Theatre outfits students with history lesson

When Anne Jaros, theatre professor and costume designer, was approached by the Dorothea B. Hoover Museum in Joplin to help catalog the collection of historic garments they had, she realized it was going to be a huge job.

“At one point I considered doing a sabbatical,” said Jaros, “and doing that [cataloging the collection] during that sabbatical.”

According to Jaros, when the idea of service learning came up, she immediately thought of using this opportunity to have students learn by assessing the collection and having them preserve the garments for the museum.

“I went to a meeting about [service learning],” Jaros recalled, “and the museum director happened to be there as well, and the first thing I happened to think of, was, of course, where students would learn by assessing the historic garments and their service would be to catalog and preserve the garments for the museum.”

The class focuses on accurately dating the garments from the collection, which span the 19th and 20th centuries. The students choose garments from the collection, assess the garments for damage and then the items are stored in acid-free boxes, labeled and catalogued.

“The students are learning costume history by dating the garments…by researching the dates and things,” stated Jaros. “Each student will also keep a journal…where they talk about their experience and talk about the service learning aspect of things.” According to Jaros, by keeping the journal students are able to get credit on their transcripts for service learning.

The class is not only for theatre majors, however.

“Because it is listed under theatre, it may be something people would overlook,” commented Jaros. “People interested in history will be interested in it…anyone who has an interest in historical clothing would enjoy this class.”

Despite being a theatre course, the collection is comprised of authentic pieces, not costumes or replicas.

“They were actual garments that people wore every day, or on the street,” said Jaros, “they are not show costumes by any means.”

The course, which is offered every other spring, started in 2009 as a service learning course. The class, which has no prerequisites, does require instructor’s approval. Four hours per week will be spent at the museum, so students interested in the course will need to have transportation.