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USF History students get to examine family keepsakes and heirlooms submitted by members of the community.

Uncovering our community’s artifacts and stories

By Sarah Sell, University Communications and Marketing

A unique learning experience allowed History students the chance to examine more than a dozen artifacts ranging from Tuskegee Airmen nurse uniform pins to a "Don't Kiss Me" necklace worn by babies during the Tuberculosis outbreak of the early 1900s. The hands-on history lesson was part of the first-ever History Harvest held at the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library.

Community members were asked to submit family keepsakes and heirlooms to USF's Department of History and participate in a conversation with students in the Historical Methods and Materials class about their significance and meaning.

"It teaches them that there are different ways to look at the past and tell a story," said Erin Stewart Mauldin, the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at USF St. Petersburg. "Sometimes, the most interesting stories aren't in archives, and it teaches students to look for history in unusual places."

Mauldin worked with USF's Community Relations Department to identify community members with unique artifacts and stories behind them. They received letters, photographs, art and other historical objects.

a personal letter to the American Consul General in Vienna, Germany

A personal letter to the American Consul General in Vienna, Germany from 1939, detailing an American wanting to sponsor and financially support a Jewish family escaping the Nazis. 

A few of the chosen entries included a personal letter to the American Consul General in Vienna, Germany from 1939, detailing an American wanting to sponsor and financially support a Jewish family escaping the Nazis after they annexed Austria; big band photos from the 1940s-60s, showing musicians that traveled through Florida; an Iran-Iraq War Victory Arch Helmet from the 1980s; and a POW-MIA Bracelet from 1969 with the name of Col. Donald Paxton on it, bought as part of an anti-war protest that displayed the sacrifices of American soldiers in Vietnam. Paxton's remains were found in 2000.

History student Lorena Marins chose to research the "Don't Kiss Me" necklace. She found out that the item was donated to the St. Petersburg Museum of History in the 1920s or 30s, and there is no record of it being archived.

She says it will be challenging to dig up more about its history throughout the semester, but she's excited to figure it out.

"I've never done anything like it before," said Marins. "I think it's interesting and important to connect with the community, and Dr. Mauldin has done a really good job on this project."

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