Postcards and Perceptions: Community Oral History in Exhibit Development

This year the Exhibits Department revamped an old postcard exhibit, which is scheduled to open at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki on March 6th, 2010.  The original, and new, exhibit displayed postcards of the Seminole Tribe that were sold all over the country for decades.  The postcards often had politically incorrect text and sometimes inappropriate names as labels.  The flipside to the seemingly bad postcards was the glimpses into people’s lives and the documentation of times past.

One of the unfortunate problems with the postcards was that the people depicted in them were largely unidentified.  The lack of identification muffled the story of the people in the picture by not allowing them to tell their own story.  In an effort to remedy the situation, I took the postcards that are to be featured in the exhibit to every tribal senior center to have them identified.  I also took the postcards out to the community and brought them with me to interviews with people.

Community oral history in action at a "Seminole Storytellers" event

On one very lucky day, the Big Cypress Senior Center was hosting their annual Christmas party.  I was able to speak with seniors from Big Cypress, Hollywood, Brighton, Immokalee, Tampa, and the Miccosukee Tribe.  Additionally, the seniors also identified most of the pictures from the Randle-Sheffield Collection, which is a travelling exhibit from the South Florida Community College Museum of Florida Art and Culture and is currently featured in the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki gallery.

There are two very memorable events that came from the Christmas party.  The first event was a chance encounter.  One postcard features the Brighton Day School.  In the picture, several children are lined up in front of the day school’s bus.  I recognized some of my friends from Brighton and joined their table.  I asked if they knew any of the children in the picture.  Much to my surprise everyone at the table had attended the Brighton Day School and they were all in the picture.  After labeling all of the children, they shared wonderful stories about the school and the school teachers- Mr. and Mrs. Boehmer.

The other event was with a senior in Big Cypress who had often refused interviews with me.  While flipping through the pictures she came to a page where her entire family had been photographed in the early Florida tourist attractions called Silver Springs and Tropical Hobbyland.  She identified several postcards and graciously told me about growing up in tourist camps that had Seminole camps such as Musa Isle, Tropical Hobbyland, and Silver Springs.

In the end, most of the people in the postcards were identified and many stories about the people were collected and shared.  The seniors from all of the reservations enjoyed the opportunity to look at the old postcards and talk about them and their experiences.  As an employee of the tribe, my times at the senior centers and in the community are the times I cherish the most.  Often, I unexpectedly learn something about myself or my life from one of the seniors.  In the end, the entire staff at the museum pulled together to bring the community, and our museum visitors, an exhibit that will truly be an experience.

"Seminole Storytellers" event at the ceremonial grounds at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

Postcards and Perceptions: Culture as Tourism is scheduled for a soft opening  on February 12th, 2010 and there is a opening reception on March 6th, 2010 at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum located on the Big Cypress Reservation.  For more information, contact the museum directly at 863-902-1113.  The exhibit will also feature an audio tour where museum guests will get to hear the stories behind the postcards from the people depicted in them.


Author: Elizabeth Lowman

I am the Education and Oral History Coordinator at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum. I completed my Masters in History at the University of North Florida in 2007 and my BA in History and Political Science at the University of Tampa in 2005. I do my best to assist other Native Oral History Programs around the country and present at National conferences on the topics of native oral history, ethics, methodologies, and archives.

3 thoughts on “Postcards and Perceptions: Community Oral History in Exhibit Development”

  1. Engagging discussion and I like everyone’s input. Fast question. We are getting ready to start using wordpress ourselves. Can you share a good resource for templates and the best plug ins to make it easy for staff to update content in a nice user friendly way? Thx in advance.

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