Alumni Update: Robin Simonton Appears on Radio Show

Robin Simonton, Executive Director of the Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC, and graduate of EIU’s Historical Administration program, recently appeared on radio’s The Museum Life with Carol Bossert. During the show, which you can listen to here, Robin explains the history of cemeteries, their role in community building and the variety of innovative programming that they offer.

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Robin Simonton has been the Executive Director of Historic Oakwood Cemetery since November of 2011. She holds a BA in US History from the University of Hawaii and an MA in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University. Robin’s graduate school internship was with Jekyll Island State Historic Site off the coast of Brunswick, Georgia.  After she graduated from Eastern Illinois, she returned to Girl Scouts – North Carolina Coastal Pines in Raleigh.  She served in various capacities there, but ended as the Program and Volunteer Services Executive at Girl Scouts — North Carolina Coastal Pines in 2011.  While there, she planned historic trips for the girls to participate in to Savannah, as well as developed local historic programming for the Girl Scouts.  She also created the event Monumental Fun at Historic Oakwood Cemetery for Girl Scouts to enjoy.


Robin Simonton on the grounds of Oakwood Cemetery with students from William Peace University (photo: Robin Simonton).

She left the Girl Scouts 5 years ago for her dream job and continues to develop educational programming for schools, seniors, church groups and universities at the Cemetery.

Robin wrote a chapter in the book Cemetery Tours and Programming: A Guide, by Rachel Wolgemuth in 2016.  She is co-authoring an Arcadia Publishing book on the Cemetery which will come out in 2017.

Robin and her husband Jeff live in Raleigh with their son, 6 year old Cullen. Contact Robin via email at

EIU’s Historical Administration Class of 2016-2017 Exhibit: A Question of History: Public History in Illinois

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From the desk of HA Class of 2016-2017:

Throughout the history of Illinois, the prominence of public history has ebbed and flowed, from communities coming together to save historic sites, to last years’ nine-month closing of the Illinois State Museum. Amidst the statewide budget crisis this closure has brought the topic of public history to the forefront of a national conversation. In an effort to raise awareness about the importance of public history, Eastern Illinois University’s (EIU) 2016-2017 Historical Administration class is planning the exhibit A Question of History: Public History in Illinois. This exhibit traces the role of the public and the historical institutions of Illinois to show how history was and continues to be vital to our cultural heritage and identity. The exhibit results from a partnership with the accredited Booth Library at EIU and utilizes the collections and expertise of historical institutions around the state. These include the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Illinois State Museum, and the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum.

The Historical Administration graduate class develops an exhibit every year as part of their graduate coursework, often in partnership with institutions such as the Booth Library. The Historical Administration Class of 2017 includes: Aaron Martin, Amanda Roberts, Brock Stafford, Cayla Wagner, Claire Eagle, Elizabeth Papp, Hailey Paige, Jessica Craig, Meagan Patterson, and Sara Mercado.

You can track our progress on Facebook, Instagram, and our Website.


Historical Administration Students Volunteer at Harvest Frolic

From the desk of Chani Jones:

On September 26th and 27th, the Historical Administration class volunteered at the annual Harvest Frolic weekend at Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site. Students dressed in period attire and participated in activities such as wool processing, clothespin-doll making, historic games, food preservation, and apple cider production. Class members also helped run contests in rail splitting, pie eating, skillet tossing, and dipper-cup races.

Preserving food at Lincoln Log

H.A. students Kate Dickerson and Rachel Tavaras preserve pumpkin, beans, and okra.

Erika Allison, one of the H.A. students, spoke about her experience:

“I had a lot of fun volunteering at Lincoln Log Cabin this past weekend. The kids and even some adults seemed to really enjoy making cloth pin dolls and it was a fun item they could take home to remember the day. I also played period games with the kids and had a blast playing graces and chasing the hoop around the farm with the kids and my fellow volunteers. At the end of the day on Sunday some of the volunteers danced a reel while the band played for us. The weekend went really well, it was great to see so many people come out to support the farm and enjoy history. Several people told me how much they look forward to this festival every year and it was such a great thing to hear how what the farm means to the town.”

H.A. students, Colleen Filipeck, Kyle Dickson, Maria Mears, Amy Ramsland, and Erika Allison dancing a reel.

H.A. students, Colleen Filipek, Kyle Dickson, Maria Mears, Amy Ramsland, and Erika Allison dancing a reel.

2014-2015 Historical Administration Class Awarded at Illinois Association of Museums Conference

From the desk of M.J. Rymsza-Pawlowska

On Friday, September 25th, at the annual conference of the Illinois Association of Museums (IAM) held this year in Springfield, Illinois, the 2014-2015 Historical Administration class received an Award of Merit for their permanent exhibit: Mission, Method, Memory: The Lab School at EIU, which was created during my two-semester course, History Exhibits I and II. Students worked with Dean Diane Jackman and Assistant to the Dean Mary Bower from the College of Education and Professional Studies to create an exhibit about the history of the Laboratory School at Eastern.

This exhibition is the inaugural exhibit of the Lab School Museum and is located in Buzzard Hall, home to the Buzzard Lab School. Mission, Method, Memory explores the long and vibrant history of teacher training at Eastern. Between 1899 and 1957, Eastern student-teachers participated in an on-campus “Model School,” where local students attended first grade through high school. In 1958, Eastern President Robert Guy Buzzard inaugurated the Buzzard Laboratory School, which remained open until 1974.

Historical Administration students researched the history of the Lab School, collected artifacts and memories from Lab School alumni living in the Charleston area and beyond, and designed, built, and programmed the exhibit, which opened in April of 2015.

H.A. students on opening night.

H.A. students on opening night.

Dean Jackman and Ms. Bower traveled to the awards dinner, and were on hand as H.A. student Brian Failing accepted the award on behalf of the whole class.

Dean Diane Jackman, H.A. student Brian Failing, and Assistant to the Dean Mary Bower at the Illinois Association of Museums ceremony.

Dean Diane Jackman, H.A. student Brian Failing, and Assistant to the Dean Mary Bower at the Illinois Association of Museums ceremony.

The exhibit is located at Buzzard Hall and is open daily. You can also check out the website here.

Historical Administration Attends Conference in Louisville

From the desk of Dr. M.J. Rymsza-Pawlowska:

From September 16th to 19th, the Historical Administration M.A. students, accompanied by Debra Reid, Pat Miller, and myself, traveled to the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History in Louisville, Kentucky. This conference was an excellent opportunity for students to learn about new developments within the museum and public history fields, meet practitioners, and reconnect with H.A. alumni who were attending and presenting.

Historical Administration on the move

Historical Administration on the move

Highlights of the conference included a keynote by Sam Wineburg, author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching The Past (2001), as well as panel presentations from staff at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Ohio History Connection (where Dr. Terry Barnhart worked as curator before coming to Eastern), and the September 11th Memorial and Museum in New York City. We also caught up with Tim Grove, Chief of Education at the National Air and Space Museum, who was the keynote at last year’s Historical Administration Program Association Symposium and whose book, A Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History we read and discussed during Orientation.

But it wasn’t all work and no play: H.A. students, faculty and alumni relax at dinner

But it wasn’t all work and no play: H.A. students, faculty and alumni relax at dinner

The H.A.’s were given the opportunity to volunteer at the conference: they monitored sessions, helped with registration, and oversaw a 5K run, among other tasks. Throughout the conference, everyone I met kept telling me how much they enjoyed meeting and talking with the students!

Some volunteers in action

Some volunteers in action

But the H.A.’s distinguished themselves in another way as well: a highlight of the conference was the annual Battledecks improv challenge, in which participants must provide interpretation for a slideshow of random images. Both Brian Failing (HA ’15) and current student Mary Challman threw their hats in the ring. Cheered on by her classmates, Mary won the competition (and several business cards from admirers who offered her internships on the spot!).

Mary Challman with her Battledecks trophy

Mary Challman with her Battledecks trophy

2015 History Careers Day

The History Department held its third annual History Careers HCD 2015Day on Friday, February 20.

Our keynote presenter this year was Angela Scalpello. Angela, who has worked for many years as a senior human resources executive at major firms in New York City and San Francisco, shared with majors and non-majors her considerable interviewing and hiring experience as someone who understands the skills historians bring to the job market.

For our 11am panel, EIU alumni and current students discussed how they are using their history degrees.

During our third panel EIU alumni and faculty shared their experiences teaching in a variety of settings—public school, private school, and community college.

At our final panel of the day, some faculty and current graduate students discussed the joys (and challenges) of MA and PhD programs.

Thank you to all of our panelists who helped us make this year’s History Careers Day such a success!

HA Local History & 19th Century Structures

The Historical Administration curriculum includes a course in local history research methods and meaning, taught by Dr. Terry Barnhart. No team had more fun with the pink bricks (actually strawberry waffle wafers) than did Dr. Barnhart, Diane Hall and Emily Spuhler. They had the challenge to create a 19th century structure, and attempted a mansard roof-line. But graham crackers did not play nice with pink brick.

Dr. Terry Barnhart, Diane Hall, and Emily Spuhler. (Photo by Debra A. Reid)

Dr. Terry Barnhart, Diane Hall, and Emily Spuhler. (Photo by Debra A. Reid)

Not to be dissuaded especially not after learning of the challenges that builders encountered historically, they forged ahead. Ultimately they landscaped the grounds with topiary and even attempted to introduce wildlife (frogs) into the manicured formal gardens.

(photo by Debra A. Reid)

Diane Hall (photo by Debra A. Reid)

HA Gingerbread House Extravaganza (Part II)

Each fall semester, students in Historical Administration at EIU take two courses that emphasize material culture analysis — HIS 5050: History of American Architecture, taught by Dr. Nora Pat Small, and HIS 5330: Material Life and Decorative Arts in America, taught by Dr. Debra A. Reid (click here for Part I of this post). Students read theory and apply that to studies of decorative arts and the built environment. The goal is to move students away from identification of “styles” of furniture or buildings and toward context, analysis and interpretation. The team of students who created this 18th century Palladial structure did just that.

Caroline Martin, Cory Hurless, and Alex Stromberg laying the foundation for their graham cracker domicile. (Photo by Debra A. Reid)

Caroline Martin, Cory Hurless, and Alex Stromberg laying the foundation for their graham cracker domicile. (Photo by Debra A. Reid)

Cory applying some finishing touches (photo by Debra A. Reid)

Cory applying some finishing touches. (Photo by Debra A. Reid)

The finished house even had chocolate-covered waffle-wafer parts to create the look of diamond-shaped muntins on the upper story windows on the front facade. Caroline, Cory and Alex could have waxed eloquent about how this indicated glass-making technology of the time; and they left the interior unfinished, as scholars have argued that some rural residents of Deerfield, Massachusetts, had to do to maintain appearances along “the street.” And the winner of the Great Gingerbread Challenge of 2014 is (at least in the opinion of the bribed judges): the 18th century Palladial structure with real, not rusticated, graham crackers. But we have two more centuries to explore.

HA Gingerbread House Extravaganza

The Graduate Students in the Historical Administration program at Eastern Illinois University spend a lot of time with each other. A lot of time. The curriculum requires them to take five graduate classes each semester and work with five different instructors. In addition, each student works nearly 20 hours a week in their graduate assistantships. Course projects also require them to work independently and in group projects to satisfy programming, grant writing, and collections related needs of partner institutions (museums and historical sites in the area, and EIU’s College of Education this year). The students prove that they can “pull in unison” when it comes to having fun, too. On Dec. 11, 2014, the ten students hosted the faculty for an amazing example of giving from the heart. This is the first of four posts  to introduce you to the spirit of these ten amazing students, and three of the five faculty that have the pleasure of working with them.

An example of their creativity – the inaugural Gingerbread House Extravaganza. Students formed four teams, invited a faculty member to join them, and set about solving a challenge – constructing a domestic structure representative of either the 17th, 18th, 19th or 20th centuries. We’ll start with the oldest. . . chronologically. The team with Dr. Nora Pat Small, vernacular architecture expert, had to build a 17th century structure. They used their pretzel sticks to construct an example of impermanent architecture. The team (fig. 1): Dr. Nora Pat Small, Amy Wywialowski, Brian Failing, and Dan  Hess. And (fig. 2) Dr. Small with the finished product, and the proud teacher of the course in historic architecture. But this is not the “winner” of the Great Gingerbread House Challenge. Stay tuned.
Dr. Nora Pat Small, Amy Wywialowski, Brian Failing, and Dan  Hess (Photo by Debra A. Reid)

Dr. Nora Pat Small, Amy Wywialowski, Brian Failing, and Dan Hess (Photo by Debra A. Reid)

Dr. Small with the finished product (Photo by Debra A. Reid)

Dr. Small with the finished product (Photo by Debra A. Reid)

Graduate Students Attend Gala in Springfield

On Saturday, October 4 Brian Failing, Kimberly Jones, and Andrea Morgan, attended the Springfield Gala sponsored by the Graduate College at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) in Springfield, IL. This event brought together about 50 current graduate students, alumni, and administrators from across the university Mr. Failing, Ms. Morgan, and Ms. Jones attended this event as representatives of their programs. Brian is a student in the Historical Administration Master’s Program and Kimberley and Andrea are students in the traditional MA in History Program. After dinner, the students had the opportunity to tour the exhibits at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Museum.

From Left to Right: Andrea Morgan, Brian Failing, and Kimberly Jones with Abraham Lincoln and his family at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

From Left to Right: Andrea Morgan, Brian Failing, and Kimberly Jones with Abraham Lincoln and his family at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

One purpose of this event was to showcase the importance of graduate assistantships to students. Many students in the HA and History MA programs receive some form of assistantship, fellowship, or award that provides them with a tuition waiver, stipend, and real-world experience. Failing said “my graduate assistantship made my dream of earning my Masters a reality. Through this assistantship I have the ability to continue my education, pursue my research interests, and be an active practitioner in the museum and history fields.”