The Nebraska History Museum (NHM) in Lincoln was completely closed for 18 months. It reopened in April, 2016, with a new exhibit, “Nebraska Unwrapped”, that fills the 2nd floor. The 3rd floor is still being developed and NHM will open a culturally significant new exhibit up there next January. The staff is very excited about it. So far as I know, Nebraska is the first state to attempt to mount such a contemporary, socially conscious exhibit.
Nebraska is a state of surprising firsts, some of which I learned in “Nebraska Unwrapped”. It was the first state to join the Union after the Civil War. It was the first state to host a foreign vehicle manufacturer. Kawasaki’s first American-built motorcycle emerged from its Lincoln plant in 1975. It’s on display in “Nebraska Unwrapped”, which is a 5 Compass exhibit full of the kind of stuff you don’t normally see in a state museum display, like a Presidential doll collection. The 911 emergency communication system was developed and first used in Lincoln. Nebraska is the only unicameral state. In other words, it has one legislature instead of the usual senate and house.
There are, of course, some not so unusual objects on display in the new exhibit. Nebraska has a rich farming and cattle heritage and is the best state to see American quilts. There are several in the new exhibit, which does a good job of pointing out the value of historic objects. Things like Ruth Diamond Levinson’s jacket help us to understand where we’ve been. “They tell us about the past and help us understand ourselves and the present,” this exhibit wisely concludes to explain why the Nebraska State Historical Society has been “hanging on to stuff” for 140 years. Nicknamed G. I. Josephine, Ruth wore this jacket proudly during her World War II service.
This welcoming attitude has probably led to “Looking Past Skin: Our Common Threads”, the exhibit that will open on the Nebraska History Museum’s 3rd floor early next year. Lincoln has the largest Yazidi population in the United States, and they will be the exhibit’s main focus. Yazidis began leaving Iraq in 2014, and Lincoln has provided them a new home. The first Yazidi Culture Center in the United States opened in Lincoln earlier this year. It was made possible by a federally funded grant. Lincoln has also welcomed Sudanese and Somalis as potential Nebraskans. “Looking Past Skin: Our Common Threads” will be accompanied by cultural events that will involve these new residents.