Connecting our Community to Its Past through Digital Resources

Watkins Museum of History
  • Steve Nowak, Executive Director, Watkins Museum of History
  • Will Haynes, Director of Engagement and Learning, Watkins Museum of History

Project Description

In 2022, the Watkins Museum decided to expand its permanent exhibit on Indigenous peoples in Douglas County beyond two exhibit panels.  Will Haynes, the museum’s director of engagement and learning, began by forming an advisory group and reached out to representatives of the Kaw Nation, Delaware Tribe, Shawnee Tribe, Osage Nation, and Wyandot Nation. The role of the advisory group will expand as exhibit stories are defined, researched, and written. The exhibit will take the form of a physical installation and a computer interactive.

Recently, the Watkins Museum has been asked by the Robinson Park Sacred Stone repatriation project to serve as custodians for the Kaw Nation of the bronze plaques removed from Iⁿ‘zhúje‘waxóbe when it is returned to Tribal land. This presents an opportunity to further expand the permanent exhibit, to incorporate these artifacts and the story of the sacred stone and its repatriation in the museum’s permanent exhibit. This addition provides access to documentation on which the exhibit can be built and funding to install the plaques and begin to develop concepts for the entire permanent exhibit. 

The Watkins Museum successfully engaged the public around key decisions in exhibit development in a 2022 exhibit, Confronting the Past, associated with Lawrence’s involvement in the national Community Remembrance Project. While the techniques used in this exhibit will differ, the museum seeks to create a similar engagement around the Iⁿ‘zhúje‘waxóbe repatriation story by involving visitors in exploring responses to the key question “how do you respond when an injustice is revealed?” This “conversation” will serve as an entry point to the exploration of Indigenous peoples, beginning today and extending back thousands of years, that forms the main content of the exhibit.

Partner Details

  • Steve Nowak

    Executive Director, Watkins Museum of History


    Steve Nowak has over thirty years’ experience in museum work and a background in art, history, and material culture. He is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. Steve is enthusiastic about telling stories through artifacts and helping people make a personal connection with history: “I love the way ordinary things can make powerful connections to the past and the people that used them. That is what makes my job so exciting.” As director, he is involved with nearly everything that happens at the Watkins, from finance and building preservation to exhibits and programs, so every day is interesting.

  • Will Haynes

    Director of Engagement and Learning, Watkins Museum of History


    Will Haynes Will’s job as Director of Engagement and learning well suits his love for museums, history, and writing. Will earned a PhD in history from the University of Kansas and has contributed to public history projects involving the New York Times, the Truman Library Institute, and the Kansas City Public Library. Will’s varied tasks at the Watkins include planning and promoting public events, managing volunteers and interns, and finding new ways to give museum visitors and members the best possible experience.