A 1954 Airstream camping trailer could itself be a museum piece, but John Troutman and his University of Louisiana at Lafayette graduate students have turned the trailer into a rolling exhibit appropriately called Museum on the Move.
On Wednesday afternoon outside the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum, the team from the university’s Department of History & Geography unveiled its latest exhibit squeezed inside the trailer’s 26-foot space: “Drill, Baby, Drill? Oil in Louisiana.”
It presents a history of Louisiana’s energy sector, both the tremendous good in terms of money and jobs and the downside of coastal loss and lack of diversity in Louisiana’s economy.
Troutman said this was, admittedly, a huge task for such a small space.
He said the concept for a museum in a trailer came to him and his colleagues four years ago when they attended a conference on public history and saw a program that used a trailer.
Troutman said this got them thinking about how their department could generate a more hands-on environment for students.
After the purchase and renovation of the Airstream, the team is now able to “engage the community on a level you just can’t do on campus,” Troutman said.
In addition to building, designing and showing the exhibit, the graduate students also develop materials for schools that may want to show the exhibit, distribute questionnaires about the exhibit and get their hands dirty in ways they otherwise couldn’t sitting in a class room.
First-year public history graduate student Kelsey Jagneaux said the experience of working on Museum on the Move has been affirming and fulfilling.
The students’ efforts transformed the small space of the Airstream trailer into something nearly unrecognizable. The new wooden walls feature colorful pictures, text and objects from the oil field in Louisiana that students collected through oral histories and speaking to local oil companies.
In the works for over a year, the exhibit could not have been revealed at a more relevant time with oil prices tumbling.
“We felt that at the beginning of the fall,” Troutman said. “We felt the sense of urgency and anxiety everyone is feeling down here.”
Troutman said many of the students family members are employed in the oil field.
“They wanted to celebrate the industry and what it has provided, especially the resources for education,” he said, but added that the biggest challenge was showing both sides of the story and not shying away from the consequences of the business.
“We wanted to do it in a respectful manner: what oil has brought us but also what oil has taken away in terms of land,” he said.
The next step for the exhibit, Troutman said, is to schedule visits to venues across Louisiana. Museum on the Move’s last exhibit, “Crossing the Line: Louisiana Women in a Century of Change,” traveled throughout south Louisiana, stopping at schools, libraries and farmer’s markets.
Troutman anticipates the same to happen for this year’s exhibit.