UAM Summer Internship 2017: Getting to the Roots of the Dentistry Collection

Jean prepares a temporary exhibit for the University of Alberta's School of Dentistry.

29 August 2017

Exhibition work is one of my main areas of interest and something I was eager to learn more about this summer. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to get a feel for the process of exhibition planning by helping with an upcoming temporary exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of the University of Alberta’s School of Dentistry. For the exhibit, we’ve been working with the Dentistry Collection, which documents the history of teaching dentistry at the University of Alberta from 1917-1942. Working on the exhibit has shown me how much planning and preparation goes into an exhibition and how it combines other areas of museum work including research, conservation and communications.

I was introduced to this project when I attended a meeting to discuss the exhibition space. I learned what to consider when planning how to use a space, there were also additional considerations because the exhibit will be in a newly developed exhibition space in a public building that was not initially intended for museum exhibits. It was an opportunity to see how preventive conservation guidelines are applied outside of storage areas where there is ideally more control over the environment. As well as discussing the dimensions, design elements and how objects would be displayed there were considerations for making the space safe for museum objects. For instance, an entire wall is windows which put objects at risk of U.V. exposure so we’ve been working on a solution that involves a U.V. film that would have to be put on the windows to block out harmful rays. The humidity and temperature would have to be monitored as fluctuations can damage objects. Once there was an idea of what the space would look like and security and conservation requirements had been addressed, it was possible to get a better sense of what could be done with the space.

Looking for objects that fit the story of the exhibit

The next steps were writing the exhibition text and preparing artifacts. The School of Dentistry provided the story and idea for what the exhibit would be, so my next task was to help find the objects that fit with this story. This meant looking both in the collection database and the collection itself to find objects that would have been found in a dentist’s office in 1915 around the time dental education began at the University of Alberta. Once we had determined which objects would fit, I began researching the history of dentistry and more specifically, dentistry at the University of Alberta to help write captions for the objects in the exhibit.

With the exhibit set to open after I’ve finished my internship, I won’t be able to work on the entire process, however, in the coming weeks I look forward to preparing some of the objects for display!