Honors Option Project Blends PR and Historical Materials Preservation

This past semester, five students from Michigan State University's Advertising and Public Relations Department — Cassidy Johnston (International Relations & German, 2023), Nolan Kirkwood (Public Relations, 2026), Mike Merucci (Advertising Creative, 2024), Michael Soverinsky (Journalism, 2025), and Mason Tannar (Advertising Management, 2025) — participated in a collaborative Honors Option during the spring 2023 semester for the introductory public relations course Principles of Advertising. The team was led by Ed Timke, Assistant Professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, and Lynne Swanson, Collections Manager of Cultural Collections for the MSU Museum

Throughout the semester, students learned about historic materials preservation, the cataloging of objects and imagined ways to promote these efforts through public relations strategies and tactics. This combination of a public relations and material culture project will be the basis of an education-focused article Timke is writing on how to blend PR, history, and museum studies, especially the development of learning opportunities that allow students to learn about historic materials preservation while gaining real-world experience in PR and public outreach. 

The team worked on a collection of packaging and promotional materials from the 1980s to early 2000s that the MSU Museum acquired from Susan Wineberg, a collector based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The museum needed help in inventorying the materials for research, exhibition and teaching purposes, as well as showcasing the importance of historical materials preservation and collaboration between students, professors and museum staff. 

The project required students to sort through the items and catalog and photograph them in the MSU Museum's collection database called Argus. During the semester, students also tracked their experience through short journal entries and photographs. 

Timke especially enjoyed working with the students. “The students discovered and noticed details that I didn’t think about. They asked a lot of great questions that expanded our understanding of the objects we were analyzing [and] became pros at sorting, analyzing, and documenting historical materials,” he said. 

To participate in the Honors Option program, students attended a short Argus and cataloging training with Swanson and Timke early in the semester. They then spent several cataloging and photographing sessions together between February and April at the MSU Museum's special collections facility located in the Central Services Building. Students also worked with Swanson and Timke in the Museum’s remote storage facilities in the MSU Football Stadium to inspect, sort and select objects for inventory and classification. During each session, students logged their thoughts and reflections on what they learned about material culture, cataloging, promotional packaging, and working on a historical preservation team. 

Overall, the Honors Option provided students with a unique opportunity to learn about historic materials preservation while contributing to the MSU Museum's efforts in inventorying, preserving, and sharing historic materials for research and exhibition purposes. Timke noted that the project showed students how wide-ranging PR truly is. “It’s not just in corporate and government arenas,” he said. “PR is central to central and historical organizations like museums too, and PR and advertising tools can be helpful to better understand the history of PR and advertising.” 

This project will continue during the 2023-24 academic year, where students will continue to help catalog and photograph items in the vast Wineberg Collection while working with Timke, Swanson and other MSU Museum staff to spread awareness about the collection and the importance of blending the study of public relations, advertising history, material culture and preservation. Swanson looks forward to continuing the project next year, saying “I hope we can reach more students who may have an interest in material culture and the behind-the-scenes work of museums and collections.”  

If students are interested in contributing to this project next year, they are encouraged to contact Timke.


By Connor Beeman