Carrie Villar, National Trust for Historic Preservation


Aja Bain, American Association for State and Local History
Christina Bleyer, Trinity College
Rebecca Bush, The Columbus Museum
Amanda Finn, North Carolina State University
Joshua Gorman, Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Meghan Gelardi Holmes, Gibson House Museum
Steven Lubar, Brown University
Jessie MacLeod, George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Kate Silbert, University of Michigan
Will Stoutamire, G.W. Frank Museum at the University of Nebraska at Kearney

About this working group:

Dive into the nation’s historic collections and it soon becomes clear that there is an (over)abundance of objects stashed away in the storage areas of our museums, historic sites, and historical societies across the country. This legacy of collecting has preserved the past, but who’s past? Many of these collections were founded to preserve the history of the dominant culture and do not reflect the full story of the people at that site or in that community. While public history organizations are embracing telling the fuller story, it often comes at the expense of object-based storytelling because the material culture simply does not exist within the collection.

So what is to be done? History organizations have only so many resources, which often are insufficient to even care for the existing collection, let alone enough to seek out and acquire new objects. But to increase parity and balance, don’t we need to do just that?

Facilitated by the Associate Director of Museum Collections from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this working group will gather discussants, whether curators, collections managers, historians, or others, who are grappling with these issues at their organizations, discuss what has been working and what has not with real-life case studies from their own institutions, and brainstorm ways that the field can tackle the issue of ensuring their collections reflect the diversity of their stories. At the end of the conference, the participants will have begun drafting a manifesto and best practices guidelines that will help the greater public history field.

Questions for discussion include:

  • How can the public history field and our organizations benefit by improving representation within collections?
  • How do we determine what should be preserved? Deaccessioned? Acquired? Loaned?
  • How should resources get allocated?
  • How to communicate these changes to stakeholders?

What groups should be including in the conversation that we aren’t now?


1 comment
  1. Carrie Villar says:

    Thanks for a great discussion on the phone last week. As promised, here is a start of a list of solutions/tips/challenges that I noted from reading the case statements. Please add additional ones if you have them-I know there are more!
    1) Use living history
    2) Oral history as a way to fill in the gaps
    3) Build community connections & try community curation
    4) Establish shared collections
    5) Look at objects in a new way (who touched/used it)
    6) Use archaeology
    7) Explain the absence of things to visitors and what that means- “embrace the absence”
    8) Use contemporary art/artists
    9) Challenge the idea of who gets to have authority to tell the story


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.