Students re-create World War I trench

One of the more innovative semester-end projects has had the Montana State University community asking about the origins of the huge dumpster parked next to Montana Hall.

The dumpster houses a life-sized pop-up museum of a World War I trench, a final project for a public history course taught by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, professor in the MSU Department of History and Philosophy in the College of Letters and Science. Students Samm Vankirk, a senior majoring in history from Linden, Washington, and his research partner and fellow history major, Ezekiel Snoozy, re-created a World War I trench inside the dumpster, which also served as a framework for poster presentations on Montanans during the wars that were designed by other members of the class.

“Because MSU is an engineering school, we wanted to do a project that demonstrated engineering during the wars,” said Vankirk, who is minoring in museum studies. Because it was virtually impossible to find a place on campus to dig a trench, Vankirk and Snoozy developed a concept of building a trench in a form that would allow visitors to walk through to experience life in a trench.
“At first we joked about it, but then some thought it was genius and others thought it was crazy… We thought we were building a trench in a small dumpster, not one this big,” Vankirk said. The City of Bozeman donated the dumpster for six days, determining the scale of the project.

Vankirk and Snoozy re-created the trench using materials and tools common during the first world war, including wood, sand and wire. Vankirk said he and Snoozy scavenged most of the supplies for the project, save for the nails used to construct the wooden walls. Photos of Montanans in World War I trenches, and explanations, are posted inside the trench. He said that the weather during the pop-up museum added another experiential dimension to the project.
“The elements were just like this – it was cold,” he said.


msu world war I


msu world war trench

msu trenchmuseuem

Detail of the pop-up museum shows a photograph and a quote with fence wiring simulating barbed-wire on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, where history students at Montana State University use a dumpster to help illustrate World War I trench warfare for their class. The pop-up museum, located on MSU's Centennial Mall, across from the Renne Library, contains photographs, artifacts, and simulated trenches with informational posters of Montana's role in the World Wars. MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

Posters of other groups’ projects featuring Montanans during the wars are attached to the outside of the dumpster, including narratives of  Montana Native Americans and Hutterites during the wars; as well as posters about the roles of prominent Montanans during the war including Jeannette Rankin, Montana’s Congressional representative and noted pacifist during both world wars; Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler; and the story of the death of Nelson Story IV during World War II and the resulting memorial at Big Sky’s Soldiers Chapel.

Hendrix-Komoto said there were about 20 students in six groups who worked on the public history project. All students were encouraged to research secondary sources and archives in developing their projects.
“I encouraged students to think outside the box, but I was thinking about a table in the library,” Hendrix-Komoto said, adding even she was wowed with the classes’ creativity.

Joey Morrison, a junior majoring in history from Miles City, said the pop-up museum concept generated a lot of interest in the subject.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of people wondering what this was doing next to Montana Hall,” he said.
Vankirk said it took about two months to get approval to develop the dumpster museum project and 20 hours of work in the cold to build the museum. He said in all, about 11 volunteers helped him and Snoozy re-create the trench in biting Montana winter temperatures.
Vankirk said the pop-up museum is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. until Dec. 14, when the project will be closed and then removed.
MSU graduate history student Amanda Hardin shares more information about the project in an online interview that can be found on the History Graduate Student Association at MSU’s webpage.
A virtual tour can also be found on YouTube at: Trench Pop-Up Museum Virtual Tour.
Amanda Hendrix-Komoto (406) 994-5126,

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published