Reflection: A Week at the Dawson City Museum

As some of you may know (and I have documented on @museoception), I am in Dawson City working on the Dawson City Museum Project. Today is my last day, but I simply cannot read or scan any more documents. Seven full days in the archives was too many. So, I am taking time to write this post as a reflection on my trip while it is still fresh in my mind. 

I had a couple of goals for the week:

  1. Find archival material to support, expand on and address gaps in the interview data I have collected. 
  2. Engage in conversations with my community partner to direct the analysis and writing. 

I met my goals and am really happy with the work I accomplished. The following sections reflect on my successes and challenges in relation to these goals.

Then, I outline what you can expect to see for the project going forward, asking (as always) for feedback. 

Findings: Each section will contain a preliminary finding I think is interesting :). You can expect to see full posts on those topics soon… ish.

Digging through the Archives: Triangulation

For those who do not know, triangulation refers to having multiple sources to improve the credibility of research. Having multiple sources also makes the writing more interesting. In other words, documentary evidence can help verify and illustrate the interviews.

Archival data will be particularly helpful to support and demonstrate the relationships of significance to the Dawson City Museum. For instance:

  • During interviews I was told about Parks Canada’s important role in the Museum’s development. However, there were few specific examples and different people did not discuss the same example(s).
  • When searching archival materials, I found documents demonstrating Parks Canada’s help, including support for the stories I was told and new examples with multiple sources.

Finding One: The support that Parks Canada employees provided to the Dawson City Museum from the late 1970s to the 1990s is an example of implicit cultural policy and critical to the Museum’s professionalization. Examples include:

  • Parks contracted the Museum to conduct research, providing a form of financial assistance.
  • Conservators, curators, and engineers employed through Parks Canada gave the museum free advice and assistance.
  • Parks employees participated on the Museum’s Board of Directors and contributed to the Museum’s professionalization in the 1980s by establishing a committee structure as well as policies.

Success: The Museum’s corporate archives offered supporting materials that will help illustrate and verify the information provided in interviews.

Challenge: It is challenging when the archival materials and interview participants tell a different story. For example:

  • In interviews I heard a lot about the importance of advocacy and support from Parks Canada in prompting territorial funding for renovations in the 1980s. The participants did not discuss external factors.
  • In the archival material I found little evidence of advocacy. However, there was information documenting key external factors, such as the Museum failing a fire inspection as money became available for capital projects through the Canada Yukon Tourism Agreement.

How do you choose what narrative to privilege and tell as you analyze multiple sources of information that tell a different, but not contradictory, story?

Working with a Community Partner

The research project asks:

How has the Dawson City Museum evolved in relation to government policy and community action?

I am working with the Dawson City Museum to not only answer the question, but also communicate the answer(s) in ways that are most helpful to them (and my students).

As part of this community engaged scholarship, regular communication is important but phone calls are not the ideal venue for these kinds of discussions (in my opinion – I hate talking on the phone. I am a millennial). Additionally, due to the need for confidentiality we have had limited communication as I engaged in interviews.

Through conversations with my community partner while in Dawson, I have been able to articulate ideas and listen to feedback, which will inform the ongoing analysis.

For example, in interviews people often forget to mention summer student employment programs when discussing federal museum support. After I ask – “what about employment policies like Young Canada Works?”, they always discuss the significance of the program. My community partner (and Research Assistant – also a practitioner in the cultural sector) challenged my preconceptions about why this happens. In particular:

  • I believe practitioners forget about the program because it is rarely discussed in cultural policy conversations. Museum practitioners tend to only tell me about explicit museum policy, such as the Museums Assistance Program, and not the broader network of significant actions.
  • The community partner and research assistant challenged my assertion. They asserted that in practice people are probably forgetting that student employees are “student” employees because they are simply summer staff.

As a result, I am thinking differently about employment programs.

Finding two: Summer student employment is incredibly important to the Museum’s operation. However, before the 21st century, the Museum accessed a broader range of programs that targeted non-students and provided continuity in employment. The loss of these programs is, perhaps, more significant than the development of Young Canada Works in Heritage.

Success: We developed the themes below and had some wonderful conversations that informed my thinking about this project.

Challenge: Engaging with the community partner is easy when I am working in their space. As I return to working alone at my desk in another province, how do continue to involve the community partner in my analysis and research?

Moving Forward Themes

The analysis will result in content on the history of Dawson City, community museum policy in Yukon, and the evolution of the Dawson City Museum in terms of space and content. However, in order to answer:

How has the Dawson City Museum developed in relation to government policy and community action?

we have identified themes that draw connections between the Museum, its communities, and policy.

Finding three: These preliminary themes are:

  • Relationship with Parks Canada: Parks Canada is part of a broader heritage community and the policy is an implicit one that has evolved significantly due to cuts starting in the 1990s.
  • Response to Crisis: There are multiple instances where the local community responded to threats to the Museum, such as advocacy for the institution to the territorial government when funding challenges meant staff had to be let go.
  • Collections Development: The Museum does not have an active collecting policy and, as such, the local community has shaped the collection. We also see the influence of federal and territorial policy on its management.
  • Exhibition Development: The Museum uses project funding for major exhibition development and these projects have provided the impetus for relationship building with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.
  • Staffing and Task Saturation: Historically and today, the Museum has relied on project and employment funding for staff. As a result, the one full-time year round Director has experienced periods of task saturation. For example, check out a former director’s blog on the subject here.
  • Museums as Tourism Agencies: The tourists are also a community the Museum serves and this is represented in the ways that museum policy is also a tourism policy.
  • Community of Museums: This is the most underdeveloped theme. I would expect to see a more active museum community that supports one another in Yukon…

Are there any key themes that seem missing to you?

Success: I think this is a great starting point and reflects a dialogue with my research assistant and the community partner.

Challenge: Are there too many themes? Which ones are most significant?


Here are the questions I asked in text:

  • How do you choose what narrative to privilege and tell as you analyze multiple sources of information that tell a different story?
  • As I return to working alone at my desk, how do continue to involve the community in my analysis and research?
  • Are there any key themes that seem missing to you?
  • Are there too many themes? Which ones are most significant?

I would also love to hear how you deal with fatigue when you have a short time to get as much done as possible on a project.

Thanks for reading! I am looking forward to developing these ideas and reflecting more in the coming weeks.

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