by Liz Mehrmann
Michaela Kraft developed a traveling educational program kit for the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, which included lesson plans, objects, and an original play for students 10 -13 yrs old.
Michaela majored in theater for her undergraduate degree and, before moving to Seattle, had worked at three separate historical societies.
So originally, she had wanted to pursue an exhibit-based thesis project. She had brainstormed a traveling exhibit focused on crowd-sourced detective work, true crime, and missing persons. When she told me this, I proceeded on a 10-minute tangent; her thesis project group would have been 75% of our graduating class. She absolutely agrees with me, and I’m reminded why we’re friends. Taking a thesis project into such a real world format though, one that was being graded, felt compromising to the content however. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Michaela did something with this someday. She is equally creative, academic, and always motivated to explore interesting new topics.
It was surprising then, that despite her efforts to AVOID theater AND historical societies – in an attempt to try something new – that both of these topics found her and begged for her return.
Michaela originally met members of the Southwest Historical Society at an internship fair. She remembers being one of the last people left at the event, and still chatting with their booth. They soon contacted her for an internship, then offered her part-time employment, and finally contacted her for a potential project that would soon become her thesis.
The Southwest Historical Society had several ‘trunks’ that were intended for hands-on learning experiences in formal learning environments; objects/artifacts, lesson plans, and short form plays. However, the learning trunks were severely out of date, and they felt Michaela would be the perfect person to breathe new life into them. She had never written lesson plans before, or done much with children’s education, and was happy to still be exploring a new skill set.
Aforementioned, this was not her first rodeo with historical societies. She had worked at several in Door County, WI. She had even written a play, based in the 1950s, for a traveling book mobile, and dabbled in some genealogy research. For another historical society, she gave tours of a lighthouse – located in a State park on Lake Michigan.
A common theme I have noticed in these student thesis journeys is how much thesis projects tend to reflect the graduate student who has designed them. This also echoes some of the most valuable advice my own thesis advisor gave me, which is to lean into your strengths and take them to new heights.
I asked Michaela why she thinks historical societies, and the theater, continue to find her, and her reflection on the matter was thoughtful and practical.
Michaela has a passion for history – maybe a spooky passion, she says – and historical societies are often older demographics. The history is often more intimate, focusing on local genealogy and how it connects to the larger historical timeline. Communities tend to be more comfortable with unconventional approaches to engaging visitors, such as integrating theater, because often they are working with relatives who have personal ties to the collection.
It’s history that you can reach out and touch.
Most importantly, Michaela feels she just has so much in common with the people who work at these institutions. They are passionate about history. They are passionate about their community. And she loves working with them.
Historical societies are often looking to engage a younger demographic. Michaela sees this as a great opportunity to integrate some dramatic flair; acting out history can engage children and families far more than simply reading about it. It can ignite a greater passion for history. Immersive experience, she says, is everything.
Of course, despite having a thesis project that seemed written in the stars, Michaela encountered challenges. The strict educational aspect of it, considering state guidelines and school curriculums, was quite a bit to keep track of. Creating lesson plans was a whole new world, and switching her brain into that mode of thinking could be difficult sometimes. An elective that helped her with this challenge was Learning in Museums, because she hadn’t really considered different people’s learning styles. She was familiar with learning through the arts, but the theory and process behind it was a new aspect for her.
To unwind after thesis work, Michaela would watch an episode of Celebrity Wife Swap. She would also explore Pug Rescue organizations, dreaming of the day when thesis was over and she would have time for her own pug, with lots of adorable rolls.