There's a particular feeling Hannah Thompson wants to evoke at the Harvey County Historical Museum (203 N. Main, Newton) — and that is one of being "edutained," providing visitors with an experience that is equal parts fun and informational.
For Thompson, the museum's new executive director, history has always filled her with a sense of pure joy. That is something she hopes to spread throughout the community in taking on this new role — officially starting at the Harvey County Historical Museum last month.
"My role is being the face of the organization, for starters, and then connecting with the community — getting a feel for how the community views its history and how I can tell the history that maybe people don't think of or don't know of as much, and just spread that around," Thompson said. "I love sharing history with people, particularly through odd bits of history."
Early on in life, a deep passion for history became fixed in Thompson — who was convinced she would grow up to become an Egyptologist. While completing her undergraduate studies at Washburn University in Topeka, her advisor helped her broaden her interests by introducing her to Victorian history (studying those who first started studying Egypt) and that shaped her career path moving forward.
Thompson went on to get her master's degree from Texas Tech University, where she also worked as curator at the university's museum (following years of volunteering at the Kansas State Historical Society). Most recently, Thompson served as Director of Operations as the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita, but felt drawn to the position at the Harvey County Historical Museum given her interest in the Victorian era and fondness for small towns — having grown up in a rural community outside Valley Falls.
"Here, I feel like I can be the historian that I want to be while still making an impact on the community. I can research the sorts of things that I want that are from here and still have a greater impact on teaching the community on where they came from," Thompson said. "I feel like this museum is the right place for me, especially right now. I'm excited to come into work. I'm excited to do this history. I want to go home and look on Chronicling America and look up old newspapers about Newton and find weird stuff, find fun bits of history."
So far, Thompson noted one of the most unique tidbits she has stumbled upon was the story behind the formation of Harvey County, with local representatives acting almost out of spite towards Sedgwick County — exemplifying the early pioneer attitude that she loves.
Enthusiasm for history is something Thompson has an abundance of, and something she hopes to reflect back out into the community as she furthers the mission of previous directors — not only engaging visitors at the museum, but taking that interest outside of the museum's walls and into the Harvey County communities. To do that, Thompson knows collaboration with other local entities will be key.
"Working with all of the different city/town historical societies is going to be pretty vital with that, whether that's them bringing in exhibits, us bringing exhibits to them (or) going out and giving talks."
Over the years, Thompson noted she has learned a lot about working with museum boards and with the community, as well as how to preserve the history itself, and she is looking forward to doing that at the Harvey County Historical Museum.
Sharing surprising information is part of what Thompson enjoys most about her job, noting she may already be itching to present on a few topics in particular, and she is excited about having the opportunity to do so in Newton and the surrounding area.
"History as a whole has a lot to teach us about where we've been, and maybe where we should or shouldn't go in the future, so anytime I can get anyone fired up to even just know about what happened in the past...I think is very important. I'm looking forward to the future," Thompson said. "I'm just super excited to be here. I love the history. I love that I'm excited about coming to work and doing my own research on the side. I'm not coming to work and not feeling like I'm contributing. I'm really jazzed up and excited to do my own research so that I can share it within the museum in addition to doing the behind the scenes work for the museum."
Those interested in getting to know more about Thompson can attend a meet and greet with the new director that the museum is hosting from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday (Feb. 18, 2018).