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Shannon O'Dell receives national award from dental history group

Shannon O'Dell

Shannon O'Dell stands in a display case for "Student Reflections," the newest exhibit at the Sindecuse.

Ann Arbor, Mich., Nov. 6, 2017 -– The American Academy of the History of Dentistry has presented its top award to Shannon O’Dell, curator of the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry.

The national organization presented O’Dell with the Hayden-Harris Award for distinguished contributions to the history of dentistry at its 66th annual conference in Charleston, S.C., in October. O’Dell has been curator of the Sindecuse, located at the School of Dentistry, for the last 14 years.

Dr. James L. Gutmann, president of the academy, said O’Dell has been a key member of the organization, bringing important issues related to the Sindecuse and other museum regarding artifact and document retention and the challenges today’s museums face. “Because much of the history of dentistry is portrayed in the museum environment, her advocacy has been most beneficial,” Gutmann said. “We count on her astute guidance and her in-depth knowledge of the world of museums and how they impact communities, in addition to their support for the history of our profession.”

Dr. David Chernin, executive director of the academy, said O’Dell “articulates for our academy the utilitarian as well as the cultural value of dental history that is essential for our profession.”

“Shannon has created at the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry not only a museum for the collection and preservation of dental objects and materials of historical and cultural significance,” Chernin said. “She also has developed a unique entity for education, scientific inquiry and public enlightenment.”

O’Dell said the Sindecuse relies on a staff of two, with one or sometimes two student assistants. “My goals as curator are to professionalize the museum and help it become recognized in the broader history museum field by sharing the intriguing stories we’ve gathered through rich exhibits and networking with other museum and history professionals,” she said. “We want to gather collections responsibly, tell engaging stories through exhibits and programs, and remain good stewards of our collection.”

The Academy’s award is named for Horace H. Hayden and Chapin A. Harris, who founded the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1840, the first dental school in the country and, many believe, the first in the world.

After O’Dell learned she would receive the Hayden-Harris award, she happened to notice a box in the Sindecuse collection that was labeled “Chapin A. Harris Family Correspondence.” It was the first time in her 14 years at the museum that she had examined that entry among the thousands of documents and artifacts. It contains 22 letters, three written by Harris and the rest by his family, during the mid-1800’s, both before and after he founded the dental college in Baltimore. The collection was given to the U-M dental school in 1932 by a great-nephew of Harris who lived in Grand Rapids, Mich. “We are eager to have scholars explore this previously unpublished collection featuring Chapin A. Harris family news during the time just before he moved to Baltimore and continuing for five years following his death in 1860,” O’Dell said.

O’Dell was one of three recipients of the Hayden-Harris award this year. Susan Hoffius, director of the Macaulay Museum of Dental History in Charleston, and Dr. Edward (Ted) Welch, who managed the Macaulay Museum for more than 40 years, also received the award during a rededication of the museum during the academy conference.

The American Academy of the History of Dentistry was founded in 1951 to stimulate interest, study and research in what was then the little-known record of the dental profession. Its mission is to encourage the study, teaching and appreciation of the history of dentistry. It publishes the Journal of the History of Dentistry.

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The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists, and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu.

Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at dentistry.communications@umich.edu, or (734) 615-1971.