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WWI Museum

WWI museum’s new exhibition asks ‘Why Keep That?’

WWI Museum
Poster of African American stevedores unloading ships in France during World War I [2011.65.1]. Image courtesy of the National WWI Museum and Memorial
KANSAS CITY, MO. – “Why Keep That?,” the latest special exhibition at the National WWI Museum and Memorial, follows the journey of a collection item from the moment it is donated to the museum, to the decision-making and archival process of our collections staff. To help illustrate, archival staff track the processing and digitization of a collection of 16 objects and share behind-the-scenes information about obtaining the artifacts, processing the items and storing and protecting them.

Largely featuring ephemera – objects usually meant to be discarded, like ticket stubs, advertisements and written scraps – there is a wry sense of irony in objects meant to be short-lived that have lasted 100 years and are now preserved in a museum.

These objects provide a wealth of historical information. Some were used only for their intended purpose and forgotten; others kept as souvenirs. But what they all have in common is the ability to tell the stories of the individuals who acquired them. The objects provide insight into those serving in wartime and context for a historical period shaped by a world in conflict, interpreting a catastrophic global event through human interaction.

“’Why Keep That?’ showcases the museum’s archival collection, which started in 1920, with thoughtful selections of objects that give visitors a good idea of its scope,” said Jonathan Casey, director of archives at the National WWI Museum and Memorial. “I think visitors will come away with an understanding of what an archives collection is and how it is managed and used.”

Highlights of the exhibition include a Barometer of Feelings – a chart that provides a weekly timeline of the war through one woman’s emotional reactions – as well as dance cards, receipts, tickets, coupons and posters, sometimes accompanied by a letter that provides personal context and value to the item.

Why Keep That? is on view in the Ellis Gallery on the Research Center Level of the Museum and Memorial. Admission to Ellis Gallery is free. Regular hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Museum and Memorial is also open on Mondays.

Click to visit the National WWI Museum and Memorial online.

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WWI Museum