Staff Spotlight: Hannah Engstrom

The following is an interview of Hannah Engstrom conducted by Zach Kastens. She is in her second semester of the Baylor Museum Studies masters’ program.

Q: Where did you come here from?
A: I was born in Minnesota and I got an undergraduate degree in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in art history and women’s studies.

Q: Any particular part of women’s studies you were looking at?
A: No, not at the time, but currently I am interested in women’s history in the American West.

Q: So tell me a little more about your focus on American women in the West. What does that means for those of us who might not be familiar with it?
A: How their lives transformed as they moved from the East to the West, because in the East their lives were so restricted. They were expected to stay within their domestic sphere, and they weren’t typically allowed to work. There was the expectation that they take care of the home and their primary responsibility was to raise their children, to be good citizens, and to be the moral compass for their family. As women moved out West, their lives really started to change…and, based on need, they started doing more things outside of the home. Then they began taking on roles like becoming cowgirls, like Annie Oakley, or doctors and teachers and their worlds just really expanded. It is fascinating to compare women’s lives between the two coasts.

Q: So how does art history play into this then?
A: It was more just because I love art, I draw, and I really love history, so it just seemed like a natural thing to do. I really didn’t know at the time what I wanted to do with it; honestly I didn’t even know that museum studies existed. I honestly didn’t know, which is a conundrum many undergraduate students face. But then eventually I found museum studies, which ended up being a perfect fit.

Q: You said you are an artist. What kind of art do you do?
A: I draw people, primarily. It is more of a therapeutic thing for me.

Q: You said you “found” museum studies. What does that mean? Walk us through it.
A: I was actually looking for history programs…because I was planning to get my masters in art history, but as I was looking at a particular masters’ program I saw that they had a museum studies program. I didn’t even know that existed! I started reading about the program and doing  some research at other schools. It only took me maybe an hour to decide what I wanted to do. I looked at every school in the country that offered masters’ degrees in museum studies, which were not a lot. I decided on Baylor because I liked the program, the structure of the program…with this program you have the opportunity to tailor it to your interests. Because of Dr. Hafertepe’s interest in material culture and American decorative arts they have more American history classes incorporated into the program, which was pretty unique.

Q: How do you focus your research or your studies in this program?
A: Ideally, I would like to work for a state history museum…being a historian in a museum is what I really want, because I love research.

Q: Have you found any of your classes especially interesting?
A: Surprisingly, I liked the administrative class…because normally I don’t like that kind of stuff, but learning about writing grants was really fascinating. We did a project where we wrote our own grant and that was a fun process. It is a useful skill applicable to all non-profits, not just museums.

Q: What are you working on at the Poage?
A: I am going through Bob Poage’s papers looking for anything he did with World War I veterans, because of a future exhibit in the Reading Room. There is mostly correspondence from his veteran constituents in support of general pension bills that were going through committee during the time he was in the House.
Q: Any final thoughts about working at Poage? Is it helping you sharpen your research skills?
A: As far as archives go, this is what I really like. Actually going through the collections looking for something specific or trying to learn about a particular person. This is my zen.

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