USU Digital Library - Animal Bells

Historical Note:

The idea for the exhibit Bells: Connecting Animal, People and Land (both physical and digital) grew out of Utah State University’s Land Use Management Oral History Project. The project was a collaborative effort of Utah State University’s Special Collections & Archives, Department of Environment and Society and the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies.


While interviewing Thad Box for the Land Use Management Oral History Project, Barbara Middleton (Department of Environment and Society) noted his continual use of bells and storytelling to explain the connection of people and animals and landscape. At that point the idea for a bell exhibition was born. Middleton conducted extensive interviews with Box about his bell collection, amassed while he was USU's dean of the College of Natural Resources. Using these interviews as the basis for the exhibit, Middleton and Randy Williams (USU Special Collections & Archives) produced the exhibit that interprets how both handmade and industrial bells create relationships with cultures, landscapes and livestock. The bell exhibit highlights the connection of bells, animals, people and the landscape, beginning with the earliest animal belling traditions in Africa more than 5,000 years ago and continuing today. The exhibit is broken down into four regions: Africa, North America, Australia and Europe, as well as a section on modern bell uses.


Physical Exhibit:

The exhibit’s opening reception and talk, sponsored by the Friends of the Merrill-Cazier Library, was held in the library on 28 October 2009. Thad Box delivered an impassioned talk, reflecting on the cultural connection people have to animals and their landscapes with bells. The exhibit ran 28 October 2009 through 22 January 2010 in the Library’s lobby.


Many people were instrumental in the production and installation of the physical exhibit Bells: Connecting Animals, People and Land. First and foremost was Thad Box whose oral history, beautiful bells and intellectual involvement were the heart of the exhibit. The exhibit was co-curated by Randy Williams, folklore curator for Merrill-Cazier Library’s Special Collections and Archives and Barbara Middleton, faculty member from the Department of Environment & Society in the College of Natural Resources.


Barbara Middleton suggested the exhibit to the Library and conducted four interviews with Box to gather the data to sustain the interpretation and presentation of the bells. Middleton’s research, interpretation and presentations skills gave breath to the exhibit. Randy Williams directed the exhibit efforts, including panel and display case development, installation, publicity and promotion. Kristin Heal, graphic designer for the Merrill-Cazier Library, created the beautiful panels that drew so many people into the exhibit.


Rose Milovich, library exhibit program director, helped at every stage of the project, guiding the process with great ideas and style. Special Collection & Archives' faculty and staff Dan Davis, Brad Hansen, Liz Kline and Catherine Bunn as well as John Elsweiler, associate dean for Libraries, and Ken Buist, Library facilities coordinator, all assisted with various elements of exhibit production and installation. Sally Thompson and Shelley Doney in Government Documents consulted on exhibit panel printing. Liz Kline and Trina Shelton, from the Merrill-Cazier Library, coordinated the exhibit opening events. Brad Cole, AssociateDdean for Libraries, great enthusiasm for both the exhibit program and oral history program made the effort possible. This exhibit is truly a library, university and community effort.


Digital Exhibit:

The digital exhibit Bells: Connecting Animal, People and Land reflects key elements of the physical exhibit with added components. Using the four regional breakdowns and the modern category from the display, the digital exhibit includes in these section: descriptive panels; images of the bells displayed, as well as other images of Thad Box’s extensive bell collection; annotated bibliography of displayed books; Thad Box oral history (transcript and sound) used to produce the exhibit. The digital exhibit also has a section on the exhibit opening, including images of the opening and the exhibit, along with Thad Box’s opening lecture (both transcript and sound).


The digital exhibit was coordinated by Randy Williams and Cheryl Walters, head of USU’s Digital Library. Kristin Heal designed the opening page. Jennifer Pitcher, Digital Library, managed the digital components of the exhibit. Russ Weekes, student worker in the Digital Library, photographed the bells from the physical exhibit and Mary Kay Gabriel, director of USU’s Anthropology museum, beautifully photographed an assortment of Thad Box’s collection for display in the digital exhibit.