, student leaders on the project, have been invited to speak at the National Museum of the American Sailor this month.
The project explores the World War II military service of Congressman Paul Findley ’43 H’73 and his work co-authoring the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The project’s work also increased access to the museum and Illinois College through preservation and interpretation initiatives. Its title comes from Findley’s reflections on the impact of war in his 2011 memoir "Speaking Out: A Congressman's Lifelong Fight Against Bigotry, Famine, and War."
“On both sides of World War II, millions of young men and many women died in uniform. Hundreds of thousands of civilians also perished. Millions of families forever blighted,” he wrote. “The cost in human misery is incalculable.”
The museum was also recognized by the Illinois Association of Museums with awards in 2020 and 2019, including for the IC student-led Findley Interfaith Initiative and for the educational series Conversation with a Curator.
Blackwell, who recently graduated with a degree in history, joined the project as a curatorial assistant in 2020 and became the senior curatorial assistant in 2021. Ragonjan, studying criminal justice and psychology, joined the project as a curatorial assistant in 2021 and was promoted to senior curatorial assistant this year.
Together with Samantha Sauer, archivist, curator and assistant professor of history, the students worked with Findley’s WWII scrapbooks and textiles, including uniforms and other garments, in the museum’s collection. The project increased intellectual control and security of the collection through organization and digital inventories.
They also developed outreach and educational resources. They created a four-part mini series for social media titled “Museum Minute” and put on a public convocation titled “Global Path to Peace: Charting the Impact of Military Service on the Life and Work of U.S. Congressman Paul Findley ’43, H’73.”
Blackwell described his experience on the project as enriching and said the hands-on work gave him knowledge and skills he uses each day in his career. Blackwell is a park guide at Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, a site Findley was instrumental in making part of the National Park Service.
“It is such an honor to be recognized by the Illinois Association of Museums. It truly speaks to the importance of our work in the field of public history,” Blackwell said. “I’m extremely grateful and proud that I got to be a part of this project during my time at Illinois College.”
The project is supported thanks to multiple generous faculty awards from the Alice H. Engelbach Endowment for Peace Studies Enrichment.
Sauer said many campus departments outside of the walls of the museum helped make the project possible, including the Department of History, Philosophy, Political Science, and Religion; the Office of Academic Affairs; the Office of Information Technology; the Office of Career Readiness and Experiential Learning; and the Office of Student Employment.
Located in historic Whipple Hall, the Paul Findley Congressional Office Museum collects, preserves, and shares Findley’s life, work, and enduring legacy. To learn more, visit ic.edu/findleymuseum.