by Cassady Thompson

Few millennials can fathom a time when it was dictated on campus what women could wear. But as University of West Georgia Center for Public History (CPH) graduate students discovered recently, that time wasn’t so long ago.

Tracy Phelps, Kaitlin Costley and Christian Hill at the University of West Georgia Love, War and Politics: West Georgia's Counterculture Exhibit.
L to R: Tracy Phelps, Kaitlin Costley and Christian Hill

“Women weren’t allowed to wear shorts around campus until after 1965,” now-alumna Hannah Givens explained. “That was also the time when people started asking how engaged a college should be with the outside world, especially in terms of protests, and those debates are still going on today.”

UWG started as a small agricultural and mechanical school in 1906. Since then, there have been many cultural changes.

With the help of current UWG students Tracy Phelps, Christian Hill and Kaitlin Costley, Givens researched and created the Love, War and Politics: West Georgia’s Counterculture exhibit based on the ‘60s and ‘70s to showcase these transitions of UWG.

“The UWG Center of Public History has been working for several years to collect stories about West Georgia’s history,” stated Givens. “As we researched for other projects like the LGBTQ Oral History Project and the exhibit Play by Play: Athletics at West Georgia, we realized that the sixties and seventies played a huge role in shaping the university and its students.”

Former Master of Arts student, Larry Stephens, researched and wrote a master’s thesis on West Georgia’s Counterculture, which served as the foundation for the research and provided the writers with information they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Julia Brock, assistant professor and CPH co-director, served as a faculty supervisor and mentor throughout the creation of the exhibit. She believes that it is important to document, preserve and share the university’s past.

“We believe that knowledge of the past enriches our community, and our vision is to inspire students, staff, faculty and alumni to recognize the role they play in shaping UWG's history,” Brock said. “This particular time—the years of the counterculture—was a moment of great change for the university in terms of campus growth and the student body.”

To curate an exhibit, months of work and preparation is involved. According to Givens, one would start by trying to find as much information as possible, then narrow it down to the essential takeaways and decide how to communicate those things to visitors using text, images and objects.

One key element of curating an exhibit is the installation and design. University History Project designer and current UWG graduate student Christian Hill was part of the project from the beginning.

“When reading over the content for the exhibit, I envisioned that the graphics and design would have a ‘70s, groovy feel,” Hill described. “I also wanted it to be fun and playful, and that is why I decided to add the tie-dye pattern in it. I also found inspiration from a photo of a pipe at Foster’s Store that had sticker flowers that were commonly found in the ‘70s.”

Givens, Phelps, Costley and Hill want the UWG community to take away as much as possible from the exhibit. Phelps said a panel in the exhibit containing a quote from alum Robert Warner summed up one of the major takeaways from the exhibit.

“He said, ‘Millennials still share a lot with us, almost too much. They still listen to and like Led Zeppelin, music and civil rights. That’s what our generation is all about. And it’s still here, the issues are still there,’” she recited. “As different as things seem between then and now, you can still find the similarities if you try.”

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  • Foster's Store

Givens currently works at Ingram Library, while Hill is moving to Charlotte, N.C. in December to begin her position in curation and collection at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. They both said the hands-on experiences like curating the Love, War, and Politics exhibit have proven priceless in preparing them for careers.

“It really helps to get a sense of what you might like to do beforehand,” Givens explained.

“UWG has helped me in ways that are unimaginable,” Hill concluded. “It has given me opportunities that helped me gain the skills and confidence that I needed to be successful in the museum world.”

The Love, War and Politics: West Georgia’s Counterculture exhibit will be on display in the Bonner House on UWG’s campus from 1-4 p.m. through May 2018.

Posted on November 7, 2017