Experiencing the Sullivan Museum and History CenterOct. 24, 2006
Nearly two hundred years ago, Captain Alden Partridge put forth the idea that classroom learning needed to be supplemented with “…practical and everyday knowledge of the world, which can never be derived from books.” It was therefore fitting that Partridge himself played a role in last Friday’s grand opening of The Sullivan Museum and History Center — a facility that will offer students hands-on experience learning about Norwich’s past, present and future.
Several hundred alums, faculty, staff and community members gathered under a tent outside of the museum and history center on a rain-soaked October afternoon to witness the ceremonial ribbon cutting and official opening of the new building. Dressed as Alden Partridge in full nineteenth century regalia, actor Raymond Veary ’69, proposed the toast to officially open Norwich’s latest bricks-and-mortar achievement.
“I salute you, the people of Norwich, for the lives you’ve led, the lives you’ve touched, for the sacrifices you’ve made, and for the dreams you’ve followed,” Veary said. This museum is “…a testament to your pride in the past, and to the bold confidence you have in the future.”
Named after retired U.S. Army GEN. Gordon R. Sullivan ’59, The Sullivan Museum and History Center promises to offer students and the public a new way to experience Norwich. Through interactive installations, artifacts and displays, visitors will have the ability to investigate the University hands-on, all the while being guided by pre-recorded audio clips of Veary playing the role of Partridge.
During his brief remarks at the grand opening, Sullivan recognized the importance of Partridge’s experiential learning model, referring to the new facility as a world-class living museum “… that will continue to grow — not simply with artifacts and memoirs, but through the power of information technology.”
Ultimately, The Sullivan Museum and History Center will be a center for telling — and carefully preserving — the Norwich story. The building contains 16,000 square feet designed for permanent and rotating displays and special exhibitions, a theater, areas for exhibition preparation and conservation, a small resource center, offices and a classroom. The museum is a fully modern facility with carefully regulated lighting, heating, and humidity control. Reference stations will be located in the galleries, giving visitors online access to information about the museum’s collections and other resources.
“With a brand new building such as this, the educational opportunities can be endless,” said Museum Director Karen Petersen. “For example, we can coordinate with social sciences and provide lecture opportunities with speakers who can relate to our collections and what’s going on in the curriculum.
“I’ve been talking to Professor Rowly Brucken to discuss ways we can work with his historical methods class,” Petersen said. “He’s considering the possibility of having his freshmen interview seniors so that we have a rolling, ongoing oral history of what life was like at Norwich, and so that we are constantly doing research that will benefit students who are learning historical methodology. Professor Diane Byrne in the education department plans to work with her students on methodologies for using museums in public school classrooms.”
Petersen said she is especially excited about the learning potential of the visible conservation lab — a room with a floor-to-ceiling window looking into the work area for visitors.
“Our conservation lab will offer students many educational opportunities, ”Petersen said. “They will be able to assist with such tasks as accepting a new collection and examining, recording, and photographing it. They will also be able to help treat existing exhibits and collections by doing such things as vacuuming a textile, or taking an image, maybe a poster, off of some wood that might be acidic.”
Petersen’s excitement was echoed at the Friday ceremony by awestruck attendees who were allowed to peruse the museum’s holdings. And in a surprise announcement, Trustee James Pritzker expressed his excitement by revealing that he will donate an additional $3 million to the Norwich Forever! capital campaign, bringing his total gifts to the University to $5.5 million.
“The Sullivan Museum will provide a venue to reflect on and learn about the rich history and traditions that make Norwich great,” Pritzker said. “Norwich University has an incredible story to tell of service to nation and commitment to country. The museum will be a special place to spread the word about this wonderful institution to students, parents, and alumni.”
Along with learning from the museum, students will also play an integral role in telling the Norwich story through the museum. In 2008, The Sullivan Museum and History Center will inaugurate the Students Experience Exhibitions (SEE) program, through which students will influence the future of the museum in exhibitions that highlight research into the University's past — both distant and recent. SEE will also give students a chance to celebrate their own experiences as students in the form of exhibitions.
“The Sullivan Museum and History Center will always be a work in progress, refining the Norwich stories we know, introducing new stories to new audiences and continuing to explore the many ways that Norwich has profoundly influenced the lives of individuals and the events (local, national and global) of yesterday, today and tomorrow,” said Petersen.