Postcards from the Past


Postcards from the Past

Museum Studies Intern at the Archives Service Center, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh - Spring 2016

My job as an intern at the Archives Service Center differs from that of most interns in that I generally do not work with the collections preserved here at the archives. Instead, I work primarily on the exhibits that recently went on display around Pitt’s campus. As an undergraduate pursuing a minor in Museum Studies, this experience has been both challenging and rewarding. I’m enjoying having the opportunity to work on several different projects and having different responsibilities for each one.

When I was asked to plan a small exhibit for the display case in the lobby of the Archives Service Center, I jumped at the opportunity. However, I soon discovered some interesting challenges, the first being what topic to choose for my exhibit. Initially, I had roughly a dozen ideas and was cycling through various online finding aids to get an idea of which ones I could realistically turn into an exhibit display. At first, the top contender was to focus the project on rivers in Pennsylvania. It felt especially relevant given that Pittsburgh is surrounded by rivers. But, while I was interested in the images and their stories, I realized that they weren’t eye-catching.

Later, after cycling through several more ideas, the Lillian Friedberg collection was brought to my attention. Friedberg, who was a popular member of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community in the 20th century, had collected postcards for the majority of her life and her entire collection was donated to the Archives some years after her death in 1978. Her postcards were perfect for the case exhibit: they are small enough to fit in the space and don’t need to be printed, the way the photographs would have to be. However, I was unprepared for the size of her collection, she had accumulated about 1,700 postcards over the course of nearly 60 years and I examined every single one… many times.

As I studied Lillian Friedberg’s postcards, I started to notice several different themes and decided to build the exhibit from those. Images of fine art make up the bulk of Friedberg’s postcards but she also had hundreds sent to her from friends and family on their various travels. It was incredibly difficult to narrow down the choices and I often found myself distracted by the messages written on the postcards. In the end, I decided upon 6 categories that would best represent the broad scope of Friedberg’s collection:

  • Art
  • Travel
  • Religion
  • WWII
    • Friedberg had many postcards featuring anti-Nazi propaganda from France and Germany
  • The World’s Fair
  • Radcliffe & Harvard
    • Friedberg was a graduate of Radcliffe College and her husband, Dr. Emanuel Friedberg was a graduate of Harvard Medical School.

When it came time for installation, I faced an interesting challenge in that I had many more postcards than display stands to prop them on and many of the stands that were available for my use were too big to hold the postcards without showing from behind. The trial-and-error to find a workable solution that followed was actually pretty fun. In what felt like a true MacGyver moment, I ended up manipulating paper clips to act as stands, which worked surprisingly well once I managed to make them more stable. They put the postcards on a lower angle so the ones on the lower shelves can be viewed more easily. They also prompt the viewer to move closer to the case to get a better look.

The entire experience of planning and installing my own exhibit was one I truly enjoyed. Even the challenges were interesting and taught me a great deal. Now when I walk through the door every week I get to see my own work and a reminder of the fun I had doing it.

  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh


Thanks, Shannon -- I really

Thanks, Shannon - I really enjoyed hearing about your process in detail. Nice work!