If you haven’t yet made a trip to the Arizona Capitol Museum, you should — and soon. First, it’s free. Second, the museum specializes in teaching Arizona government and civics, using, per their website, “a balance of technology, hands-on activities, historical artifacts and public programs to help visitors learn about and interact with the government of the 48th state.” Third, a new exhibit at the museum, “Arizona Takes Shape,” will show visitors just how Arizona came to be, and it includes a cool interactive component called “History at Your Fingertips.”
Below, Jason Czerwinski, the museum’s on-site experience manager, talks about this exhibit:
Talk to us about “History at Your Fingertips.” What is it exactly, and what can visitors expect?
“History at Your Fingertips” is actually a smaller component (or an exhibit within an exhibit, if you will) of the Arizona Capitol Museum’s newest exhibit, “Arizona Takes Shape,” which covers the changes in Arizona’s government as well as physical boundaries in the pre-statehood era. It is a rich display, featuring a timeline of pre-statehood Arizona, marked by key events and how they coincided with national history. In addition to the “Fingertips” kiosk, we also have the very flag carried up San Juan Hill by Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders (as made by the Woman’s Relief Corps of Phoenix), and a pair of military sabers, one used in the Apache Wars, and another presented to Governor Alexander Brodie by the people of the Territory of Arizona.
The emphasis of the whole exhibit is on the evolution of our state (and pre-state) using examples such as assignment of boundaries by the federal government, appointment of Territorial oversight by the Fed, annexation of land through purchase and conquest, and the documentation of these events in newspapers and other media.
How did this exhibit come to be?
Many factors came together at the right time to make this exhibit possible. After several delays, our exhibit production team was finally able to dedicate the time needed to research and assemble all the data needed to illustrate the complex journey we took to joining the Union. Fabricating the displays that illustrate their research took months of develop, working with our colleagues in the state archives, the Arizona Memory Project, as well as the team behind the Digital Newspaper Program.
Probably the most long-awaited element we wanted to complete was a new case for the Rough Rider flag, which up to now had to be completely covered to retard light damage for part of each year. The new case is a much more practical solution featuring UV-blocking glass and a movable and adjustable base. In all, it is a very handsome custom display for this one-of-a-kind artifact.
The AZCM’s mission, to “connect people to their government — past and present,” needed “Arizona Takes Shape” to thoroughly show how our state came to be, both for its historic importance, but also as a teaching tool to explain the fundamentals of a citizen-driven democracy.
How long did it take to scan hard copies of newspapers and microfilms?
The scanning program is actually ongoing, and new pages are constantly being added. The Arizona Digital Newspaper Program has been working for almost five years at this point.
What has the response been from the public?
Amazing! We had over 100 people at our grand opening this past Saturday. The opening reception, featuring Arizona Historical Society director Dr. John Langellier, the Territorial Brass Band and Rough Riders re-enactors, was as popular as the exhibit itself, and we have people coming in every day to see the display. Teachers and students, many of whom have visited in previous years, are struck by how much more thorough and immersive the two revamped rooms are.
Are there any specific events in Arizona’s history that may not be common knowledge, and that can be found here?
Oh my, “Arizona Takes Shape” is such a thorough exhibit, there is so much information that I doubt anyone would know all of it before coming in. Serendipitously, “History at Your Fingertips” features an informative quiz about some of the Territorial governors—I didn’t know all the answers, but it is a delight to play through. What might be most informative about the new exhibit though is its timeline, which overlays the history of Arizona over national history to show the relation and overlap of key events of both.
What makes this exhibit different from other exhibits at the museum?
Aside from having the most thorough timeline of any of our exhibits, “Arizona Take Shape” explicitly covers our years before statehood (including time as part of Mexico). It is also a physically immersive exhibit where the historical elements (the Rough Rider flag, scabbards), digital technology and interactive pieces are spread across the footpath — rather than some pieces set behind barricades.
You have another exhibit in the works called “Your Vote, Your Voice.” Tell us about that.
“Your Vote, Your Voice” will be an exhibit and meeting place to talk about and showcase current and upcoming electoral events, such as campaigns for elected offices and constitutional amendments. Our goal is for this to be a continually updating space with news about the election process and how every citizen can be a participant in it. Plans are still in development, but we expect to feature streaming election news, an easily accessible candidate map, text of all proposed amendments and a history of voting access for the state.