Archival Research: The Importance of Presence

After a very intensive week in the Dawson City Museum (DCM) archives, I am sorting, reading, and analyzing what I found. The documents scanned are interesting and contributing to the narrative(s) about the DCM’s development. In order to help with the analysis, the “Archival Research” series considers the stories archival materials tell, looking at the items I found most exciting.   

Within this post, I am considering the importance of a person’s physical presence and availability when providing support to community museums. In particular, the Dawson City Museum’s (DCM) Board Minutes from the 1980s demonstrate that the territorial Heritage Branch’s Director and the Museum Advisor attended meetings, providing reactive support in response to issues.

Please note: unlike past archival research posts, I am not including a picture because there are a lot of names in these reports and I am respecting confidentiality.

Why are these meetings interesting?

The Minutes show tangible examples of the assistance that can be provided when government actors are physically present in a museum space to learn about problems. For example, the Heritage Branch’s Director attended a meeting in 1983 and offered the following assistance:

  • The Museum Board members were upset because the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) was only going to Whitehorse and would not visit Dawson. The Director agreed the Museum had a definite need and noted:

He will be seeing a woman from the CCI later this month and will see what he can do.

DCM Minutes May 3, 1983
  • He provided insider advice on how to be more successful in grant applications. The Minutes state:

It was suggested that when we apply for capital grants we should try to emphasize visible projects that will have more direct approval from politicians and the public.

DCM Minutes May 3, 1983
  • He agreed to try and send a bookkeeper to help museum staff who were struggling with bookkeeping.
  • He volunteered to help the Museum buy a second hand microfilm reader from the territory.

In 1984, the territorial Heritage Branch hired a Museum Advisor. This advisor also began attending occasional Dawson City Museum Board meetings. Examples of assistance provided include:

  • He worked with Museum staff on grant applications (DCM Meeting minutes June 12, 1984).
  • He provided unofficial information on granted amounts to help with planning (DCM Meeting minutes June 12, 1984).
  • He facilitated a better relationship with national funding agencies (DCM 1984 Annual General Meeting Minutes).

More importantly, the Minutes and the Museum’s reports indicate that he was also available by phone to regularly help Museum staff.

In short, during the 1980s both the Director of the Heritage Branch and Museum Advisor went to the Dawson City Museum (or were easily available by phone) and were able to assist the Museum in response to problems.

Is there broader relevance?

Presence facilitates support.

When the Director and/or Museum Advisor were present in the Museum, they were able to hear about problems and offer solutions. For example, in the microfilm reader example above, the Museum had already tried purchasing a used machine from government without success. As a government actor, the Heritage Branch’s Director was able to make the connections needed to be successful.

Sometimes, museum workers discuss a decline in support, but the number of advisory services remain the same. I think the change is actually in the accessibility of the government actor(s). Who is accessible? How accessible are they?

The next post will provide a contrasting example to show this difference.


What do you think? Have I fully understood the significance of presence?

Other Archival Research Posts

Early Federal Influence

The Issue of Rent

The Beringia Center as Competitor

A Community of Community Museums?

Arguments Against Centralization

Community Mobilized

Too Much for One Person

Overwhelming Obstacles

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