Theo Schefer, HC ’24

Early American Scavenger Hunt: Collection Review at Harriton House

Semester: Spring 2024

Praxis Course: HART B420 Museum Studies Fieldwork Seminar

Faculty Advisor: Matthew Feliz

Field Site: Harriton House

Field Supervisor: Laura Carpenter Myers

Praxis Poster: 

Theo Schefer_Poster_FinalSP24


Further Context:

At least once in your life you have probably been on a field trip to a local historical house or site. Harriton House is another one of those spaces. Built in 1704 by Welsh Quaker Rolland Ellis, the home is best known as the residence of Charles Thompson, Secretary to the Continental Congress. While the interpretation of the site primarily caters to that period of time, the land was also a dairy farm and tobacco plantation. The current leadership wishes to reinterpret the house to include these stories, but well before any of that can happen a comprehensive inventory of the house is required.

My job this semester has been to conduct a systematic review of the over six hundred pieces of Early American furniture, silverware, and ephemera stored at Harriton House. Moving from room to room, I ensure that the items are where the records say they are located. Once I confirm this information, I go back to the one computer onsite that contains their digital
database and update the metadata with any additional information about the condition of the object. Certain objects have been misplaced and others are not accurately reflected in the catalog. In addition to confirming locations, my job is also to standardize presentation of the data so that
future researchers and directors have an easier time accessing the information that they need.

Data entry is a grueling, but necessary process, built off of the efforts of past archivists and volunteers. Through this experience I have realized that meaningful change, especially for a small institution like that of Harriton House, is built on a meaningful foundation. In order for them to draft a site plan for the house, they must first reflect on what the collection allows them to accomplish. Harriton House is a site in transition, and alongside my primary work it has been an absolute pleasure to watch its current executive director, Laura Carpenter Myers, in action. My workspace is in her office, so I am privy to a large part of her day-to-day tasks. This includes fielding donor questions, coordinating tours, and even taking care of the on-site animals.

Historic houses forge deep ties to their local community and carry unique connections to not just one past moment, but several. Through my project, I am helping Harriton House provide a more in-depth educational experience for curious visitors.