Research: Newsletters

Newsletters are one of my favorite things to read when researching community museums and museum policy in what is now known as Canada.

Picture of an Ontario Historical Society Bulletin
Image of an Ontario Historical Society Bulletin from 2018 (source)
Image of a Yukon Historical and Museums Association Newsletter
Yukon Historical and Museums Association Newsletter from 2021 (source)

They are so much fun!

Pre-internet newsletters are particularly helpful. Nowadays, a lot of organizations create email notifications with lots of links and short descriptions. As a researcher, I am not a fan. There is something more interesting about a physical newsletter or a PDF document with grainy photos and long descriptions.

Screenshot of Page 10 in the YHMA Summer 2009 Newsletter

This post is going to explore:

Why are newsletter so useful in community museum policy research?

No (or few) Links! And so Much Information!

The newsletters are such rich sources of information.

Email communications often link to a website for details. Conversely, the newsletters are (or were) more self contained and describe things.

For example, they describe speeches and personal communications not documented elsewhere. Or, if they are documented in an archive, the documentation can be difficult to find. The Canadian Museums Association’s (CMA) Gazette from the early 1970s provides information about the development of the national museum policy, demonstrating how the policy changed from the Honorable Gerald Pelletier’s initial ideas in 1970/71 to 1973. Here is an excerpt from a speech he gave at a conference in 1971 and the CMA’s response:

Excerpt from the CMA's gazette in 1971 showing the beginning of a speach.
CMA Gazette, Oct. 1971, Vol. 5 No. 4, Page 4
Except from the CMA Gazette in 1971 showing the CMA's response to a proposed museum policy
CMA Gazette, Oct. 1971, Vol. 5 No. 4, Page 5

Before reading the Gazette, I did not know how much the museum policy had changed with the input of the CMA and other museum people.

Demonstrating and Simplifying Complexity

Community museums are not the designated responsibility of any one level of government in what is now known as Canada. They receive support from and are regulated by all levels. Further, the support and regulation is not limited to a singular department responsible for museums. For example, a museum may be eligible for support from economic or community development programs.

In addition to government, non profit associations provide support to community museums. And, once again, the support is not limited to associations specifically for museums. Community museums may also benefit from the work of associations connected to one of their programs or goals (e.g., a tourism association).

In relation to this complexity, newsletters do two things:

  1. They highlight the breadth of support available, demonstrating complexity.

The image below is from the Ontario Museum Association’s (OMA) newsletter – Currently – in 1983. The OMA provided information on a new organization for tourist attractions and a Ministry of Tourism and Recreation initiative related to tourism data. Articles like these demonstrate tourism related support is significant to community museums in Ontario.

Excerpt from an Ontario Museum Association Currently in 1983 on the Provincial Attractions Monitor and Attractions Ontario.
Excerpt from Currently, January 1983, Vol. 6 No. 7

2. Newsletters help define the scope of research, simplifying complexity.

In addition to demonstrating the complexity of support for museums, the example above also provides parameters for research. It shows that I should consider tourism related support AND also identifies the specific tourism related support of relevance, meaning I don’t have to research everything that the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation did that may be relevant. Presumably, the most relevant actions are already identified for me in newsletters.

The Human Component

I saved this one for last because it is my favorite part.

Newsletters demonstrate community. Through the newsletters people are (or were) able to learn about what other people are (or were) doing.

My favorite instances are “Current People News” from the OMA’s Currently, “Of People and Museums” from the CMA’s Museogramme, and any section of the OHS’s Museums Committees newsletters. Here are examples:

  • Excerpt from the OMA's Currently
  • Image of an "of People and Museums" excerpt from the CMA's museogramme
  • excerpt from the OHS's museums committee newsletter

Interestingly, the Yukon Historical and Museum Association did not have a similar section / component in their early newsletters. These newsletters do not evoke the same sense of community that I have studied elsewhere. I am interested to see how or whether the association comes up during interviews for the Dawson City Museum Project.


How about you? Do you like reading these newsletters as a practitioner or researcher? What role do they serve? Do you have a favorite example that I should consider?

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