Virtual Exhibition of German Ephemera

What is an exhibition without a space? The Neilson Library renovation project brought this question into sharp relief, by throwing a wrench into  Professor Joseph McVeigh’s German 297 class. The course examines the upheaval in Central Europe at the end of World War I through the study of Professor McVeigh’s personal collection of primary source ephemera from the period. The culmination of the course is a student-curated exhibition in the old library’s rare book room. With that space no longer extant, Professor McVeigh approached the Imaging Center about creating a virtual alternative.

We worked with Professor McVeigh and students in the class to create an interactive virtual gallery space. The space was populated with images of McVeigh’s ephemera, and critique by students. The organization of the galleries themselves was a piece of the arguments students were trying to make. This virtual work was complemented by a limited selection of ephemera in the Smith College Museum of Art’s print-on-paper cases.


German Studies 297 Virtual Exhibition launch. Photo credit: Nicholas C. Baker

To support the communication of original research on the part of students, the Imaging Center took on image scanning and cataloging, and 3D digital asset creation We worked closely with the students to design the exhibition, right down to the shape of the galleries.

The planning began with multiple student sessions on curating an exhibition while also determining the virtual architecture of the galleries. Student critiques were gathered in WordPress sites, and then fed directly into the exhibition. Our Multimedia Specialist, Andrew Maurer, worked to develop 3D assets and the virtual space. Far from being a white box, the students designed an intricate labyrinth that interprets German history while sharing materials and analysis in context.

Screenshot from virtual gallery.

This was a really interesting collaboration because it used a wide range of our capabilities, especially with regard to high quality images for research and study. The number of captured images quickly grew to 1,500 unique items. The collection includes a wide variety of German ephemera, including rare German cigarette package propaganda from the 1920s and 30s. Our digital asset specialist in the Imaging Center, Jon Cartledge, managed the capture and cataloging of each item. The resulting images were incorporated by students into the virtual gallery. We are also sharing the images as the McVeigh German Ephemera Collection on Artstor (login required) for student access and as a service to the wider scholarly community.

December 31, 1921. 25 Pfennig, Gutschein der Stadt Möllni.sbg. European paper money. Place: Joseph McVeigh collection (Northampton, Massachusetts, United States).


German Studies 297 presenting print cabinet exhibition at Smith College Museum of Art. Photo credit: Nicholas C. Baker