Libraries, museums, and organizations throughout the United States and across the world host National Library of Medicine (NLM) traveling exhibitions. These sites plan and present enriching and engaging programs to connect their communities with the information in the exhibitions and with the wide variety of publicly-available NLM resources. This is the seventh post in a series called “Making Exhibition Connections,” which invites host venues to share their partnerships, programs, and public engagement experiences with Circulating Now readers. Today, Isabella Michal shares her experience with Politics of Yellow Fever in Alexander Hamilton’s America at New College of Florida (NCF).
Circulating Now: Please tell us a little about yourself.
Isabella Michal: I’m a rising junior at New College of Florida, concentrating my studies in Biology and Neuroscience. My undergraduate interests pertain to marine mammal research and its applications to public health. I plan to pursue graduate school upon graduation and am excited to take the creative mindset cultivated by NCF with me.
CN: How did New College of Florida develop its exhibit surrounding the Politics of Yellow Fever in Alexander Hamilton’s America?
IM: In order to encourage students to partake in undergraduate research opportunities, NCF designates a term in January for students to complete independent study projects (ISPs). Dr. Tabea Cornel and Dr. Kristopher Fennie applied for NCF to host NLM’s traveling exhibition Politics of Yellow Fever in Alexander Hamilton’s America, and oversaw an ISP focused on organizing an exhibit surrounding the NLM’s traveling exhibition in which I participated.
Participating students read and discussed literature about the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 and other impactful outbreaks of this disease from historical, political, social, economic, and medical lenses and applied this knowledge into designing and preparing events surrounding the exhibition including: a public opening reception, historical film night, epidemic-themed game night, creative writing contest, open discussion with faculty members over tea, and a PubMed tutorial. One of the outreach projects that we came up with and executed was designing the curriculum and sharing it with underserved public schools. We advertised NIH NLM’s resources alongside this endeavor and used some ourselves in creating the curriculum. When the ISP period ended, students had the option to continue organizing the exhibition, hosting the events, and teaching the curriculum for college credit. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the exhibition had to be cancelled within the first two weeks, but we were still able to host the opening reception and teach our curriculum!
CN: Were your outreach efforts focused on specific groups within your community?
IM: To encourage general public engagement, the creative writing contest was advertised in local bookstores Shelf Indulgence and Bookstore 1, who donated to the contest prize pool; the public campus library; and Booker High School. The prompts were generated using pertinent themes about public health throughout history provided by the traveling exhibition’s webpage and literature review. Outreach to the public was also conducted at the exhibit itself in the public Jane Bancroft Library located on NCF’s campus. In front of the exhibit, a computer was provided for the public for direct access to NLM resources and PubMed.
In order to share education resources provided by the NLM, we networked with the school board of local Sarasota and Manatee counties to share associated links and pertinent information for accessing sample lesson plans, K-12 resources, and the More Than A Bandage course for educators with individual schools from both counties. The events and engagement opportunities were advertised to schools in Manatee and Sarasota county. Our efforts were supported by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), who have the nation’s largest chapter in Manasota. They obtained permission for us to teach at Booker High School, a historically African American school in Sarasota. In addition, a few members of the organization came to the classes with us and helped inspire participation by sitting and playing the game with the students. Without ASALH and its proactive members, the outreach we achieved would not have been possible.
CN: What forms did your outreach efforts take, and how did they motivate participation?
IM: I took initiative at the beginning to oversee public outreach and advertising for the exhibition. I coauthored the final curriculum and interactive game with Emma Hodge. With NCF ideals in mind, we designed a curriculum with the intent to inspire students to see the importance of public health, whether they had prior interest in medicine or not. Our curriculum provided a basic background of yellow fever and its epidemiology followed by a historical overview of impactful yellow fever epidemics, and how they influenced political action, social dynamics, and outbreak management. The information used to design the lectures was based on peer-review sources, but the visual component was solely composed of images provided from the NLM Politics of Yellow Fever in Alexander Hamilton’s America website’s exhibition collection and digital gallery. After the lecture portion, the students participated in an epidemic-simulating game to apply what they learned. We taught the curriculum to six classes (approximately 70 students) of sophomores and seniors at Booker High School during the first two weeks of the exhibition.
CN: Tell us more about the game, it sounds interesting. What were the benefits of this approach?
TR: After the lecture component was completed, the students were challenged to put their knowledge to the test. The high school students were each given a character card to roleplay as they worked together to mitigate the spread of an epidemic of unknown cause. The students had to coordinate in groups to ‘elect’ spokespeople to vote which preventative actions should be taken; each decision impacted the rising death toll and the subsequent actions that could be taken, putting pressure on them to choose wisely. To simulate the mass exodus by aristocratic parties during historical epidemics, students whose role could afford to leave were given the option to ‘flee the city’ under the condition that they could no longer participate in the decision-making process. Less than a handful of students opted out because they all wanted to keep playing! Toward the end of the game, another twist occurred where all the students were assigned new roles as volunteers for the ‘relief groups’ of the epidemic (nurses, gravediggers, orphan committee, etc.) Students who came in with uninterested attitudes showed remarkable change by the end of the class period, illustrating the power of presenting public health education in a relevant and engaging way. With the pandemic ongoing, it is more important than ever for the general population to be interested and excited about their role in mitigating the spread of disease.
Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of
the challenges. It was definitely informative.