Warren County Virtual Museum to Merge History, Technology, Community

Technology, history and education will converge in Monmouth with the creation of the Warren County Virtual Museum, powered by an open-source web application.

“I’ve always been interested in telling a community story as a way to educate and grow civil literacy,” said Paul Schuytema, the director of community development in Monmouth.

Broadband Illinois awarded the city $10,000 for the project as part of the Illinois Broadband Innovation Fund, a program to help support 14 high-speed internet related projects across the state.

When completed, the virtual museum will house content provided by historians, students, veterans and any history-minded citizen with a story to share.

“Part of it is technology development,” Schuytema said. “That’s what we’re working on right now. The rest of it is gathering together a core of volunteers from different groups. We can have (citizens and students) come in and create their own exhibits, while they’re in the process of gathering their stories and putting it together in a context. This way, they’re becoming engaged with the history of their own region.”

The museum will offer features on historical figures from Monmouth such as infamous lawman Wyatt Earp and billiards world champion Ralph Greenleaf.

Another featured exhibit will be a little more personal to the rural Warren County.

The Local Heroes exhibit will feature video and story biographies of some of Monmouth’s most interesting locals, assembled by Monmouth College students.

Bridget Draxler, who instructs the project, said it’s a great way to connect college students with local citizens.

“The Local Heroes class focuses on conscientious action, and the goal is to prepare students to become good citizens,” said Draxler. “It builds a bridge between the campus and the community.”

Students in the course are paired with a local person of interest. Over time, the students record video and audio of the citizen’s life to build a biography. That information will then be part of the Local Heroes exhibit in the virtual museum.

“Sure, it’s totally cool to go to a physical exhibit space and see the actual things, but the way you can interactively link media together is really important, and that’s something that no one has really had a chance to play around with in our community with storytelling,” Schuytema said.

The Warren County History Museum also will play a big part in contributing data to the virtual museum.

Carol Parish, president of the Warren County Historical Society, said exhibits and artifacts from the museum will be included in the project.  

“It’s going to be able to expand exposure our exhibits and artifacts that we have here at the museum,” Parish said. “If you’re not part of technology, you’re going to be left behind.”

Parish also said the web application will allow the museum to keep all of its records online, making historic information easier to access and share.

Schuytema said the virtual museum will act as a marketing piece for Monmouth, and he hopes to share the finished web application with other cities that want to do similar projects. He added that the power of broadband technology is an essential tool in Monmouth’s future.     

“For me, the most important thing is a community taking charge of their stories,” Schuytema said. “One of the great democratizers is our web-based applications. You can build an application that a high school student could use, that a senior citizen could use, and they can become part of the storytelling process and the tapestry that creates the community experience.”

Tags: History, illinois broadband innovation fund, Monmouth, museum, Warren County

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