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Museum exhibit wins national award

July 20th, 2018

The "front door" of the exhibit "Sorting Out Race"

The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) is presenting Kauffman Museum an Award of Merit for its traveling exhibit “Sorting Out Race: Examining Racial Identity and Stereotypes in Thrift Store Donations.”

The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in its 73rd year, is the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

“Sorting Out Race” uses 130 artifacts to show how American popular culture perpetuates stereotypes and racism in communities. After its premiere at Kauffman Museum in 2015, the exhibit has traveled to five museums and libraries in Kansas, California, Washington and Arkansas.

The AASLH Awards Committee selected “Sorting Out Race” for creatively using material culture to make accessible complex theories about racial formation.

The exhibit originated at Kauffman Museum in 2015, where it was researched, developed and fabricated by museum staff and a Bethel student intern.

Its roots, however, went back about five years earlier, when the then manager of a local community thrift store that donates its profits to local and global relief and service programs approached Rachel Pannabecker (director of Kauffman Museum, now retired) with a question.

What should she do, the manager wondered, with items that appeared in the donation bin that “made [her] uncomfortable”? These were things that “communicated stereotypes about race” – for example, household and decorative items depicting “the lazy Mexican,” or school sports items with Native American mascots.

The manager clearly had a sense that neither selling the objects – even when the proceeds went to charity – nor destroying them was the answer.

What resulted from that and subsequent conversations was an exhibit that used thrift-store donations to help people try to see what might otherwise have seemed to be “nostalgia” or “vintage” items through the eyes of others, and to think in new ways about racial and ethnic stereotypes.

Pannabecker submitted the nomination to AASLH. “We are pleased that this national award recognizes the quality of our work,” she said, “and its contribution to community conversations about controversial issues.”

This year, AASLH will confer 44 national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits and publications. The winners represent the best in the field and provide leadership for the future of state and local history.

The awards will be presented at a special banquet during the 2018 AASLH annual meeting in Kansas City, Missouri, Sept. 28.

The AASLH awards program was initiated in 1945 to establish and encourage standards of excellence in the collection, preservation and interpretation of state and local history throughout the United States.

The AASLH Leadership in History Awards not only honor significant achievement in the field of state and local history, but also bring public recognition to the opportunities for small and large organizations, institutions and programs to contribute in this arena.

More information about the Leadership in History Awards is at

The American Association for State and Local History is a not-for-profit professional organization of individuals and institutions working to preserve and promote history.

From its headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, AASLH provides leadership, service and support for its members who preserve and interpret state and local history in order to make the past more meaningful in American society.

AASLH publishes books, technical manuals, a quarterly magazine and a monthly newsletter, and maintains numerous affinity groups and committees serving a broad range of constituents across the historical community. The association also sponsors an annual meeting, regional and national training in-person workshops, and online training.

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are Tues.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sat. and Sun., 1:30-4:30 p.m., closed Mondays and most major holidays. Admission to the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture” and “Mirror of the Martyrs” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. The museum store is open the same hours as the museum but there is no admission charge for just visiting the store.

For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website,, or Facebook page. To book “Sorting Out Race” for a museum or library, visit

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.