I always wanted to be an historian, from the time I was young. Each member of my family had their own history “niche”—my mother, Appalachia; my father, World War II; my uncle, the U.S. Civil War; my sister, the history of flight. We visited museums across the Greater Dayton, Ohio, area when I was a child, and they all left a mark on me; however, the most indelible mark was from the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery.
Visiting the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery was an event for my family during my childhood. We packed up the car and drove to Dayton about three times a year. Upon arriving at the museum, we entered a magical world of science and natural history. It had something that other museums in Dayton did not have: an immersive quality. In one day, I could excavate an archaeological site, preside over my own courtroom, fix a car, gaze at distant planets, and play with otters. I never wanted to leave!
In 2003, my father passed away from a rare form of cancer. I did not visit the museum much after that—it was extremely difficult to think about making new memories without him. Life has a way of bringing you back to the places that formed you, however, and mine was no exception. In 2013, I was in my first year of my master’s degree at Wright State University for Public History. I decided to take a class in which students put together their own exhibition of artifacts, graphics, and interactive elements. That semester, the exhibition would be installed at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery. I decided to take on the position of project manager, and with the direction of Lynn Hanson, Boonshoft’s vice president of collections and research, our class mounted a successful exhibition on the material culture of the Pacific region during World War II. It was one of the proudest moments of my career.
The summer after the exhibition opened, Lynn emailed me; the subject line said, “Upcoming opportunity?” Because of my work during the exhibition class, she offered me the opportunity to complete another project at Boonshoft —this time researching and cataloging a large collection from a prominent Dayton philanthropist. I worked for an entire year on these objects under the direction of Jill Krieg-Accrocco, the associate curator of anthropology. This experience made the second year of my master’s degree one of the most rewarding times in my adult life. I loved exploring the artifacts that shaped an inspirational donor at one of the places that shaped me.
During my time working on this collection, I was given the opportunity to interview for the position of registrar at the Boonshoft. This was my dream position—working with artifacts that had the potential to shape the future of the discipline of anthropology, funded by a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources. In March 2014, I was offered this position. My “Boonshoft Journey,” as I like to call it, had come full circle.
Today, I have been working at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery for almost two years. I love my job, which is something I am grateful for every day. My experience at the Boonshoft exemplifies its importance in the Dayton community: I visited as a child and kept those fond memories with me into adulthood. I now have the opportunity to give a new generation the same feelings and experiences I had.
—Sarah Aisenbrey, registrar, Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, Dayton Society of Natural History, Ohio