I started volunteering for the McLean County Museum of History in September and have loved every moment of it. My name is Drew Brandau and volunteering at the Museum has been an amazing experience. I'm a junior majoring in history and anthropology at Illinois State University, and I wanted to volunteer at the Museum in order to get real-world experience in a history field.
My first day here I was given the task of making a finding aid for a nearly 100-year-old collection of World War I material, mainly books and military manuals. A finding aid is a typed inventory of the contents of an archival collection, and as such helps researchers and those interested in the collection find their way around the material. The Museum also places finding aids on its website so researchers, genealogists, students, and others can better access Museum holdings.
This World War I collection--officially titled the World War I: State Council of Defense Collection--was given to the Museum a few years after the war. During the summer of 1918, the State Council of Defense of Illinois organized local committees to collect materials relating to the "Great War." The idea was to help preserve the historical record of this epochal event.Each local committee was urged to collect materials from local veterans and the community. Thirty counties in Illinois, including McLean County, officially collected materials.
This collection contains items like field manuals, firearm and weapon instructions, campaign and battle histories, and even things like war romance novels and cartoons. It was fun going through and sorting the old documents, feeling the old rough covers of the books, and being transported back in time to how people used to live in the past. The material told an interesting story about the lives of soldiers in World War I. For example, one item describes a protest in the U.S. Army over this issue of bayonet training and usage.Another item laid out the intricate details of latrine duty. There were also postcards that soldiers had bought for their loved ones back home. Most of them were blank but some of them said simple things like, "To Jenny and hopefully my new baby girl. I'll be back before you know it." Although it was a time consuming task to organize this collection, it was nonetheless a great experience.
I've begun to work on another collection held here at the Museum, one relating to the Auth family of Bloomington-Normal. Volunteering at the Museum continues to be a great experience to have "under my belt." I've enjoyed spending my Friday afternoons here and hope to spend many more in the semesters to come.