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Preserving and Learning: How YSU Students are Helping the Valley to Conserve Its History

By Kelly Baer

It’s a warm afternoon in Youngstown. Both the university campus and the city are buzzing with activity. Outside, students and faculty are enjoying the sunshine and hurrying from one class to the next.

But just off campus at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society [MVHS], a group of YSU students sit around a table inspecting a vast and diverse collection of Native American artifacts.

Some are members of the Anthropology Colloquium at the university; others are simply students who are majoring in anthropology. They volunteer at the MVHS a few days each week to help type and catalog the Calvin Collection.

None of these students are required to come to the group meetings to work, but their dedication to the project and desire to learn keep them coming back each week for more.

The Calvin Project centers around the Calvin Collection, an assortment of well over 10,000 Native American artifacts collected over many years by Lynn C. Calvin. Calvin worked for the Ohio Water Service, which is now known as Aqua Ohio.

“His interest really spanned his whole lifetime,” said Jessica D. Trickett, the Anne Kilcawley Christman Memorial Collections Manager at the MVHS.

The collection, which was donated in 1989, was part of a lifelong fascination with Native American history and culture that was instilled in Calvin from when he was a child.

Calvin grew up in Beaver Township and traveled around Mahoning County and the surrounding valley for most of his life. While working for the Ohio Water Service, Calvin occasionally found Native American spear points, tools and other artifacts.

Photo Courtesy of Kelly Baer

The Calvin Collection is the culmination of decades of searching and amateur archaeology. The students have been working here since the beginning of the Fall 2018 semester, and it has become the favorite project of Trickett and the volunteers that spend their hours here every week.

Trickett started as an intern for the MVHS in 1998 and has over 20 years of experience. She put the students in contact with the Historical Society and oversees the volunteers and their work on the project. Trickett works alongside the volunteers and professors from the university typing, cataloging and labeling the artifacts.

The group uses extensive curation sheets to record measurements, color, weight and other general information about each piece. According to Trickett, this is the first group of volunteers to work so extensively on the Calvin Project but not the first YSU students to take a crack at the collection.

“In the summer of 1991, there was a YSU student working here as an intern. She did most of the sorting of pieces by type. There was also another student a few years later who was volunteering here. He finished the sorting,” she said.

So far, the current team of students has cataloged over 1000 artifacts. Trickett has been working closely with volunteer and student Esther Westfall to digitize the results of the cataloging process.

Both Trickett and Westfall work hard to enter all of the measurements and information on the curation sheets into a collections management system known as PastPerfect. PastPerfect is a standardized database used by museums both around the United States and around the world.

Westfall spends four hours every Wednesday doing curation, data entry and photographing artifacts. This is on top of schoolwork, going to class and spending time with her family. She plans to continue volunteering at MVHS this summer and next fall.

“I feel like I’m gaining a lot of experience because I want to work in a museum one day,” Westfall said. “This is an amazing project, and it’s going to take a while. The project is so extensive; it will continue long after I graduate. I cannot wait to see it all done and recorded.”

Westfall is planning to graduate at the end of the Fall 2019 semester.

Thankfully, there is no shortage of volunteers at the Historical Society, and one very eager and proud volunteer is Sierra Braddy. Braddy is a senior at Youngstown State University and dedicates two hours each week to typing and cataloging artifacts for the project. She has been working hard this year to graduate this May, but she also plans to volunteer this summer with Westfall and Trickett.

“Honestly, it’s a great experience for the students,” Braddy said. “And it’s good exposure for both the university and the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.”

“I think it’s great for anyone in anthropology, especially archaeology, to get this experience. It’s given me a lot of insight into what I can do with my major and my education,” she added.

Braddy, like many other members of the student volunteers, plans to continue with grad school. She will be spending the next two years in France getting experience in the teaching field and scouting out schools to attend.

I have even had the honor of working with these amazing people. By the end of this semester, I will have typed and labeled over 100 Native American spear points. The volunteers here will have typed and labeled over 1200 as a collective.

The work that is being done at the MVHS is important to preserving the history of the Valley. The Calvin Collection is just one of many pieces to the puzzle that is the Valley’s past. Lynn C. Calvin most definitely left behind a legacy, and the volunteers at MVHS are seeing that legacy through.

I feel privileged to be able to work with such great people on such an amazing project. My only wish is that I could have met Calvin himself. I would have thanked him for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that he has provided so many students here at Youngstown State University and to the employees and volunteers of the MVHS.

The interest that was sparked in him at such a young age has sparked a passion for this work and these artifacts in so many students. It has reminded of what made me and so many others decide to major in anthropology in the first place: curiosity, a love of learning, and a desire to know the unknown.

For more information about the Mahoning Valley Historical Society and to find out how you can help ensure that these projects continue, visit mahoninghistory.org.

 

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