After a very intensive week in the Dawson City Museum archives, I am sorting, reading, and analyzing what I found. In order to help with analysis, I discussed archival documents as part of the Archival Research series. The Archival Photo Finds series similarly considers the stories archival photos can tell.
Within this post, I look at photos from the Klondike Heritage Library’s opening.
In the Dawson City Museum corporate archive, there is a collection of photograph credited to John Ritchammer from the opening of the Klondike Heritage Library in 1998. The library “opened” after a significant donation from Ed and Star Jones, providing space to access the Museum’s research materials. Photos from the dedication show the Jones’ involvement and community interest in the event. However, there is no attached information about the use and possible restrictions on the photos.
So, instead of provided you with images, I will encourage you to go to dawsonmuseum.ca and search through their wonderful collection as the photo examples for this posts. A search “Jones, Ed and Star” yields 585 results, demonstrating Ed and Star Jones’ significant contributions to the Dawson City Museum photo collections.
Here two examples of the pictures that come up, which I used in past posts:
Why do I find the pictures so exciting?
There are a few reasons these are interesting.
First, they highlight the Museum’s important role as an archive and site for research on the Klondike. Looking at the Museum’s archival records, they began receiving research requests as early as 1964 – that is, before the Museum even had any employees (Box 1: Genealogy/Research Requests 1964). The research role became increasingly important to the Museum and a deliberate area of activity. For example, the Museum did not follow recommendations and kept their records in the 1980s when they were advised to donate their archival collection to the Yukon Archives. Instead, the Museum used employment programs to support work on the archival collection and photography projects.
Second, the pictures demonstrate the ways in which community has shaped the Museum – that is, through donations. Importantly, the Museum has an extensive photo collection because people, including the Stars, donated photos to the collection. John Gould is another fun name to search in the collection. In particular, I recommend checking out his photos of the Bonanza Mining Museum.
Finally, these pictures demonstrate the importance of timing. They were taken in a distinct moment of time where the Museum was expanding its operations and receiving a lot of support. The dedication came with a promise of a full time staff member to work with the Museum’s library and archives. A few years later the Museum began experiencing financial difficulties and was unable to maintain the finances needed for the director position. If the donation had been made at that time, it seems less likely that the Museum could have secured the donation with a promise to maintain a library.
What can we learn from the pictures?
For me, they bring to mind ideas of institutionalism and path dependency. The Museum established a research role early and became a repository for documents or photos on the Klondike. As a result, the Museum still operates an archive despite the lack of funding for an archivist.
Why do you think museums continue to operate archives when they often have difficulty funding them?